The All New Smart Screw

May 31, 2022

Let’s face it: buildings buckle, structures collapse, and safety is often disregarded in the construction industry. Maintenance can be time-consuming and demanding, making it tempting for busy workers to cut corners when it comes to routine safety checks and procedures. However, a new smart technology may be able to help ensure that skipping those routine procedures doesn't end in disaster. 

A company known as Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Internet Technologies CCIT has developed a “smart screw,” able to be monitored remotely and reduce the time needed for inspections.

According to an article on the Fraunhofer website, “We come across screws almost everywhere… However, wear and tear and the impact from phenomena such as temperature fluctuations or vibrations can cause one or more screws to loosen or even come undone completely… [A] solution called “Smart Screw Connection” combines sensors and radio technology to provide a reliable means of remotely monitoring the screw connections – not to mention that it is self-powered.”

With sensors designed to detect change in pressure, anytime a screw comes loose it will alert an operator’s database through what is known as a DiaForce® thin film. The film needs little energy to send messages long distances, keeping those in charge of buildings, bridges, machinery, and all sorts of other structures instantly up to date on any safety issues concerning the integrity of the object.

“The Smart Screw Connection can be adapted for a wide variety of applications. No matter whether it’s for flange connections in industry, for the bolts in steel girders in high-rise buildings, for the load-bearing parts of bridges or for attaching rotors to wind turbines – the system can be individually configured for each scenario and adapted to the relevant load profile,” explains Fraunhofer's site.

Not only is the technology of the smart screws energy efficient and revolutionary in terms of safety, the developers at Fraunhofer have ensured that both the data and the screws are hacker proof. During installation, each screw, sensor unit and radio module is placed in a special shielded programming box. This box gives the screw an individual ID via short range RFID, plus its requirement profile and individual encryption key. The radio link from screws to base station is also encrypted during the data transmission.

The need for improved safety measures in construction is crucial for our country's infrastructure. Capitol's recent blog, "The Bridge Crisis in America," discussed the collapse of two bridges within a month of each other, both likely due to poorly built structure and neglected upkeep. With technology like the Smart Screw System, better structures can be made in the first place, and the maintenance needs can be closely monitored by a third party who can alert workers when it is time for a replacement.

Capitol Tech offers many opportunities in safety and engineering, where you can develop technology that enhances worker experience and improves our nation's construction methods and critical infrastructure like the smart screw.

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