Screwed Up: Can Technology Be A Substitute For Regular Maintenance

The bane of life for anyone who possesses a well-used pile of spanners is the humble nut and bolt. Durable and easy to fasten, over our lifetimes we must screw and unscrew them by the million. When they do their job they’re great, but too often they seize up solid, or more alarmingly, gradually undo themselves over time due to vibration or thermal stress. There are a host of products such as locking nuts or thread sealant to deal with this problem, but the Fraunhofer Institute have an idea which might just remove the worry surrounding important fastenings. Their work has resulted in a solar-powered bolt with an embedded sensor that phones home when the connection loosens, allowing an engineer to be dispatched with a spanner to tighten it up.

The sensor itself is a washer which reports the force placed upon it, when this reduces an alert is sent. Communication is via Fraunhofer’s own MIoTy low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) protocol, but we’d imagine that one of the many competitor technologies could also serve.

This is an interesting idea that could no doubt result in targeted maintenance catching faulty fastenings early and averting disaster in the infrastructure projects such as bridges and wind turbines that they mention. We worry slightly though, because these types of structures have lives not in the few years of most tech products but in centuries. Will an IoT bolt head sensor still be phoning home in a few decades time, or will the system rely on old bolts being replaced at regular intervals of a decade? It’s not unknown for disasters to be the result of failures in fastenings a century old, so we sincerely hope that authorities in charge of whatever bridge relies on these won’t be tempted to skimp on their replacements. Perhaps a guy with a spanner every few years might be a more dependable option.

Eight Years Of Partmaking: A Love Story For Parts

Over my many years of many side-projects, getting mechanical parts has always been a creative misadventure. Sure, I’d shop for them. But I’d also turn them up from dumpsters, turn them down from aluminum, cut them with lasers, or ooze them out of plastic. My adventures making parts first took root when I jumped into college. Back-in-the-day, I wanted to learn how to build robots. I quickly learned that “robot building” meant learning how to make their constituent parts.

Today I want to take you on a personal journey in my own mechanical “partmaking.” It’s a story told in schools, machine shops, and garages of a young adulthood spent making parts. It’s a story of learning how to run by crawling through e-waste dumps. Throughout my journey, my venues would change, and so would the tools at-hand. But that hunger to make projects and, by extension, parts, was always there.

Dear partmakers, this is my love letter to you.

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If 3D Printer, Then Custom Aluminum Extrusion Brackets

Aluminum extrusions are a boon for mechanical assemblies, but they require a stock of brackets and other hardware to be kept on hand. [mightynozzle] has decided to make things a little easier for prototyping and low-stress assemblies by creating a collection of 3D printable brackets for aluminum extrusions. 3D printing your own bracket hardware means faster prototyping, and if the assemblies don’t need the extra strength and rigidity of metal brackets you can just stick with the 3D printed versions.

The files are on Thingiverse, and include STL files of common brackets as well as an OpenSCAD script for customizing. Not familiar with OpenSCAD? No problem, we have a quick primer with examples.

This project showcases two things well. The first is that while brackets are not particularly expensive or hard to obtain, it can still be worth 3D printing them to reduce the overall amount of hardware one needs to keep on hand to make prototyping faster. The other is that 3D printing can shine when it comes to the creation of things like brackets: a few dimes’ worth of plastic can be turned into precise yet geometrically simple objects that would be a pain to make by other means. It certainly beats sitting on one’s hands waiting for parts to be delivered.