Invention Raises Hope

Sam Franklin wants to give the wind power industry a lift.
The Broken Arrow man has invented a stunningly simple solution for getting men and equipment to the top of wind turbines. From his shop in the back of a self-storage operation, he intends to capture not only that market, but also other tall structures, like oil derricks, water towers, TV and radio towers and ships.
Franklin has made bids on two projects that, if he succeeds, include 1,392 units. Franklin is also working on a bid for a wind farm in India. Franklin declined to give specific numbers, but, at an estimated $30,000 apiece, a winning bid could be worth as much as $41.7 million.
There are literally thousands of the turbines across the U.S., but less than 1 percent have any kind of powered climbing system. Men and equipment must climb the equivalence of a football field to reach the turbine mechanism for repair and maintenance.
Franklin’s Suspended Climbing System is able to lift 900 pounds at a a rate of 40 feet a minute and fit inside the wind turbines, which can extend more than 300 feet — the length of a football field — in the air. The genius of the drive and stabilizing mechanism under the powered platform climbs up and down on a chain anchored in the floor.
Franklin began the design of his roller chain system in 2004.
“I lived on the bluffs near Langley on Grand Lake and needed a way to get down to my boat dock,” he said. “I looked at trams on the lake and realized that they had virtually no safety features. One of them released an anchor if the car exceeded a certain speed.”
With eight grandchildren visiting him at the lake, he needed a safe system.
“I built one for myself and sold others around the lake,” he said. “These systems served as my testing ground. They are doing great, and the people who bought them have had no complaints.”
He kept improving on the original design and started collecting patents on the roller chain concept with redundant safety features. It was during that phase he realized the potential for oil derricks and wind turbine towers.
Others in the field used a steel drum and wire rope system or a rack and pinion system. The rack and pinion systems are expensive and difficult to install.
“The wear and tear on the system over time causes broken or fatigued wire rope problems,” he said. Franklin’s roller chain system is flexible and easy to install. It is so simple, that Franklin’s system has a 17 to 1 safety factor. It has a closed-loop hydraulic motor that allows the platform to descend at a slow and controlled rate in the event of the loss of power or failure of the transmission or motor. The hydraulic motor takes over instantaneously if there is a failure of both disc brakes. There is zero free fall. It travels at a constant speed, regardless of the height traveled. It is self-stabilizing. The lift will not travel if the entry is open or if the load is over capacity. These safety features, plus the low maintenance aspect, make it a viable product to industries needing a lift system.
A member of the American Wind Power Association, Franklin attended a wind power conference in November and attracted the attention of many industry people and Oklahoma Secretary of Energy David Fleischaker.
When Franklin first began working on the stair system four and a half years ago, he contacted the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Mark Thompson, assistant program director at OCAST’s Tulsa office, was impressed with the idea and helped Franklin through the grant application process and introduced Franklin to the right industry people.
“He contacted me for help from OCAST. We networked him into the American wind energy association,” Thompson said. The technology-based economic development agency works with the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, the Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center and the Inventors Assistance Service to advance the state’s technology businesses. OCAST-funded research projects are reviewed by out-of-state science and business experts and ranked by their scientific merit and commercial potential.
“It is a great idea,” Thompson said. “He is a great individual and we wish him the best.”
Ironically, OCAST did not approve Franklin’s grant application because the lift used existing technology. OCAST invests where the agency believes the money has the most impact, Thompson said.
“OCAST looks at ideas and inventions from an accelerated perspective,” Thompson said. “Sam was not eligible this time because the reviewers felt there was no new technology.”
The 71-year-old inventor did not wait, and, using his own cash, he secured sufficient credit to move forward. He has been able to patent the assembly.
“He is far enough long now that he does not need our help,” Thompson said. “There is a a lot of interest in the system.”
Franklin is the only one in U.S. who has the assembly, Thompson said. The U.S. led wind energy research in the 1970s, but the Europeans took the lead through the 1980s and ‘90s. Today, the U.S. has taken back the mantle of top innovator.
“Mark with OCAST has been a tremendous help by introducing me to people in the wind industry,” Franklin said. “The Web site and source guides have gotten the word out there, and it appears that the safety features and low maintenance factor are what people are looking for.”

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