The watch that Elmar Mock wears on his wrist is matte black with orange hands. Of course, it is from the brand Swatch. “It’s a gift from my wife and I like it because it doesn’t have numbers, it doesn’t have the hours and the hour hand and minute hand are exactly the same size, so you’re never sure what time it is.”
Following in the vital wake of many creative geniuses, Mock -who these days attends the delivery ceremony to the European Inventor of the Year, an award to which he has been nominated for his inventions – was a bad student. However, at the beginning of the eighties the watch industry of his country put before him and his partner Jacques Müller a major challenge: save the swiss watch of the digital threat that came from Japan.
“In a crisis situation there are more people willing to take risks, it is a good opportunity for crazy people to do things that they would never allow if we were not in crisis,” says Mock to EL ESPAÑOL. “But I wasn’t trying to save the Swiss watch industry, I just had the feeling that it was a good idea“.
They achieved this precisely by creating the Swatch, a simple but elegant watch and above all, affordable that allowed them to recover many of the customers who had fled to put a Seiko or a Casio on their wrist.
Mock’s essential contribution was to use a system of ultrasound for put the clock pieces together, which allowed him to do without many of them and reduce the number of parts needed from 91 to 51.
Now the Swiss watch is back threatened, but this time for the industry electronics. The big manufacturers thought that, installed in the luxury sector, they were safe. But now Asians are turning from buying expensive mechanical watches and opting for high-tech versions like the Apple Watch.
“In any situation, human beings end up repeating the same mistakesWhy do we have to wait until we are close to divorce to show up with a bouquet of flowers, why didn’t we do it before? ”Asks the inventor.
In any case, Mock is caught by this new crisis away from the watch industry. He soon discovered that his ultrasonic welding system could reach beyond the wrist of his left arm.
One day a member of his group suggested that the technology could be used to weld more than just the plastic and metal parts that make up a watch. “He asked if we could weld wood and everyone said it was impossible to weld it, because you can’t melt it,” explains Mock. As it was impossible, and therefore interesting, they tried and came to create a false solder between a porous structure and a polymer, that is, they were not physically bonded but neither did they separate. Bingo.
At that time someone added that wood and bone they were structurally very similar, and if they had achieved it with one thing, perhaps they could also achieve it with the other. “The doctors also said ‘it’s impossible’ but we took two pieces of bone, we measured their temperature and their characteristics and we started doing it,” explains Mock.
The key is that ultrasound generates a very brief temporary state of liquefaction in one of the materials that serves to join the bone, penetrating into it and branching out. In this way, seconds later it remains attached to it forever. Eventually, a company called KLS Martin bought the license for their start-up BoneWelding for use in craniomaxillofacial surgery.
Wood led these researchers to bone, but that was not just a trampoline. In 2013, IKEA knocked on his door, once again interested in that curious way of joining two pieces of wood. For a company that is dedicated to it in a massive way, Mock’s technology was a very palatable candy. “They wanted our technology to basically stop using screws and other mechanical fastening systems.”
A year later, IKEA presented its Lisabo furniture line.
Mock, who in addition to these examples has starred in dozens of other patents, has discovered his true vocation: join things. The next? Keep testing. “The world is going in a very interesting direction, new lighter materials and with greater mechanical resistance, and we need technology capable of joining these materials in a different way ”, he explains,“ now we are developing new ways of joining different materials, ceramics, metals or polymers, all at the same time ”.