Tech to get your teeth into

Even as a grizzled old hack, I occasionally learn a new word, writes Tim Gillett.

This week’s mot nouveau is biomimetics – defined on Wikipedia as ‘the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems’.

Probably the most obvious example of this is the early study of birds and flying mammals in the quest for human flight – check out Da Vinci’s designs for a ‘flying machine’, which closely resemble the look and structure of bat wings. Or consider the study of termite mounds in architects’ quest to create a building that stays cool without the need for air conditioning.

So when I was asked by Matt Dale, editor of our title Laser Systems Europe, to write a feature on laser machining for aerospace, I was intrigued to learn that two German companies have been inspired by shark skin as a way to reduce drag – and thereby increase fuel efficiency – in aircraft.

Laser specialist 4JET and aircraft paint supplier Mankiewicz have introduced a laser process for the creation of ‘riblets’ – like small ridges – automatically lasered directly onto painted aircraft surfaces.

By splitting a laser beam and then recombining it on a painted surface, the companies are able to create a mind-boggling 15 kilometres of riblets – equal to about a square metre of riblet surface – in less than one minute. The process can reduce drag by 10 per cent, and potentially result in fuel savings for commercial airlines.

In these days of increased environmental concern, that can only be a good thing.


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