In memoriam: Robert W. Lally, PCB Piezotronics founder
Alumnus Robert W. Lally (MSME ’49) was at Bell Aircraft Corp. in the early 1950s as a guidance and control engineer working on the Rascal and X-9 Shrike guided missiles when he encountered a man on the cutting edge of technology for testing devices.
Walter P. Kistler, a Swiss-born physicist who joined Bell in 1951, had come up with a way to amplify the output of piezoelectric quartz crystals used in sensors, like the ones that originally were employed for sonar. At Bell, Kistler applied his knowledge to rocket guidance and positioning systems.
“They were close associates and friends up until Walt passed away in 2015,” his son Patrick Lally said. "They still would talk every few months. They would talk about technical things the way we would talk about sports."
Mr. Lally, who died Monday in Hospice Buffalo in Cheektowaga at 93, created a number of sensing devices at Bell to measure impact on materials during testing.
Those included modally-tuned test hammers, pendulum hammer calibrators and the gravimetric calibrator. He came up with the idea for the two-wire ICP—integrated circuit piezoelectric—sensor and coined the term ICP. He held several patents.
The work at Bell led Mr. Lally to help found two spin-off companies.
In 1955, he and associates from Bell formed Kistler Instrument Co. to manufacture the precision measurement devices developed by Kistler at Bell. Mr. Lally became the company’s vice president for marketing.
When Kistler Instrument was sold to a firm that moved operations to Washington State, he and his younger brother, James, founded PCB Piezotronics in 1967 to produce high-tech sensing devices.
Hiring many former Kistler Instrument employees, they applied integrated circuit technology to piezoelectric sensors that monitor pressure, sound and vibration in cars, planes, ships, power plants and industrial processes.
PCB, headquartered in Depew, grew to more than 1,000 employees -- with facilities in Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Utah. The company was sold to MTS Systems in 2016.
Read the entire article in The Buffalo News. Written by Dale Anderson, The Buffalo News.