Pole vaulting forward
Over $1 million invested so far

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 24/99) - Moulding an idea into reality is often very expensive.

Just ask Bruce Elliott, production manager at Fiberglass North.

Over the past 18 months, the firm has been working on a machine which will manufacture a composite -- fibreglass -- transmission pole.

Elliott estimates it has cost $1.2 million to bring the project this far; to the brink of creating a prototype fibreglass transmission pole.

He figures it will take about $1 million more in investments before the firm is a bonafide fibreglass transmission pole manufacturer.

Why the fuss? After all, we are just talking about a pole to support power transmission lines.

Well, claims Elliott, engineered fibreglass transmission pole manufacturers are not that common.

And if that's not enough to spark interest, the North American transmission pole market is a $7 billion a year business, he said. Another plus is that wooden poles keep rotting but fibreglass won't rot or rust.

Elliott's toying with the idea of taking the company public to raise more capital. Some of the funding to date has come from government.

"We (government) need to put more support toward innovation," Joe Handley said.

Handley, when he was deputy minister of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, helped Fiberglass North get some funding for the project.

What makes Elliott's computerized manufacturing process promising is its ability to draw fibreglass along the length of a mandrel -- a big steel cylinder on which the fibreglass is shaped. Wrapping stands of fibreglass around the mandrel would be useless because the final result is too weak.

As the fibreglass strands are drawn along the mandrel, a hoop wraps fishing line along the length of the mandrel, trapping the strands uniformly against the steel cylinder.

The machine showed its stuff for just the third time last week.

The system is also designed to handle the problem of the volume of fibreglass strands at the tapered end of the pole.

With a tapered pole, having the same number of strands at the top and bottom leads to a thicker, heavier piece of fibreglass at the top. But you want the thicker, heavier piece at the bottom, or butt, of the pole.

So what happens if this project does not make it to full-fledged manufacturing?

Well, it turns out the composite pole is not the only project Elliott and his team are working on. Just across the plant floor, workers are building a made-in-the-North fibreglass jet boat.

Elliott said 30 years ago, personal watercraft -- those fibreglass pleasure boats that now dot lakes across the country -- were going to be one of the waves of the future.

Maybe now is a good time to listen to what he's got to say about fibreglass transmission poles.