A future with clever bolts
“Imagine a future with clever bolts that communicate when tensioned?” This was a phrase spoken at a wind-power conference years ago, long before the digital wind farms of today, many of which are remotely connected and monitored to ensure optimal performance. It was before the popularity of “smart” tools and the industrialization of the internet-of-things (IoT).
One utility-scale wind turbine has thousands of different-sized bolts. Correct tensioning is critical as one loose bolt could trigger a domino effect, resulting in damage to the entire structure. The idea of bolts that could “communicate” was groundbreaking at the time — and a potential game-changer for several industries.
Think of the anchors securing concrete beams or the fasteners in the suspension or brake system of an automobile. The ability to check on the fasteners in an assembly could ensure the long-term structural security of the application.
The initial “clever bolt” concept included a simple mechanism inside each fastener that worked as an indicator of the actual load or tension at the time of installation. Since that conference, several smart tools have hit the market, offering combinations of precise torque monitoring, digital calibrations, and tool traceability.
However, the concept of connected fasteners that truly “communicate” wirelessly has been slower to develop. A few companies are changing that.
For example, German-based Sensorise SmartScrew System offers new technology for the continuous monitoring of dynamically loaded screws and bolts, such as for wind turbines. The system includes Sensorise SmartScrews, which install like any other screw but offer built-in sensors that measure the temperature and static loads on the screws and bolts. It collects this data for processing and analytics, and to remotely verify proper operation.
Hilti, a global power-tool company, has launched Tracefast, which leverages the IoT. These smart fasteners have a laser-print data matrix code, which is similar to a QR code, making each one identifiable and traceable. By using the Hilti Connect app on a smartphone, users can simply scan the code to view a fastener’s details, including the proper methods for installation method or its installed date.
In many cases, there’s no way to look at an installed fastener and have access to its full history. Smart, connected components are providing historical insight and quality assurance, which can lead to greater productivity and safety. Certainly, it could be argued that not every assembly requires such diligence. But it’s nice to have options and, particularly, for critical assemblies.
In this year’s annual Fastener Engineering Handbook, we cover fastener basics and advancements in adhesives, welding, and tools. We enjoy learning about and sharing the latest innovations. Thank you for reading!