Comparing Digital vs. Analog Torque Wrenches: Which is Better?

There are many torque wrenches on the market, but which one schould you choose? In this blog we compare digital and analog torque wrenches and highlight the main characteristics of each one of them.
A person's hand adjusts a mechanical gauge positioned on an automotive engine part, using a ratchet wrench. The gauge displays angular measurements, and various engine components are visible around the gauge.
Published on:
02 October 2023
Updated on:
14 February 2024

When choosing a torque wrench, you will most likely encounter the digital vs analog torque wrenches debate. Both sides have strong arguments, and selecting the right torque wrench is never a simple task. Both digital and analog torque wrenches have a set of advantages and disadvantages that must be taken into account.

In this article, we will delve into the advantages and disadvantages of both digital and analog torque wrenches. Moreover, we will present comparisons in several aspects that are important in torquing works. In these torque wrench comparisons, we will put both head to head and analyze their key features, as well as provide guidance on which type of torque wrench is suitable for your needs.

Advantages of Digital Torque Wrenches

Thanks to their digital aspect, digital torque wrenches have a multitude of features that don’t exist in their analog counterparts. These extra features will surely be helpful for your torquing needs and impact the safety and quality of your products. Here are some of the handy features commonly found in digital torque wrenches:

Real-Time Digital Readings

All digital torque wrenches are equipped with a digital screen, which displays torque readings in real time. This screen displays the torque amount (typically in Newton meters-Nm or ft-lb) down to the decimal points, showcasing its precision. In some digital torque wrenches, other information such as date & time, battery level, and torquing mode are also displayed. The screen in several digital torque wrenches is even fitted with a backlight. This feature helps you to work in low-light environments.

Furthermore, certain digital torque wrenches such as M12 Fuel from Milwaukee Tool also come with built-in electric motors. Through the screen, you can pinpoint the electric motors to deliver a specific amount of torque, offering unparalleled precision. Unfortunately, there aren’t many electric motor-powered digital torque wrench variants yet in the market, as they are overshadowed by the more popular cordless impact wrenches.

Instant Feedback Notifications

Mid-tier digital torque wrenches and beyond are generally equipped with feedback notifications. These notifications can be audio (such as a beep, vibration, or a special tone), visual (such as color-coded lights or a flash), or even better, both.

These signals will inform its users if the pre-planned torque value has been delivered by the wrench. This tremendously boosts the accuracy of your torquing works, allowing you to avoid over- or under-torquing.

Data Gathering Abilities and Compatibility With Other Devices

Thanks to their digital components, digital torque wrenches can collect and store torquing data. Typically, higher-tier digital torque wrenches can also wirelessly connect to your PC, smartphone/tablet, and other industrial devices. They can be linked through the manufacturer’s software, such as Norbar’s TDS.

This is a must-have feature for 21st-century production facilities. It allows workers from various departments to access your digital torque wrenches’ data in real-time, ithout ever leaving their desks. This feature is handy for audit and quality control tasks.

Dive deeper into this extraordinary device on our Ultimate Guide to Digital Torque Wrenches.

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Advantages of Analog Torque Wrenches

It might be tempting to judge digital torque wrenches as simply superior compared to analog ones. However, analog torque wrenches also have their own set of qualities. Among them are:

Wrench Sturdiness

In general, analog torque wrenches are more sturdy in comparison to their digital equivalents. Due to the lack of electronic components, they’re less prone to breakdowns. Hence, maintenance-wise, analog torque wrenches are simpler and cheaper.

In addition, they also tend to be more resistant to external impacts, such as being dropped. However, it’s best to prevent these impacts from happening in the first place, as they still can impact your wrench’s performance.

Better Availability and Mobility

Analog torque wrenches are more flexible in comparison with digital ones in terms of availability and mobility. They’re powered by the user’s physical strength and do not rely on any external power source. Therefore, no need to think about finding an electric socket to plug your wrench into or waiting for 1-5 hours for it to fully charge. Your analog torque wrench is available wherever and whenever you need it.

In addition, due to the lack of batteries and electrical components, analog torque wrenches tend to be lighter as well.

