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Unbreakable Power Tools – Coming Soon to a Jobsite Near You?

What do you get when you take two physics nerds, the Cosserat theory of elasticity, 3D printing, and a bit of time to get some research done? We’re not entirely sure yet, but we’re definitely not ruling out the possibility of unbreakable power tools.

Currently, researchers in the field of 3D printing look to find new ways to make stress-bearing objects stronger and more durable. Engineering physics professor Rod Lakes and Zachariah Rueger, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have created a new material – a polymer lattice – that not only offers more flexibility, but also more strength under torsional force than concrete, aluminum, and steel.


Science Nerdiness

unbreakable power toolsEngineers have a standard theory that predicts how any of these traditional, standard materials will behave under heavy stress. This new polymer lattice, which is far more flexible, doesn’t conform to this standard. Instead, it exhibits qualities that conform more to the Cosserat Theory of Elasticity, which factors in the substructure of a material when predicting performance under heavy stress.

Lakes’ and Rueger’s new polymer lattice, designed with the Cosserat theory in mind, offers about 30 times more rigidity when bent than the standard theory can account for. What’s the reason for this? The new material forms a criss-crossing latticework of polymer strips, which increases strength and durability when it twists or bends.

“When you have a material with substructure in it, such as some foams, lattices and fiber-reinforced materials, there’s more freedom in it than classical elasticity theory can handle. So we’re studying the freedom of materials to behave in ways not anticipated by the standard theory.”

– Rod Lakes, physics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

While a latticework pattern naturally reacts well to bending and twisting forces, these two engineers have used 3D printing to enhance that pattern. The resulting design exhibits even more resilience to torsional forces.


Are Unbreakable Power Tools On The Horizon?

unbreakable power toolsSo, what does this mean for us? Potentially, it could mean stronger, safer structures. Think of bridges, buildings, and anything else that could likely crack. It looks like this polymer lattice could improve the overall resistance to stress, making stress fractures and cracks much less likely. This could also affect the way we design buildings, automobiles, roads, and a variety of other applications.

Naturally, as a bunch of tool nerds, we consider how this research would apply to our little corner of existence. Many of the tools we use, and the things we build or fix, handle a fair amount of stress. Think of the ways that this research could improve the quality of our own lives and the work we’re able to do. Think of the work we can accomplish with the possibility of unbreakable power tools!

That’s all fine and dandy, but there’s also the expense to consider. While there aren’t any current projections for what an unbreakable drill or smartphone might cost, it’s likely prices will initially reflect some higher production costs.

When you talk about creating structural materials out a polymer lattice, Pros in the construction industry will also have to figure out how to fasten, secure, and cut them. It may mean a whole new level of accessories, hardware, and even tools will be required.

While the technology is certainly promising, don’t expect to see it on a jobsite near you anytime soon. As with all new materials, proof of concept projects will need to go from model to full-scale. Even then, it will take years or decades to start seeing it show up in consumer products like power tools. After all, lithium-ion technology was conceived in 1977, hit commercial production in 1991, and didn’t find its way to power tools until 2005 with the Milwaukee V28 line.

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