I was visiting with a friend this weekend and he showed me his table saw from a company called SawStop, based out of Tualatin, OR. He is a part-time woodworker and cabinetmaker and, while his table saw is certainly nicer than mine, I was most intrigued by the safety features. SawStop has a patented flesh sensing technology that stops the saw and drops the blade within milliseconds if it detects skin. Instead of an amputation, you come away with a scratch. If you have been reading this blog for very long, you know that I love unique technology applications so I had to find out more about this one.
SawStop was formed in 2000 when cofounder Steve Gass invented the saw brake and sensing technology that is used in their cabinet and portable table saws. He shopped the invention to the likes of Ryobi, Craftsman, and Black & Decker but could not come to an agreement with any of them. In 2005, he gave up and manufactured the saw himself through the SawStop name. The other manufacturers were interested but were hesitant to raise the price of their product to compensate for this additional safety technology.
How It Works
The SawStop carries a small electrical signal through the blade. When skin contacts the blade, the signal changes because the human body is conductive. When the signal changes, a spring loaded aluminum brake is released into the blade, slowing it from 5000 RPM to 0 in approximately 1/200ths of a second. The force of the brake also drops the blade below the surface in that same amount of time. It ruins the brake, which is a relatively inexpensive replaceable cartridge, and also breaks the blade, which can be replaced. Comparatively though, it is less traumatic to replace saw parts than to lose a finger. This is incredible technology that can prevent a lot of woodworking accidents.
This safety technology has only been available in the SawStop large cabinet saw up until early this year when the company also introduced a portable table saw with the same technology. Bosch’s new REAXX portable jobsite table saw, available this fall, is the first saw to copy the flesh sensing technology since it was developed in 2000 and commercialized in 2005.
So while I love this application of technology, my bigger question is this: why did it take so long for a competitor to copy this proven safety feature? Would consumers pay extra for this if it were available, or are we focused only on cost? I chose this blog topic today to highlight this technology but also to ponder on the bigger economic questions of safety features and marketability of a product. Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.