Lower Cost

Perhaps the most stark comparison in the digital vs analog torque wrenches debate can be seen in their price. Analog torque wrenches can be bought for as low as EUR 10, and most are under EUR 100. Meanwhile, digital torque wrenches cost hundreds of Euros, and higher-end ones can cost beyond EUR 1,500.

Analog torque wrenches also cost less to operate and maintain. As they’re not electric, no need to think about electricity and battery costs. Calibration costs for analog torque wrenches are also lower. Digital torque wrench calibration typically costs 50-100% more than their analog counterparts in the same torque range. Read everything you need to know about calibrating and maintaining digital torque wrenches in our blog.

With all the key advantages being mentioned, we will compare both digital and analog torque wrenches directly in some crucial key elements in any torquing-related work.

Precision and Consistency

Digital torque wrenches are by far more user-friendly compared to their analog peers. On their screen, digital torque wrenches show the exact torque value down to the last decimal points in Nm or ft-lb. This makes interpreting the wrench’s readings much more effortless. Often, a backlight is also included, allowing you to work at night or in low-light conditions.

On the contrary, analog torque wrenches use conventional gauges with tiny numbers, which take more effort to read. Some budget analog torque wrenches don’t even have any gauge, meaning that you have to estimate your torque amount based on your feelings.

These differences have a tremendous impact on the precision and consistency of your torquing works. That’s why digital torque wrenches are always preferred in industries where precision is paramount.

Left: An infographic comparing digital and analog torque wrenches, highlighting features such as instant torque unit conversion, LED indicator, sound alarm, torque value display, and various buttons. Right: A close-up of a textured analog torque wrench handle with engraved measurements.

User’s Situational Awareness

Similarly, digital torque wrenches also offer better situational awareness in comparison with their analog counterparts. Mid and higher-tier digital torque wrenches are commonly equipped with audio (such as a beep, vibration, or a tone) and visual feedback signals (such as color-coded lamps or a flash), or sometimes even a combination of both.

These cues will notify the user whether the pre-planned torque level has been delivered or not. This feature is crucial to ensure the accuracy of your torquing works. Analog torque wrenches are not equipped with this handy feature, limiting their users’ situational awareness.

A battery-powered electric ratchet tool with a digital display and LED light indicators is set up on a workbench. The tool has a red and black casing and is secured in place. Adjacent to it are a few metallic fixtures and a blurred background.

Power Source, Versatility, and Durability

In this aspect, analog torque wrenches have an edge over digital ones. Analog torque wrenches don’t rely on any external power source, besides our muscles’ strength. Hence, there’s no need to attach it to any socket. The absence of electrical cords means that you can freely carry your wrench and use it anywhere you need.

The lack of batteries and other electrical components translates into a lighter wrench. Moreover, there’s barely any daily downtime for your wrench. On the contrary, it takes 30 minutes-5 hours for a digital torque wrench’s battery to be fully charged, depending on the wrench. In a nutshell, your analog torque wrench is ready wherever and whenever you need it.

To add, maintaining an analog torque wrench is less meticulous. There are fewer parts to worry about, and the device is in general sturdier than digital wrenches. You should still handle your analog torque wrenches with care and avoid any physical trauma. However, should one occur, they’re less likely to break down and require servicing.

You can imagine digital torque wrenches as a modern-day smartphone that has numerous features but requires attentive handling and more delicate maintenance. In contrast, analog torque wrenches resemble an old phone from the early 2000’s; they have limited features, but are durable and are less prone to bugs due to external forces.

Datalink Capabilities

Higher-tier digital torque wrenches can wirelessly communicate with your other devices. For example, a digital torque wrench can share its torque readings with the PC of your quality controller, make a historical database of thousands of past readings for an audit, provide digital work instructions to your workers and many other cost and time-saving tasks. Atlas Copco’s STRwrench and its collection of torque software is a good example.

Using a digital torque wrench is not always easy, especially for those who are new to torquing-related work. To tackle this, a clear set of straightforward & easily understood work instructions is necessary. Fortunately, some digital torque wrenches can also be integrated with this feature. Find out more in our article on Digital Torque Wrenches & Work Instructions Integration.

