Intelligent Fasteners Could Change Everything

Use them to rethink and improve the design, manufacturability and features of parts and products.

Don't think of Textron's new intelligent fastening system as a substitute for conventional fasteners. Instead consider how the concept's broad capabilities could enable new, more competitive generations of products, says K.L. (Seshu) Seshasai, executive vice president of technology, Textron Fastening Systems, a business unit of Textron Inc., Troy, Mich. "The capabilities of our new intelligent fastening system are so broad that I almost wish we didn't call it a fastener!" Consider the operating concept: The technology is designed into parts and enables assembly and disassembly by remote control. The technology revises the future of fastening, presenting a whole new way to design, assemble and service products, adds Rick Clayton, president. Conventional fastening tools, robots or assembly stations aren't needed, says Seshasai. Without conventional fasteners to insert, tighten and inspect, the need for access points is eliminated. Process savings accumulate as entire operations are eliminated, says Seshasai. One example: "If conventional fasteners for a molded part are eliminated, the mold design is simplified, thus reducing cost." For potential users, Seshasai describes the challenge as one of organizational agility because the benefits of intelligent systems extend across so many departmental functions. How quickly can they extend the potential throughout their operations? For example, Seshasai says the concept has the potential to change the way automobiles are designed, assembled, serviced and recycled. Embedded microchips provide the intelligence. The chips activate the fastening mechanism and network to the intelligent tool that remotely manages and controls assembly and disassembly. The system is self-diagnosing and documents each activation of the process. Fasteners also could be programmed to detect, analyze and report problems that require service. Seshasai says the type of remote actuating mechanism used depends on the fastener required by the application. Initial applications, which include tamper-proof fastening for automotive airbag modules, will use thermal shape memory alloys. The alloy returns to a predetermined form when heated to a specific temperature. Textron says that intelligent fastener application targets the estimated annual theft of 50,000 airbags. Clayton says the technology has implications for all automotive sub-assemblies. Examples include headlamps, roof racks, spare tires, radio/stereo equipment, interior and exterior trim, molded body components and seatbelts. In seat belt applications, intelligent quick release mechanisms would enable trapped or injured passengers to quickly escape following an accident. The company also views significant potential for intelligent fastening systems in other industries such as aerospace, electronics and construction. Textron licenses the technology from TZ Inc., Sydney, Australia.

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