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MEEM on the Cutting Edge of Saw Safety

From Tech Today Nov 15, 2007

by Karina Jousma, Tech Today student editor

Every year, table saws are involved in over 60,000 injuries, over 3,000 amputations and $2 billion in injury-related costs, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. To combat such alarming statistics, last summer the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics invested in SawStop, a brand of table saw on the cutting edge of safety technology.

This table saw is different from its customary counterpart. If a saw operator’s skin comes in contact with the blade, a mechanism causes the whole blade component to retract in 0.005 of a second. The result is a superficial cut. To see a demonstration of the saw with a hot dog, visit the SawStop website at .

How does the tool work? “Anything conductive is a potential for it to react and deploy the stop,” said Robert Rowe, a training specialist in the department's Senior Design program. According to the SawStop website, the blade holds a small electrical charge. A sensor monitors voltage, and if anything conductive comes in contact with the blade, including skin or certain construction materials, it absorbs some electrical charge, decreasing voltage. When that happens, an aluminum stop is tripped and lodged in the blade teeth via a spring. The blade stops rotating, and momentum pulls it under the table.

If the stop is triggered, the cost of a replacement blade is only $75. “All it has to do is react once, and it has paid for itself—plus more,” said Rowe. With the cost of the entire saw unit at a little more than $3,000, as opposed to the OSHA-calculated average cost for workplace amputation around $45,000, it adds up.

The implications extend beyond economic concerns. “It’s not worth—from a safety point of view—not having one, as far as I’m concerned," said Rowe. "Thanks to Dr. (William) Predebon (department chair) and his keen attention to safety, we have the saw."


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Nov 15, 2007