PRODUCT SPOTLIGHT: Magnetron Technology
Innovation is what drives everything here at Black Diamond. If we're not making gear better, stronger, lighter, faster, more durable and easier to use, then we're not doing our job. In this ongoing series of monthly posts, we'll be giving you an inside look at some of our most innovative products through one-on-one interviews with our team of industry-leading product designers and category directors.
This month we talked with Product Designer Joe Spataro about our all-new Magnetron Technology, which uses an innovative magnetic locking system to revolutionize the auto-locking carabiner. For more info or to locate a dealer near you that has the Magnetron carbiners in stock, click here.
What was the design goal in creating the Magnetron?
We aimed to create an auto-locking carabiner with an extra degree of lock safety compared to the Twistlock. Through extensive testing of the Twistlock and other rotating sleeve locking mechanisms, we discovered usability issues as well as mechanical issues. The Magnetron locking system addresses these issues in addition to the fully redundant nature of the lock.
What is the advantage of Magnetron Technology over traditional auto-lock or screwgate carabiners?
Many auto-locking carabiners utilize rotating sleeves to provide the lock. These sleeves are driven by a torsion spring. Over time (in some cases a fairly short amount of time), the springs wear out for various reasons (mechanical wear, dirt/water/etc). As the springs wear out, the "feel" of the mechanism degenerates. Magnetron technology eliminates springs. With proper care the feel and function of the locking mechanism will degrade very minimally over the life of the carabiner. Additionally, the Magnetron system offers two full-strength locks where most auto-locking biners offer one full-strength lock and a secondary lock to secure the full-strength lock.
I'm primarily left-handed. Using a rotating sleeve mechanism with your right hand requires a different action than using a rotating sleeve mechanism with your left hand. The Magnetron system is fully symmetric; the action required to unlock the biner will be the same whether you are using your right hand, left hand or your feet in certain cases (this was not tested).
How did the idea to use magnets as a locking mechanism come about?
We carried out an extensive conceptual design phase for this project. At the completion of this phase, we had a number of compelling spring-based designs on hand. Despite all of the work, at that point, we weren't satisfied with any of them. One morning Bill Belcourt walked over to my desk and he said something along the lines of, "Hey! You should use magnets." I thought to myself, "Ha! Magnets. Nice one, Bill. Can I get back to work now?" Initially I was not into it. After a few days of investigation I realized that, through design, magnets can be exploited to provide some very beneficial attributes. Ultimately, through some more concept work we created several interesting magnet-based lock concepts. The Magnetron system is an implementation of our best concept at that time.
What were some of the unique challenges encountered while designing the Magnetron?
There were so many unique challenges that I cannot possibly convey them quickly. As these projects normally go, the serious concerns and issues tend to shift throughout the design/development/testing phase. At first, we were unsure whether magnets were suitable for a product like this. This concern drove a testing phase to discover where the limitations of the magnet would be. Will it crack? Will it de-magnetize under certain conditions? Will the magnetic field magically change polarity? Can I take these on an airplane? Will this carabiner erase my credit card? We did our best to quickly answer these questions as well as others.
Unlike springs, the attraction/repulsion force from a magnet is highly nonlinear. Close to the magnet the force is very high; slightly further away from the magnet the force is much lower. Most of the Magnetron design centers around managing this relationship. Mechanical systems such as this one require extremely high manufacturing precision.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, were the design concerns focused on controlling the scope of the magnetic field. Magnetic fields tend to stray a good distance from the magnet. In a product like this, magnetic field containment is critical in order to minimize particulate pickup, beacon interference, etc. We've taken every step possible to contain the magnetic field to a very small volume around the magnet.
Aside from the magnet-specific design issues, we had to answer the question of, "How do we create a big hole in the nose of the carabiner while maintaining the same level of strength?"
Any issues with the magnets freezing or attracting dirt or other particles?
With regard to freezing, we've designed the mechanical fits between parts to minimize the potential for moisture accumulation. All locking mechanisms are susceptible to freezing; we've done our best to reduce the potential for freezing but this design may freeze under the right conditions. The magnets are not affected by freezing nor are they the culprit.
Magnets will attract particulate in the right conditions. The Magnetron is not magic in this regard but we've used an extremely small magnet and the magnetic field is contained within various steel pieces placed around the magnet. In testing we were able to clog various rotating sleeve designs prior to clogging the magnetron. In addition, the design is intentionally accessible for cleaning.