Slicing Steel Like Butter

The days of manufacturing and heavy industry spending thousands of dollars on multiple metal cutting devices may be over, thanks to a lightweight thermite torch being developed by a Ball State entrepreneurship student.

David Covert, ’11, of Sheridan, Indiana, spent several months working with engineers from the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Crane Division, in southern Indiana to commercialize a device he calls a super torch.

Originally designed by the military as a handheld torch able to cut any metal in seconds, Covert’s device combines thermite and oxygen to generate short bursts of extreme heat that can be concentrated in small areas. The improvement in cutting efficiency is exponential. To cut a one-inch square of steel with an acetylene torch takes about three minutes while the super torch can slice through the same steel in one second.

“For a shipyard or salvage operator looking to reclaim large sections of steel, the jump in efficiency equates to increased capacity, which potentially translates to increased productivity and profit,” Covert says. “In addition to the large companies that do a great deal of cutting, there are smaller shops, farmers, or people who like to work on cars and other vehicle as hobbies. There is a growing market for a low cost, easy to use handheld torch.”

Self-Contained System

Covert’s torch is designed as a self-contained system weighing slightly more than one pound, as opposed to the twin tanks of gas and numerous feet of feed hose that comprise the more than century-old oxyacetylene systems weighing hundreds of pounds.

“I am also testing the torch to see how it can be adapted to underwater use,” adds Covert. “That will open the door to new markets in the coming years in the oil, shipping, and maritime industries.”

Military Partnership

Supertorch is one of a half dozen projects being brought to market as a result of Military 2 Market (M2M), a partnership between Ball State’s entrepreneurship program and Crane. The partnership is a result of the military’s desire to commercialize patents developed by engineers at Crane and various installations around the world. During the process, students receive coaching from Navy technology transfer officers, laboratory scientists, and entrepreneurship faculty.

“It is a great opportunity for our students to work with some of the best scientists and engineers America has to offer,” said Michael Goldsby, the Entrepreneurship Center’s executive director and Stoops distinguished professor of entrepreneurship. The nationally recognized center is part of the Miller College of Business.

Senior Sweat

Like many entrepreneurship students, Covert plans to formally launch his business in the months after he completes his undergraduate degree requirements. He will submit a business plan as part of the entrepreneurship program’s E-Day (Evaluation Day) in the spring.

A key feature of E-Day is a final pass-or fail-review that requires seniors to put their degrees on the line when their business plans are scrutinized by a group of top business leaders. If they pass, students go on to receive their diplomas. Failure requires them to return the next year with a new or revised plan, or to seek another degree.

More in Making an Impact

“Ball State's entrepreneurship program provides multiple intense learning experiences that have challenged me and provided an opportunity to understand and test valuable real-world concepts and develop innovative solutions. The program provides students the tools to take an idea, develop it, and launch a business that has the ability to make an impact. Without the program, I wouldn’t be able to create my company at my age.”

— David Covert, ’11