Another year, an ongoing pandemic. 2021, much like the year before it, included its share of challenges. Supply-chain delays, product (and employee) shortages, and varying state restrictions continued to affect most in the industry. In-person events and trade shows were scheduled and then rescheduled. Local and global business and economic disruptions forced many companies to keep monitoring and updating operations to best suit the (still changing) landscape.
Nevertheless, the industrial and chemical fastener markets rarely seemed to miss a beat. In fact, several simply diversified or expanded in whatever way was necessary to meet demands. If 2020 taught us anything about the fastener industry, it’s that it is resilient — and when asked, it will innovate and deliver.
If 2021 offered any additional insight about the fastener industry, it’s that the innovations haven’t stopped.
Here are just a few examples of that…
1. Taking action
In 2020, 3M increased its production of N95 respirators and other supplies needed for the pandemic while partnering with Ford to meet a surge in demand for personal protective equipment. In 2021, the company collaborated on programs with the Pandemic Action Network — the first organization of its kind dedicated to ensuring that countries are better prepared to prevent and respond to pandemic threats.
3M compiled its lessons learned from the pandemic to date and released a white paper on best practices and policies. In terms of fasteners, the manufacturer continued to innovate last year, launching a new class of silicone adhesives, which led to a skin-friendly medical adhesive designed for greater patient comfort.
What’s more is 3M is continuing to perfect automation for the dispensing of tapes and liquid adhesives and sharing its knowledge. Automation serves to increase quality, consistency, and repeatability, which are important for controlling processes and improving production.
2. Sizable matters
Oversized fasteners often complicate the installation process. However, APM Hexseal had been diligently working on a solution to uncomplicate matters, at least for giant bolts. The result: the Nutzilla Sealnut, which simplifies installation by eliminating the need for extra gaskets and or messy sealing compounds. In fact, the product seals itself.
Nutzillas are made from high-quality rubber and molded into a specially shaped cavity in the nut. As the threads are molded directly into the rubber, the self-sealing nuts form a positive seal along the threaded section of the nut and the contact surface. The single-piece design guarantees a nut that provides a consistent, reliable seal for ordinary large bolts in sizes up to M90.
3. Tool tracking
Milwaukee Tool continued to innovate and invest in connected technology with the new ONE-KEY Bluetooth Tracking Tag — what’s labeled the most complete Bluetooth tool and equipment tracker on the market. Users can attach the Tag to any tool and track it from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Once activated, the One-Key app monitors the tracker’s last known location and retains a 30-day history of everywhere it has been seen by anyone in the ONE-KEY tracking community.
“By leveraging the ONE-KEY network and Bluetooth technology, the Tag provides accurate information on the last seen date, time, and location of a tool when within 300 ft of any ONE-KEY device, and offers additional key features that can help users manage their inventory,” explains Andrew Lambert, the company’s director of products.
Milwaukee Tool also announced it was expanding its footprint in the U.S. with new manufacturing facilities in Grenada and Clinton, Mississippi, creating some 1200 new jobs.
4. Locking loads
HYTORC took the company’s reaction washer to an entirely new level in 2021 by adding a locking feature that minimizes loosening to keep bolts tight under loads. The J-Washer is the result, an innovative lock washer used to maintain bolted joint integrity under dynamic conditions such as thermal cycling, rotating machinery, and transportation.
With the strategic placement of a ridge band on the surface, the new reaction washer prevents loosening of pre-loaded fasteners while providing additional benefits including safety, speed, and tool longevity. The locking design was verified by the industry-standard Junker test, which simulates the transverse forces that loosen the assembly.
The J-Washer was also recognized and granted the Spotlight on Technology Award at the 2021 Offshore Technology Conference.
5. Torque training
Hex Technology developed a super-power. Its CHUCK technology lets assemblers-in-training “see” the unseen in bolting applications. The device captures the bolt load achieved when torque is applied to an assembly.
It’s been said that CHUCK is like having a “Flight Simulator for Assemblers,” clarifying the often-misunderstood elements of bolting, including the effects of elastic interaction, alignment, lubrication, and inconsistencies known as bolt scatter.
CHUCK pairs with instrumented bolts to provide its readings. The bolt-load data instantaneously relays from the unit to any laptop via Wi-Fi. The result is that users can view and understand what’s happening inside bolted assemblies. This aim is better execution on fundamental (but often overlooked) best practices of bolting.
