Sunday, September 12, 2004
By Matthew Lane
KINGSPORT - Bob Scharf and Randy Lord founded Protokraft in October 2003 and located it in the Holston Business Center in Kingsport. Protokraft designs and manufactures high-speed communication equipment for use in harsh environments.
The product, which the two men say nothing else like it exists in the world, is a wall mount receptacle connector with an integrated optical transmitter and receiver.
"Our initial focus are components that will be used in things like advanced fighter planes, in radar navigation or tracking targets," Scharf said. "Those use very similar, very sophisticated electronic instruments and they have to be packaged in a way that allows them to be used in very harsh environments."
Scharf likens their invention to a USB jump drive. "You have a USB port on your computer, and you plug something into that port. Now you have jump drives which is a whole disk drive built into what was once a connector," Scharf said. "By embedding electronics into (the connector) we're facilitating the information transfer process."
By embedding the communication equipment within the connector, Scharf said this saves weight, space and improves the reliability of the whole process.
"We eliminate the need for the military to use interconnection cables, that ordinarily would be the most fragile part of their system," Scharf said. "There's a huge need in the military to reduce the weight of these fighter planes because if they can fly for an hour now and we can reduce a thousand pounds of weight off the plane, all of a sudden they can carry an extra passenger or they can fly for an hour longer."
The connectors contain embedded transmitters and receivers, are sealed, vibration resistance and are meant to withstand high winds, rain, lightning, and extreme heat and cold. At the same time, they are also expected to perform sophisticated and complex tasks such as transmitting information, files, and pictures.
In addition to military equipment, other applications for Protokraft' s connectors could be with cell phone towers and medical equipment, such as MRI' s.
"There are massive amounts of data that has to be transported out of the MRI unit room over to very powerful computers that take raw signals and process them into 3D images of your body," Scharf said. "If I can reduce the weight of that head, I generate all kinds of benefits to the manufacturer of that MRI unit. The MRI can now be lighter, easier to service, easier to install and transport with lower maintenance."
"These applications that are going into harsh environments aren't well served," Scharf said. "It was a niche we found that wasn't populated by much competition so we felt there was a real opportunity to be innovative and bring a new function to the world that these people are trying to support."