Kolbe's components used on Mars rover|
Saturday, August 18, 2012
By Tyler Kolesar Staff Writer
PHILIPSBURG - On Aug. 6, many people were captivated with the landing of the Mars rover, Curiosity, as it began its scientific journey into finding signs of possible past life on the red planet. Philipsburg resident Ted Kolbe actually masterminded and developed components that are present on Curiosity.
Kolbe, who has been in electronics for many years, helped develop the Presidio Capacitor Program, and its specialty capacitors are on the rover. However, he did not actually know about its presence on board until an e-mail was sent to him from a co-worker at the English firm for which he does consulting work.
How exactly did Kolbe get involved in all of this? He said he wasn't interested in electronics until after he moved back home to Pennsylvania from New York around 1965.
"My wife did not like New York, so we moved back to Pennsylvania," said Kolbe.
Kolbe worked at many places throughout Pennsylvania and the east coast, including Curtiss-Wright in Quehanna and places in North Carolina and New York. He even tried out brick making in Curwensville for a year before deciding that wasn't for him.
"That's (brick making) completely unrelated to anything I ever did," said Kolbe.
Shortly after the brick making, Kolbe got a job with Erie Technological and has been in the electronics business since that time. For the past 13 years, he's specialized in ceramic capacitors. It's this work that led him to the development of products Curiosity is using. This is the part where it gets a bit technical.
Kolbe said the process of development had to consider a number of requirements to obtain military approval for use in space applications, such as extreme temperature fluctuations from -55 degrees Celsius (-131 degrees Fahrenheit) to 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) and increased shock and vibration resistance. The final component has to survive months of testing for mechanical and electrical durability, as well. Kolbe said the dynamics of the electronic market are demanding the products to be smaller and able to perform more functions than previous models.
Using a connector lead frame produced by a Harrisburg company and by working with a west coast component manufacturer, Kolbe said a final product was developed that exceeded all of the requirements and was given military approval. It was also assigned a Defense Electronic Supply part number, to which Kolbe said has taken on the designation of a "Super Cap."
"The critical part of the final component is a special designed stamped part with multiple legs and a metal attachment that has multiple small holes to allow air to escape and solder to flow through the holes for additional attachment strength," said Kolbe. "The multiple legs, with formed feet, make for additional metal that is soldered to the circuit board to obtain superior resistance to failure from shock and vibration."
Kolbe said multiple units can be stacked together by adjusting the metal attachment area. Instead of placing many single components on the current board, Kolbe said only a single Super Cap will be placed, saving circuit board space and labor to place the singular units. On the capacitors can be anywhere from two to 20 legs per side.
Those with in-depth knowledge in electronics would know components are subject to internal heat buildup, resulting in failure. The additional metal and numerous legs in the application Kolbe came up with are able to reduce heat in the final component. The Super Cap has resulted in point of use power supply being reduced in size, but becoming more powerful than the past. They are used in desktop computers, laptops, cell phones and other devices, as well as in the military and space programs. Kolbe said previously his designed parts have made it to space, but the magnitude of the situation really sunk in whenever his work was actually located on another planet.
Kolbe said component manufacturers that use the Super Cap have seen astronomically increases in revenue per unit, from an average of $0.50 per part to around $300 each now. He also stated the manufacturers have created more jobs as a result of production of the product.
Kolbe said some of his proudest achievements in his career have included his product design applications being integrated with other products. With these products have come new jobs and increased revenue for companies, giving satisfaction to Kolbe.
"The applications have been many," said Kolbe. "From automotive to space. That's probably my proudest moment."
Kolbe encourages youngsters interested in electronics to join the field, as the possibilities are endless. He said the medical field is becoming more electronical and the automotive industry requires much of the type of work he does, but other fields are increasingly dealing with electronics as well.
"It's a market that's developing in many fields," Kolbe said. "And there are many, many, many opportunities in those fields. There are opportunities galore because everything is coming to electronics in the world."