Ahead of Our Time
Robert Davis' experiences running Plasmachem in the early 1960s.
Recorded at Laguna Hills Technology Branch Library for California of the Past.
In about 1965-66, [I] came to Orange County. There were lots of early start-ups down here. It was very attractive so far as a place to come. I mean, it was good housing, lots of orange groves still left. It was nice. I and a couple of mechanical engineers ended up being solicited by a little company called Plasmachem which was a start-up in using plasma arcs and they were trying to develop chemical processes using plasma arcs as a heat source. If you consider that the technology at that time - Tungsten was, and may still be for all I know, produced in small graphite boats that take about eight hours from front end to back end in a Hydrogen furnace to produce [a] powder. Ours - the production was like in milliseconds to produce the material. About that time - because we had worn out our welcome on Campus Drive [Newport Beach] - the problem being we had a couple of accidents that produced "snow-storm like" effects out in the parking lot that other companies around there did not care for. We were invited by the Fire Department to kindly leave Newport. So we left Newport and went over to Santa Ana where they welcomed us because they did not know what we were going to be doing. After we built our first large Hydrogen storage tank in the side yard over there, we did come under quite a bit of scrutiny from the Fire Department. But we assured them if there was a problem that the blast would go directly upwards and not affect the surrounding buildings. Fortunately that never happened. So, we were slightly ahead of our time. Sub-micron Tungsten Carbide, which was an application we were trying to get into, didn't really appear until about three or four years after we were acquired by another organization and the technology kind of put to sleep. We did build up quite a patent position. We were issued eleven U.S. basic patents on process and equipment, so it really could be looked at as a break-through in technology. And the doors were closed and the trucks arrived the following Monday morning and the remaining plant was taken apart and shipped to Boston and I opted to stay in Orange County.
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