Outside the frenetic world of consumer electronics and mobile telecommunications, the development of most new technologies requires a lot of patience. Often, too, the technology is applied in a very different area to that which its initial proponents expected.

Linear motors are a case in point. They shot to prominence in the 1950s, mainly thanks to the efforts of Eric Laithwaite, a UK engineer known as the “father of the linear motor”, whose proposals for high-speed trains based on so-called magnetic levitation captured worldwide imagination.

Today, while “maglev” trains remain a technological curiosity, linear motors are being quietly exploited in the less obviously glamorous field of machine tools.