Whirlwind – A SawStop Killer?

Article - February 3, 2011

A recent article on USA Today’s website states that the Consumer Products Safety Commission is on a mission to prevent debilitating tablesaw injuries. The goal? To require saw-makers to include “flesh-detecting technology” in their tablesaws, much like they are now required to include riving knives. The driving force behind all this is Steve Gass, the patent lawyer and inventor of SawStop. Regardless of how one feels about Sawstop, the company or the technology, it seems that most folks view government intervention as a major negative. As responsible saw owners, most of us know that proper training and safe practices are the best way to prevent accidents.

Honestly, this is just another chapter in the saga of SawStop and I am sure most of you are sick of hearing about it. But one of the things that bugs me the most about this situation is the lack of competitive alternatives to SawStop technology. Well, thanks to a link from Jim in the WTO Forum, a potential competitor was brought to my attention and its called Whirlwind. Here’s how it works, according to the website:

“If an operator contacts the proximity sensors in the electronic fence, this triggers the emergency stop. Our latest prototype can stop a typical bench-top saw motor, without damage, in about 1/8 of a second.”

The site features a number of videos but you won’t get to see a great deal of detail. There are, however, a number of intriguing things about this system. First, the brake is triggered BEFORE you touch the blade, which means no stitches and no bandaids. It passes the “hot dog test” without so much as a scratch on the wiener! Second, the braking mechanism does not destroy your blade and doesn’t seem to require replaceable parts. Third, the system incorporates what looks to be flawless dust collection. Not sure how this part works but they seem to push it as a feature.

From what the inventors say, it looks as though they are trying to market the technology directly to tool companies via licensing agreements. Now I won’t pretend to know how well this product works or how realistic it is to think it could effectively be added to current saws at a low cost, but it certainly is intriguing. And it has me thinking about the big picture.

Forgive me for speculating here, but could SawStop’s efforts to force its way into your shop potentially back-fire on them? Right now, they seem to be enjoying a successful run. In fact, I know MANY of you are satisfied SawStop owners. But with increased pressure from not only the marketplace but also the government (potentially), I have to imagine the big tool manufacturers are thinking long and hard about alternative flesh-detecting technologies. And should a competing technology become available as an add-on for every make and model saw on the market, what would happen to SawStop?? We know they make a high quality saw, but would that be enough to survive in an entire market FULL of high quality flesh-detecting saws that have nothing to do with SawStop technology? I don’t know the answer, but the old saying “Be careful what you wish for!” comes to mind.

So what do you folks think about Whirlwind? Could SawStop be shooting itself in the foot by trying to do more than simply sell a great product? With the little info we have, its hard to make a real judgement call here. But do you think an alternative technology is on its way? Could something like that spell the end of a tool company many folks have grown to love? I welcome your opinions, but I do ask that we keep the anti-SawStop and anti-government stuff to a minimum.


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