With such feats, you can significantly improve your production’s efficiency and save precious man-hours. This game-changing feature is unfortunately unavailable in analog torque wrenches.

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Cost Considerations

When it comes to costs, digital and analog torque wrenches are not comparable. Lower, mid, and high-end digital torque wrenches generally cost upwards of EUR 100, 250, and 900 respectively, with some even going beyond EUR 1,500/unit. In contrast, analog torque wrenches can be bought for as low as EUR 10, and many are still under EUR 100.

To boot, the calibration cost for a digital torque wrench tends to be 50-100% higher than for an analog one of a comparable torque range. Not to mention the extra costs for electronic spare parts should repairs be necessary.

However, just like the saying goes: you get what you paid for. Digital torque wrenches, an abundance of benefits to the table. Their top-notch precision, user-friendliness, and extra quality control-supporting features are worth the investment in the long run.

For large-scale manufacturing that requires precision, investing in a good digital torque wrench is a sound decision. Otherwise, the threats of recalls always haunt your company. In 2020, General Motors had to recall almost 6 million vehicles due to a faulty airbag inflator, costing them USD 1.2 billion. Thus, investing in precision pays off in the long run.

For Professional vs Amateur Use.

It can be seen that digital and analog torque wrenches have differing qualities and prices. For professional use, it’s better to stick with at least mid-tier digital torque wrenches. Some standards must be met, and it’s in your best interest to use the tools that can fulfill such standards.

For example, the globally respected ISO 6789:2017 standards tolerate a max of 4-6% measurement deviation rate for torque wrenches (depending on the type). Additionally, there might be national/regional or industry-specific quality standards that your products must fulfill, such as CE in the EU. To help you fulfill the ever-tightening quality control standards worldwide, be sure to check our Quality Management module.

The image features two certification logos: the ISO logo on the left, a red square with the white letters

Applications in the Industry

As has been stated, digital torque wrenches are always recommended for industrial purposes. In certain industries, torquing precision can even be a matter of life and death. The aviation industry is a good example, where the smallest torquing mistake can cause fatal consequences. For instance, an inadequate torque to a B-nut led to it being loose and caused a fatal helicopter crash in 2017.

Besides fatal consequences, improper torquing works can lead to unnecessary financial losses due to recalls. The aforementioned example of General Motors recalling almost 6 million vehicles, costing them an estimated USD 1.2 billion, is a good lesson to learn from.

From these examples, it can be concluded that torquing precision can never be compromised. High-precision digital torque wrenches can indeed be a costly initial cost upfront. However, the costs of incidents and recalls due to improper torquing works far outweigh the initial cost.

Choosing the Right Torque Wrench Type for Your Needs

Choosing the right torque wrench for your needs is never easy. However, from the digital vs analog torque wrench comparison that we’ve made, there are easily distinguishable characteristics between the two.

Digital torque wrenches have more precision, are more user-friendly, and overall have more features, such as datalink capabilities for some wrenches. Yet, they cost more to purchase & maintain, and are less versatile.

Analog torque wrenches are the complete opposite. They cost less to buy & maintain, and by large are more mobile & sturdy. However, they are less accurate, harder to use, and have very limited features, let alone datalink abilities.

Key Takeaways

At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all torque wrench. It all depends on your needs and requirements, as torque wrenches come in different types, sizes, and grades. For personal Do it Yourself tasks, standard analog torque wrenches should be enough. There’s no need to spend over a thousand Euros on a wrench and another hundred on each calibration if you will use it simply to repair your bicycle or construct living room furniture.

On the other hand, for industrial uses, it’s best to opt for digital torque wrenches with tip-top precision. Not only do they have industry standards-compliant precision, but many are equipped with user-friendly audiovisual notifications that will prevent over- and under-torquing. Furthermore, higher-end wrenches can also be integrated with your other industrial devices, increasing your production efficiency in the process.

With hardware-agnostic software such as Azumuta, your digital torque wrenches can do so much more than fastening nuts and bolts. It can receive and feed data with other production tools in real time, granting you full control and oversight of your entire assembly line.

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