Latest Insights in the Evolving Digital World

Star Wars Toys to Riveting Machines

Like any young boy, I took a fancy to Star Wars. I simply loved the Stormtroopers and space ships. Although I sympathized with the Rebels, the Empire had way cooler uniforms. My favorite trooper in the Star Wars universe was the Scout Trooper. I even made a cardboard costume to wear to the Star Wars themed Physics Olympics in high school. Anyways, one Easter I received a Scout Trooper on a speeder bike that actually moved on its own. To make it run, I had to insert a zip cord and pull it out really fast. A flywheel stored the kinetic energy made by my zip cord and used that to propel my trooper forward.

Now that I’ve grown up (my love for Star Wars as strong as ever) I’m surprised to find that the flywheel that made my toy come to life is actually used in many industrial applications. A flywheel is basically a disc of metal like iron, steel or aluminum. The side of the flywheel that faces the transmission is referred to as the friction face. The friction face locks together with a friction disc to transfer engine power to the transmission input shaft. Large flywheels can be found in a number of places including data centers, casinos, hospitals and in industry.

The main application for a flywheel is to provide continuous energy in a system where energy can’t constantly be provided from a source. Whenever torque is applied to the flywheel it stores energy. This torque is applied by the energy source, once that energy source stops applying torque, the flywheel releases its stored energy. Riveting and punch machines use flywheels for their operations. The motors create energy which is stored in the flywheel until it is released in the riveting or punching process. The process sounds very similar to coasting when riding on a bike, although that probably has to deal more with momentum.