Inventor tries to break through

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Chris Michlewicz
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Bob Faust is a tinkerer by nature.

Nearly every day of the week, the 71-year-old retiree spends hours on end in the basement of his Highlands Ranch home, tooling around and working out the bugs in his inventions. His work bench is strewn with electronic gadgets, wires, tools of all kinds.

“It looks like a mad inventor lives down there,” he says.

His wife, Jeanette, is okay with the time-consuming devotion he shows to what he considers more than a hobby, but Faust is quick to point out that “there are rules.” No work on Sundays and half of Saturday. Always show up promptly for lunch and dinner. Those are the stipulations and he is happy to abide by them.

Faust, who filed 18 patents during his illustrious career as an electronics engineer with IBM, loves to create new products or improve upon existing items. He beams when talking about his six inventions, five of which he is bringing to INPEX, the country’s largest invention trade show, June 14-17 in Pittsburgh, Penn.

One of them is FEAC — Fractional Earth Address Coordinates — a device that breaks down cumbersome global positioning system coordinates into easy-to-read numbers. No pluses and no minuses, just simple numbers. Broken down to a decimal point to express latitude and longitude, it is accurate enough to find a tree in a neighborhood. Other GPS units sometimes use grids that narrow down a location to a city block.

Another of his ingenious ideas is XTenTips, adaptable tips made of wire, plastic and metal that make it easier for probes to fit into circuitry boards. Faust’s method of choice for building circuitry is to use a solderless breadboard kit. Using the basic essentials, he can build a circuit that regulates a computer-controlled power supply, motors and photo electric sensors, among many others. However, the probes that connect the wires to the circuit board come in all shapes and sizes. Enter XTenTips, a simple concept that adapts the probes to fit correctly. It seemed to be a natural need, and Faust was surprised there were no products on the market to address the problem.

Because he is always breaking down electronic devices to each tiny component, Faust admits the consuming practice is “taxing on the brain,” even a “curse.” But the discoveries he made as a teenager opened up a world of possibilities and led him on a career path he considers quite rewarding.

Faust’s fascination with electronic engineering began to manifest itself when he purchased his first car. He was anxious to know how things operated, and how the various components interacted with each other. In his 20s, Faust taught himself electronics, and realized he could build circuitry with a functional purpose. Before long, he joined the Air National Guard and was hired to work at Lowry Air Force Base as an airborne radar maintenance technician. He bolstered his knowledge of electronics through a series of correspondence classes.

When he got a tip that IBM was hiring, he jumped at the opportunity and was brought on to write computer programs and perform electronics work. Even without a college degree, Faust found himself equally capable as his peers to do the work. He eventually retired in 2006, but knew he was just beginning his career as an independent inventor.

The largest challenge often is not funding or manufacturing thousands of products at once, but marketing the product and convincing the public that it is something they need. Or, rather, convincing a company that it is a product important enough to distribute to the masses.

That’s why showcasing his inventions at INPEX is so important to a burgeoning inventor like Faust. It brings inventors together with powerhouses like Black & Decker and 3M, which can make or break a product’s chances. Faust and his partner, Jeff, have scheduled appointments to meet with a handful of companies while in Pittsburgh, and said it should be a learning experience for both entrepreneurs.

Faust, a Highlands Ranch resident for 6 years, already sold one invention — an early version of his probe tips — but the company that bought the idea overcharged and doomed the product from the beginning. Hardly any moved from the shelves.

“They were charging $200 for a pack of tips. I thought $20 would have been enough,” he said.

He has high hopes for the Twist Drill Punch, which squares off and sharpens a drill piece fitted to a press, making it easier to make a nice, clean hole in paper, rubber or fabric. He has applied for patents for many of his inventions; they are still under review.

Faust, who is also an amateur photographer and woodworker, said he remains astonished at the pace of advancements in electronic engineering and wonders where it will lead in the coming years.

Regardless, Faust knows he wants to have a hand in creating ideas and products that make things easier for mankind.