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German electropulse energy drill bitchslaps lasers

Could revolutionise carmaking, shark armaments

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Remorseless German boffins, seeking a more efficient way to make holes through hardened steel, have spurned such antique technologies as the cutting laser. They are now employing our old friend the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) as a high-tech energy drill which leaves no burrs and doesn't get blunt.

The boffins in question, of course, are those of the renowned Fraunhofer Institutes - birthplace among many other things of the mp3. In this case they had turned their minds to the problem of drilling holes in car bodywork, parts of which are made from quite heavy steel. Even worse, the steel members are usually shaped in presses, which makes them harder and so more difficult to drill holes through.

Unfortunately the holes must be drilled for such purposes as cable runs. Using actual drills is an option, but the bits wear out fast on hard steel and they leave sharp burrs on the edges of the holes as well. Lasers are a possibility, but they use vast amounts of energy and take a long time to make a hole.

Enter the electromagnetic pulse, better known to Reg readers as a possible military weapon of the future - and to certain alarmist US politicians as a terrifying terrorist menace. For around 40 years, the electropulse bomb - or possibly a high-powered microwave raygun - has been just a few years away.

The ability of electropulse tech to actually deliver a useful electronic warfare effect at any distance from the kit remains to be seen: but Fraunhofer boffins already have it working close up in a Volkswagen factory, not just scrambling circuitry but blasting holes through press-hardened steel.

“The new method was previously used primarily to expand or neck aluminum tubes," says Dr Verena Kräusel of the Fraunhofer Institut für Werkzeugmaschinen und Umformtechnik. "We’ve modified it to cut even hard steels. Whereas a laser takes around 1.4 seconds to cut a hole, EMP can do the job in approximately 200 milliseconds – our method is up to seven times faster.”

According to Dr Kräusel, the pressure exerted on the metal by the electromagnetic pulse drill is equivalent to balancing three cars atop one another supported on a single fingernail.

"The researchers develop now the coils for various cutting geometries," add Fraunhofer spokespersons.

Evil billionaires of the world take note. The laser is, quite literally, no longer on the cutting edge. New choices in headmounted energy-weapon armament for one's execution-pool denizens may be on offer soon. ®

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