Richard Campbell is Revolutionizing the Cable Industry

Self-Taught InventorFrom bicycles to aeronautics, Richard Campbell is revolutionizing the cable industry By Jennifer Ewing

It’s safe to say Richard Campbell has his fair share of atypical childhood memories. A self-taught inventor since the age of 14, he spent many of his after-school hours poring over the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, disguising his voice in order to confer with professional engineers over the telephone and, ultimately, setting out to literally reinvent the wheel from a workspace in his parents’ garage.

Now, 17 years later, Campbell’s adulthood ventures are shaping up to be just as exceptional, his accomplishments extending far beyond the purpose of his adolescent research.

"My vision at that point was creating a better bike wheel," he says of the beginning. "I wanted to replace all of the steel spokes with synthetic cables — the idea was to take out all of the rotational weight."

This idea seemed simple enough and, in theory, would have created a supremely fast, light and shock absorbent wheel. However, it soon became apparent that his invention would be incredibly difficult to execute.

"The industry has done a very good job of making synthetic cables, but the technology as a whole has never been practical because of lack of end fitting and processing technology," he explains.

In other words, there was no viable way for Campbell to fasten the cables to the inner rim of a bike wheel — or much of anything else, for that matter. In fact, the cable companies presented him with only four end-fitting options — all of which were extremely heavy, bulky and expensive.

"Clearly it wasn’t going to work," says Campbell, who refused to give up on his invention despite the obvious challenges. "I guess at that age I was naïve and persistent enough to think ‘Well, I’ll just make a new cabling technology. Then I’ll take my wheel to market.’ So I spent four years making and breaking thousands of cables to try to make a new science for the termination of synthetics."

In August of 1997, Campbell’s dream was realized when his breakthrough technology hit the market in the form of bicycle and wheelchair spokes. Amazingly, he had accomplished his goal without having ever set foot in an engineering class. "I’m completely self-taught," says Campbell, who has led seminars at the FSU School of Business yet is three hours shy of his associate’s degree.

Today, his Havana-based company, Applied Fiber Holdings, stands as a world leader in the cabling industry and is making technological advances in every field from aeronautics to ocean floor mapping. "With these fibers, you can make a cable that outperforms steel in just about every regard," asserts Campbell. "It’s useful in every industry because it replaces not only steel cable, but steel rod, steel chain, nylon strap or webbing, and fiberglass rod — anything that gets used as a tension member this can replace."

To date, Applied Fiber Holdings has roughly 40 products in or nearing production. Campbell and his team have developed cabling systems for sailboats, circus acts, U.S. Air Force cargo planes, pilot helmets, bulletproof vests, golf clubs, bridges and prosthetic hands — just to name a few.

One major market that has turned to synthetic cables is the timber industry. "Log truck drivers are basically having to throw steel cable and chain over their load all day long," says Campbell.

"They just have massive injury problems." Now, synthetic logging wrappers are helping to lessen rotator cuff failure and other industry-related injuries. The potential range for synthetic cables only seems to expand and may be endless.