David Swenson of 3M Corporation describes an anomaly where workers encountered a strange "invisible wall" in the area under a fast-moving sheet of electrically charged polypropelene film in a factory. This "invisible wall" was strong enough to prevent humans from passing through. A person near this "wall" was unable to turn, and so had to walk backwards to retreat from it.
This occurred in late summer in South Carolina, in extremely high humidity. Polypropelene (PP) film on 50K ft. rolls 20ft wide was being slit and transferred to multiple smaller spools. The film was taken off the main roll at high speed, flowed upwards 20ft to overhead rollers, passed horizontally 20ft and then downwards to the slitting device, where it was spooled onto shorter rolls. The whole operation formed a cubical shaped tent, with two walls and a ceiling approximately 20ft square. The spools ran at 1000ft/min, or about 10MPH. The PP film had been manufactured with dissimilar surface structure on opposing faces. Contact electrification can occur even in similar materials if the surface textures or micro-structures are significantly different. The generation of a large imbalance of electrical surface-charge during unspooling was therefor not unexpected, and is a common problem in this industry. "Static cling" in the megavolt range!
On entering the factory floor and far from the equipment, Mr. Swenson's 200KV/ft handheld electrometer was found to slam to full scale. When he attempted to walk through the corridor formed by the moving film, he was stopped about half way through by an "invisible wall." He could lean all his weight forward but was unable to pass. He observed a fly get pulled into the charged, moving plastic, and speculates that the e-fields might have been strong enough to suck in birds!
The production manager did not believe Mr. Swenson's report of the strange phenomena. When they both returned to the factory floor, they found that the "wall" was no longer there. But the production workers had noticed the effect as occurring early in the morning when humidity was lower, so they agreed to try again another day. The second attempt was successful, and early in the morning the field underneath the "tent" was strong enough to raise even the short, curly hair of the production manager. The "invisible wall" effect had returned. He commented that he "didn't know whether to fix it or sell tickets."
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