Monday, November 1, 2004

Past lives come a haunting...

My previous post reminded me of what I used to do before I worked for Borland.  I've been at Borland for nearly 13 years.  Prior to working for Borland, I designed access control and magnetic stripe reading/encoding equipment.  It was a very small company, Elcom Industries, based in St. Louis, Missouri.  Only about 15-20 employees.  I started as a technician repairing the equipment as it came in for repair and mantenance.  After a while started I learning the firmware code and also the microcontrollers we began using at the time (6801/6803/68701).  Previous systems were, I am not lying about this, based on a 6100 CPU.. For those of you who don't know what that was... it was a PDP8 on a chip!  A 12bit CPU.  What a nightmare!  Here's some more info.  Of course, the 6801/6803 microcontrollers are now considered antiques as well... C'mon... I'm not even 40 yet!

Thank goodness that cheaper, more mainstream microcontrollers were becoming popular. When I took the existing magnetic card encoder hardware and designed an RS232 controlled encoder using a single microcontroller (a 68701) and a couple of support chips, the boss took notice and quickly moved me into engineering.  I went on to do a ground-up redesign of the access control units.  Since this was such a small shop, the engineers did *all* the work for a particular product.  From schematic design and printed circuit board layout to case and enclosure design to the actual firmware.  I had fun and learned a lot.  What is frightening is that this company is still selling the products I designed over 15 years ago.  Here's a couple of links... I hope their site doesn't go down from a small “Slashdot” effect ;-)..

Scroll down a little. The A4ER is the first thing I designed.  It had a single MC68701

This is the staple of this companies' products.  I had designed the mag-stripe and barcode version.  Looks like they finally added proximity readers... those were the subject of many debates about whether or not we should get into that market or not... looks like they did.  I wonder how much of the firware is still my code.  From the specs it certainly looks like the hardware hasn't changed too much.


  1. Check my web site for a Delphi-coded IDE for embedded projects using the newer Motorola embedded chips!

  2. I love the 68HC11... I remember working with the Motorola reps on specing and sampling it when it was being introduced back in the late 80s and early 90s. In fact I designed and built an HC11 based access control terminal that had two card readers (on for entry and one for exit). I'm not sure it ever made it to market as I had left Elcom prior to its introduction. All that was left was to finish the firmware. In fact, I built a 4x8 serial port matrix switch box based on the same main board with the HC11. The EPROM finally died and it is now sitting under my monitor as a stand ;-)..

  3. At a previous job, I wrote an OPOS (OLE for Retail Point of Sale, COM/OLE) driver and tested it on several Elcom devices that were sitting around the office at the time.

  4. Erik: That's cool. Do you remember what devices you used? Elcom didn't do too much in the POS market except that some customers used the magnetic stripe card readers for terminal access control, and/or reading credit cards.

  5. I think I just figured it all out. Your Elcom the one I knew are different companies. The one I know is here: I thought this was almost too much of a cooincidence to be the case, and now it looks that way. :)

  6. Allen,

    I work at the Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, Missouri. We have one of the Elcom Industries ID Badge Reader/Writer devices that uses the ID Mate software. The model number is A4ER-RS-I/II-HE, S/N 0401004 and the date codes on some of the chips inside were around "9347" so the device is about 14 years old but it is still working.

    We had some problems with the reader/writer this morning, which I think was probably a dirty/intermittent serial port cable connector. It is working OK now; however, it was critical to get the system up and running again quickly.

    So my question is, do you have any documentation (user manual or schematic diagram) information on this ID Badge Reader/Writer that you coule e-mail me?

    I tried to call the Elcom Industries, Inc. company here in Saint Louis but the phone is no longer in service, so maybe this company does not exist anymore (?).

    Anyway, I would appreciate any information that you could/would be able to share with me about your A4ER design.



    Arnold Heidbreder, Senior Design Engineer

    Washington University School of Medicine - Electronics Shop

    Campus Box 8006

    4566 Scott Avenue

    St. Louis, Missouri 63110-1031

    Phone (314) 362-2294

    FAX (314) 362-2294



  7. I have the Barcode reader model 732 and am experiencing what appears to be electrical interruptions. Often times when an electrical storm passes through the area, the reader becomes disabled for up 4 - 6 hours at a time. Several commercial electricians have not been able to resolve. Has anyone else experienced this problem and would you have recommendations?

    Phone (303) 539-9334


  8. None of the links for examples on how to read Data from COM PORT when using a MAG stripe reader work

  9. Hello Allen,

    I am currently an undergraduate student and got my hands on the Elcom A4ER reader for use with a computer security project. As the machine that has the encode software is about 25+ years old (and doesn't even power on any more, with the image of the encoder UI being permanently burned into the computer screen), I am left with the reader that has a DB-25 female connector.. and a power connector.

    I searched and searched for a possible explanation of how to "drive" the reader and even went as far as recovering the data from the large 5.25" 10Mb Winchester drive on a forensics machine to get a hold of the ENCODE.EXE program. Unfortunately, it is an 8-bit application and doesn't run on Windows, even in compatibility mode. Moreover, an emulator doesn't map the required COM port correctly.

    So, I am at a loss, here, Allen.. :o) But it's kind of neat that I could find a person that actually WORKED on this project! Would you be willing to help me on how to "drive" the reader? I am assuming that the reader/encoder needs some kind of instruction over RS-232 to tell it to read data (use the motor and slide the head over the magnetic strip) and write it as well, since it doesn't do that automatically upon card insertion (although it does send the "card inserted" message through RS-232). I examined the connections and the only pins that seem to be connected are the TX, RX, and GND (pins 2, 3, and 7) on the DB-25F connector.

    Thank you in advance for your time!!

    Have a fantastic afternoon!..

    Kind Regards,



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