6. Precision location
Flex Locators, an innovative by Imao-Fixtureworks, combine fastening and precision-locating into one operation — without the use of tools. The handle, knob, and cam handle styles allow for quick one-touch handle operation for precision-locating and fastening.
Flex Locators provide fast and accurate fixture changes, mounting the same fixture on different machines or machining from five sides on one fixture while offering a quick fixture setup.
The locator system consists of tapered pins and receiving bushings. In combination, these parts are designed to be mounted on fixture bases and plates to allow for highly accurate locating and positioning with repeatability of 0.01 mm.
These fastener-receptacle pairs can replace nut-and-bolt assembly so that operators swap out fixture plates and other automation components with excellent repeatability. The Flex Locator products are ideal for applications where there is frequent disassembly or changeover, including pallet or fixture plates for machining.
7. Power-tooled sustainability
Stanley Black & Decker and specialty materials provider Eastman announced in October 2021 that they’re teaming up to advance sustainability in the power tools industry. Offering the brand’s first sustainability-led power tools that use Eastman’s Tritan Renew co-polyester, expect the new “reviva” tools to launch any day now.
The reviva power tools are being manufactured with Tritan Renew material, which is produced through advanced circular recycling, also known as molecular recycling. Unlike mechanical recycling, molecular recycling transforms single-use waste plastic into basic building blocks that are then used to make durable, high-performance materials. This process reduces the use of fossil-based resources and lowers greenhouse gas emissions, offering at least 50% recycled content. The tools will also be recyclable.
8. Augmented reality
This augmented reality (AR) app lets engineers create and share component designs. WorkLink Create is a web-based application for quickly creating and sharing AR content within the workplace.
The developer, Scope AR, intended the app to empower aerospace, medical device, and industrial professionals to quickly create their own AR content without any coding or 3D modeling expertise. Users of all experience levels can login to WorkLink Create in their browser, quickly open their engineering model files, and place them within a mixed reality scene.
WorkLink also offers augmented operation for aerospace manufacturing, aerospace fasteners, and other components.
“In the past, we would have developers spend months developing these types of applications. With Scope AR’s WorkLink platform, we’re bringing this down to 28 minutes, and four minutes for an additional panel,” said Shelley Peterson, associate fellow at Lockheed Martin, “The ramp-up time on the platform has also been reduced significantly. We can bring in a new developer, have them go through a half-day training online and they can start creating work instructions.”
Other notable accomplishments from 2021:
• The availability of large part-forming machines in the U.S. is fairly limited, so Ramco Specialists decided to do something about it. The manufacturer invested $4.5 million in two new, six-station part formers — with diameter capabilities of 48 and 30mm. The new part formers will specialize in custom-designed parts, including cold-formed ball studs, ball joints, and pipe nuts.
• Visumatic is one of few American companies offering automatic pin-insertion systems and its latest VIN-700 is engineered to augment hand assembly for quick and easy pin insertion. This unique Visumatic drive system engages behind the fastener, allowing operators to use the pin to align mating parts prior to installation actuation. In fact, operators typically feel the pin shank enter the hole before actuation. The sensory feedback lets the user maximize assembly efficiency and accuracy.
• Greenkote announced a significant advancement to its line of corrosion protection. The proprietary new Greenkote G5k coating delivered a minimum of 5,000 hours of corrosion protection in salt-spray testing for metals, enabling it to meet ASTM
Specification B117. This level of rust-free performance is aimed at the most challenging anti-corrosion applications, including those in automotive, industrial, marine, and any other with parts that are exposed to wetness or harsh chemicals for long periods of time.
• High temperatures are no concern for Valley Forge & Bolt, an American manufacturer of load-indicating fasteners. In the spring of 2021, the company launched the new High Temp Maxbolt, which can operate in temperatures up to 650° F for nearly limitless applications. With an accuracy of +/- 5%, this Maxbolt offers proven performance in extended high-temperature run times and thermal cycling.
• Henkel released a primerless adhesive last year that eliminates the need for a promoter. Simply apply Teroson Primerless MS 9222 to clean parts and assemble. The new formula is ideal for automotive, work truck, and manufacturing applications that require high-strength adhesion of loads, thin walls, or small areas.
• Southco launched a podcast in 2021, focused on the basic product knowledge that every mechanical engineer should know. The Engineering Experiences podcast features educational content and explains how the smallest components, such as latches, hinges, and fasteners can make the biggest impact on customer end-use applications.
If you’d like to share your latest innovations or company highlights with us, send an email to [email protected].