HOISINGTON — Timothy Lewis Sr. and Nathan Spare are both engineers at the Superior Essex manufacturing facility in Hoisington. Lewis grew up in Great Bend and Spare in St. John. If you had asked either one when they were new graduates if they imagined a future of working with wire, neither would have answered in the affirmative.
“No one imagines doing this when they decided they want to study engineering,” Spare said. “I certainly didn’t, but I’ve been here for seven years, and I love it.”
Lewis, with 17 years logged at Superior Essex, agrees. Both enjoy their work and look forward to what is next. They have good reason to. Through their work and their collaboration with other Superior Essex engineers, both in Hoisington and Atlanta, Ga., they have both been recognized as inventors on recently awarded U.S. patents for their inventions which may help the communications industry to soon double the amount and speed of data that can travel through a cable, essential technology that, as the world transitions from 4G to 5G technology, will affect, quite frankly, everyone everywhere who depends on cellphones and wireless data.
As the world becomes increasingly wired, most people never consider the physical process that allows an app on a phone to unlock a door, turn on or off lights from outside the home, remotely start a robotic vacuum, or turn on a video recording device when a surveillance alarm is tripped.
Essentially, it’s all made possible thanks to Power over Ethernet, or PoE technology. Basically, electrical current and data flow over pairs of shielded twisted pairs of wire inside the Ethernet cable. Within each pair, one wire carries the current one direction, and the other wire the opposite direction, which allows the electricity and data to flow instead of going nowhere.
Lewis’ invention will allow the return current to travel along the shield instead, so now both wires in each pair can carry data and electricity.
Spare worked closely with co-inventor Thibaut Oscar Lanoe. Their invention is similar to Lewis’s, but it has more to do with the size and speed of the pathway the electricity and data travel through. The size of the wire, and the twist patterns for each wire (each must be different) is what makes it work, essentially. The resulting category 6A cable meets the highest standards in the industry, PoE +, and beyond.
“When you try to increase data, for video, etc., and for more power, his cable comes in handy,” Lewis said.
If this sounds cutting edge, that’s because it is. Lewis, Spare, and engineers like them are essentially creating the cable that will be used in technology that hasn’t yet been created.
“Now it’s up to the people who design technology to find applications for it,” Lewis said.
With this in mind, these inventors understand that their creations may or may not pay off. Like VHS and Betamax, competing video recording technologies from four decades ago, the cost of implementation by industry will likely be the deciding factor.
“Betamax was the better technology,” Lewis said. “But VHS was much less expensive to produce by industry, so it won out.”
The patents, however, protect the company in the event that these cables do become an industry standard later. For Spare and Lewis, working on high tech innovations like these in rural Kansas makes more sense than it may at first appear. While they are far from the tech hubs of Silicon Valley, Seattle and Houston, having a manufacturing facility at their fingertips is priceless. While a lot of design work happens on paper, at the Hoisington plant they can build their designs from scratch and test their work on site, which really speeds up the engineering process, and increases the excitement of invention. For this reason, both engineers see endless opportunities where others with less experience might see obstacles.
“The cool thing is, we are doing it in a facility that is zero waste to landfill — the only one in the country,” Lewis said. “It blows your mind that it happens her in Hoisington.”
Lewis was named as the inventor on U.S. Patent 10,276,280, granted April 30, 2019. Spare and coinventor Thibaut Oscar Lanoe were named on U.S. Patent 10249410, granted April 2, 2019. Both patents are the property of Superior Essex International LP, Atlanta, Ga.