Fastening tools without tradeoffs

Optimize throughput goals and worker safety; new tool technology addresses both issues for manufacturers

By Jeff Lowe March 11, 2020

Newton’s Third Law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This concept can be problematic for operators on an assembly line. Each day, workers fasten hundreds of bolts, and to do that, they need reliable fastening tools. To enhance safety and eliminate cords and hoses on factory floors, many assembly plants have adopted cordless fastening tools, which empowers workers to move with more flexibility and deliver more torque to their application. On one hand, cordless fastening tools give operators flexibility and help them complete jobs with repeatable success. But over time, the torque “reaction” associated with common cordless fastening tools can injure operators and impact job performance.

Until now, it has been an either-or scenario: Manufacturers find a tool that delivers a lot of torque and is flexible but has a lot of reaction for operators. Or, they find a tool that delivers less torque and accuracy but is more comfortable for workers. In today’s assembly environments, operators cannot sacrifice productivity or control to meet industry expectations for high throughput goals. Luckily, modern pulse tool technology ensures manufacturers don’t have to. Pulse tools generate short energy pulses instead of continuous torque.

Best of both worlds

Select pneumatic tools have the desired speed, data collection and ergonomics, but hoses confine operators and introduce safety hazards. Mechanical clutch tools automatically shut off when operators complete jobs, but they don’t have full traceability or transducer capabilities, often requiring a manual wrench to complete the final torque measurement. Cordless pulse tools with transducers offer manufacturers a cordless solution that provides repeatable accuracy while protecting the operator.

With pulse tool technologies, the pulses eliminate the force in an operator’s hands that other cordless tools produce, allowing workers to operate tools at high speeds without worrying about torque reaction. Pulse tools with transducers are ideal for high speed, high throughput fastening of safety critical applications where precision is a must.

No reaction is better than reduced reaction

One of the top workplace health-related issues is repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Stance, reach, repetitive motion, vibration and torque reaction contribute to these injuries. As the power of cordless tools increases, the risk factors for RSI also increase. There are ways manufacturers can limit RSI among their employees. Pulse tools help minimize exposure to RSI risk factors, thus have better ergonomics for assembly operators and enhance comfort for better long-term productivity. When workers are more comfortable and can get work done quickly, they produce more output and it reduces absenteeism as a result of reduced workplace injuries (see Figure 1).

There’s science behind pulse technology that makes it reactionless. Fluid inside the pulse unit absorbs the energy from the motor, so it doesn’t transfer to the operator. The anatomy of a pulse tool is unlike other cordless technologies; the motor is separate from the output shaft of the tool. This unique design isolates operators from the torque reaction, making it safe to run the tool at high speeds.

Technology for safety critical applications

For safety critical applications, such as securing seatbelt tether to the B pillar of a vehicle, it’s vital that bolts are tightened accurately to mitigate issues or recalls after vehicles leave a plant. Pulse technology with transducers equips manufacturers with precise accuracy for high torque applications. Solutions like the Yokota YS-e Battery System Wrench distributed by Ingersoll Rand are as productive as any other fastening solutions with the accuracy of a digital wrench. Operators program torque targets for each specific application on a programming console, including torque limits, angle limits and batch count. As workers tighten each fastener, results display on a screen to ensure accuracy and traceability.

Pulse tools with transducers save manufacturers time on the plant floor because operators no longer need to stop and use a wrench to finish tightening tasks or apply a reaction device. Takt time is precious, and operators are rid of the burden to check the accuracy of each fastener and ultimately, slow down throughput.

Flexible solutions scalable with changing demands

Throughput demands are continually changing. Tools flexible enough to scale with demand help manufacturers rebalance their lines quicker. When manufacturing experiences a change in demand, it’s ideal that systems quickly adapt with minimal downtime. Tools with simple interfaces allow operators to make changes on the fly. Some current technologies do not require experts or costly training. Modern pulse tool solutions have programming consoles and remote capabilities so that operators can control and make changes from any device with an Internet browser using a simple interface that does not require a license.

Big Data and tools future-proof manufacturing floors

Pulse technology with transducers integrates with a data-driven environment by generating data operators can use to garner insights about productivity and quality. Some pulse fastening systems can connect as many as four tools per wireless unit, reducing the equipment required on a factory floor. Every fastening application differs. Manufacturers should seek solutions that support multiple applications and are easy to integrate into their system. Assembly operators can connect a cordless tool system to their plant-wide infrastructure using readily available communication protocols. These features equip manufacturers with full insight into their operations to improve product quality, testing new processes, evaluate efficiency and more (see Figure 2).

Ergonomics, capability, flexibility and traceability are four sought-after features now available in one tool to help manufacturers meet throughput goals while keeping their operators safe.

Jeff Lowe
Author Bio: Senior global product manager, Ingersoll Rand