When Does Technical Brilliance Matter, and When Does It Not?

A technological marvel may not always translate into commercial success

3 min read

When you see something that is technically sweet," said J. Robert Oppenheimer, " you go ahead and do it, and argue about what to do about it only after you've had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb."

Each profession has a right to its own indulgence—technical sweetness for engineers, elegance for designers, contrarianism for journalistic pundits. It is not the professionals but their bosses who must curb such enthusiasms. Sometimes, though, the bosses are out to lunch.

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A photo shows separated components of the axial flux motor in the order in which they appear in the finished motor.
INFINITUM ELECTRIC
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The heart of any electric motor consists of a rotor that revolves around a stationary part, called a stator. The stator, traditionally made of iron, tends to be heavy. Stator iron accounts for about two-thirds of the weight of a conventional motor. To lighten the stator, some people proposed making it out of a printed circuit board.

Although the idea of replacing a hunk of iron with a lightweight, ultrathin, easy-to-make, long-lasting PCB was attractive from the outset, it didn’t gain widespread adoption in its earliest applications inside lawn equipment and wind turbines a little over a decade ago. Now, though, the PCB stator is getting a new lease on life. Expect it to save weight and thus energy in just about everything that uses electricity to impart motive force.

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