A new high-tech screw developed by scientists in Germany promises to confer engineers with a veritable sixth sense when assessing the interaction of forces within mechanical systems.

Scientists from the Technischen Universitat Darmstadt in the German state of Hesse have developed a screw equipped with an integrated sensor which enables it to precisely measure the internal forces at play within mechanical systems.

While it has long been the dream of mechanical engineers to find a reliable means of ascertaining the forces which act upon components within a machine, such a discovery has proven highly elusive.

The method devised by TU Darmstadt scientists is one of elegant yet simple ingenuity: the incorporation of a sensor into one of the most ubiquitous and commonplace of machine components – the humble screw – via the process of metal forming.

The combination device offers a number of key advantages when it comes to the task of internal force measurement. Screws are located in numerous parts of any mechanical system, and the incorporation of sensors allows forthe measurement of forces at the very loci where they are active, thus providing heightened precision.

This precision is further enhanced by the ability of the high-tech sensor screws to measure data at both specific points in time and on a continuous basis.

The potential applications of such sophisticated measurement capabilities are myriad. To cite one possible use, sensor screws in the rollers of roll trains could be used by manufacturers to detect deviations or inconsistencies in product quality immediately, as compared to current processes which can only discern disqualifying defects in finished products.

The incorporation of sensors directly into screws is also a highly advantageous solution compared to external attachment via an adhesive, given that adhesive compounds will readily dissolve when exposed to the rigours of a real world mechanical environment.

The TU Darmstadt team has developed an accompanying analytical software package for the screws, which will be capable of extracting large amounts of information from the modest set of reliable data they collect. Following further development, the team has also succeeded in reducing the device’s dimensions.

A patent for the technology has been secured, with a market launch currently on the horizon and select clients already applying the device to trial projects.

The sensor screw has also obtained hefty support from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. The Ministry was so impressed by the device that it has incorporated it into its Exist Research Transfer Project, which provides funding to promising new technologies. The development of the sensor screw will now receive funding support for an 18-month period, which will hopefully bring it to the stage of formal production.