In the ever-evolving world of manufacturing, technology is advancing at a rapid pace. Innovations happen daily, allowing us to produce goods faster, cheaper, and more efficiently. To stay ahead of your competitors, you need the best that technology has to offer.
Even basic industrial tools such as torque wrenches are becoming digitalized. In terms of technology, torque wrenches can be divided into two categories; digital and analog. While both have their advantages and disadvantages, we highly recommend digital torque wrenches for most manufacturing uses.
In maximizing the use of your digital torque wrench, there is a thing or two that you should know. This guide will walk you through an introduction to digital torque wrenches, why it’s necessary to use them, how to choose the best torque wrenches, and most importantly: how to integrate them with a Quality Management System (QMS) software.
What is a Digital Torque Wrench?
In a nutshell, it’s a torque wrench that uses digital technology. Common features of a digital torque wrench include a fully digital interface (as opposed to a traditional needle gauge), some wrenches offer visual and audio feedback signals, a few select wrenches have electric motors, and higher-end digital torque wrenches can even be integrated into your computer and other industrial appliances.
The Evolution of Torque Wrenches Overtime
Since its invention in 1918 by Conrad Bahr, torque wrenches have evolved significantly. For most of its history, a torque wrench was a manual and analogous tool. This means that it fully depended on the physical strength of its user to deliver torque. Torque readings can only be seen in traditional needle gauges.
In 1968, the hydraulic torque wrench was invented by George Sturdevant. It harnesses the force of hydraulic pressure, which means that the strength of its user is not as important as it was. However, this technology was mostly analog, its measurements still used conventional needle gauges, and there was no way to integrate it into other industrial devices.
The first electronic torque wrenches were developed in the 1980’s, and became common in the market by the early 1990’s. Digital screens would be added later on, providing more convenient readings than traditional needle gauges. However, wireless communication-capable digital torque wrenches would not appear until the 2000’s, which allow them to feed and receive data in connection with other devices.
Today, digital torque wrenches have evolved dramatically from their predecessors. Thanks to a digital user interface, audio-visual feedback system, and the ability to link with QMS software and other industrial tools, digital torque wrenches are more user-friendly and can do so much more than conventional older wrenches.
Key Features of Digital Torque Wrenches
There are countless brands and variations of digital torque wrenches available on the market today. For beginners, it can be intimidating to choose your first digital torque wrench. In general, here are several features that a good digital torque wrench should have:
A Digital Interface
A typical digital torque wrench uses a fully digital interface. This includes a digital screen that informs you about the torque value (the more decimal points it can show, the better). