Maritime safety technology that packs a punch.
Manufacturers of self-inflating lifejackets are being urged to consider using a component which is already widely deployed in life-saving equipment around the world.
Metron Actuators are just a few centimetres long but have a power to weight ratio in excess of 10,000: 1.
Their size, force and reliability has been harnessed by manufacturers of fire suppressant systems and air crew ejector seats. Metrons are also used on the Boeing Dreamliner to activate the oxygen supply in the event of an emergency.
Their immense power is generated when non-hazardous pyrotechnic materials, within the Metron, undergo an incredibly rapid expansion within milliseconds of receiving an electrical impulse.
Since the late 1970s around six million Metrons have been made by Chemring Energetics UK (CEUK) at its production centre on the west coast of Scotland.
“They are used where there is a need for a failsafe and instantaneous solution and there’s not much space. Their appearance gives no clue as to the sort of punch they pack,” said CEUK managing director Stuart Cameron.
His colleague Mikhael Dzagoev is attending Seawork International – Europe’s largest commercial marine exhibition – in Southampton in June and is looking forward to meeting lifejacket manufacturers.
“We’ve already had useful and positive discussions with one of the major companies and Seawork provides a great opportunity to talk about the potential of Metrons in this market,” he said.
“Although the engineering behind a Metron is quite complex, its function is quite simple. For self-inflating jackets, for example, it’s a bottle opener which releases the CO2 in a canister to inflate the jacket.
“This obviously has to happen very, very quickly and the system must be 100% reliable – and that’s where Metrons come into their own. When sensors built into the jacket detect water, the Metron is activated and the jacket is inflated within five seconds. That could be the difference between life and death.”
CEUK’s site in Scotland was once home to the biggest explosives factory in the world. It was built in 1871 by the Swedish chemist and philanthropist Alfred Nobel to manufacture his invention, dynamite
For nearly 150 years businesses there have followed Nobel’s British Dynamite Company in developing and manufacturing products which use energetic materials: explosives, pyrotechnic compositions and propellants.
“An energetic material is often seen as something used to destroy. The most common use of Metrons is to preserve life,” said CEUK MD Stuart Cameron.
Another one of the company’s products – a propellant called Mechanite – already plays a vital role in saving sailors’ lives.
It is used in the Linethrower, manufactured by Comet Marine, to throw a line more than 200 meters to rescue a ship’s crew member who has fallen overboard.