Cutting through solid steel with flaming bacon certainly has its appeal, but for large-scale industrial processes, the Fraunhofer institute thinks electromagnetic pulses may work better than the other white heat. Case in point: their new electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device that cuts through steel faster than a laser, and cheaper than a machine tool.
The device uses a mixture of capacitors and coils to create a directed magnetic field that works like a paper-hole puncher. The shaped magnetic field pounds steel with 50,763 pounds per square inch, or three times the pressure at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. At that power, the blast can punch a hole through steel seven times faster than the lasers currently used to do the same job.
To protect passengers in case of a collision, most car manufacturers craft the car body out of some of the toughest steel available. Unfortunately, the same toughness that makes the car so safe also makes the body very difficult to alter during construction. To create holes for wiring, car companies use either mechanical tools, which wear out and add an additional step to remove the subsequent burr, or lasers, which require a lot of energy and money. The Fraunhofer EMP device doesn't have any of those drawbacks, while retaining most of the advantages.
Additionally, the process leaves no burr or hanging metal, eliminating expensive finishing steps in the assembly process. And with no moving parts, the machine experiences far less wear than mechanical tools.
The EMP device isn't widely available yet, as the company perfects how to manufacture coils in a wide range of different shapes. But if anyone needs to punch a hole into some tough steel, I think you might want to give Germany a ring.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.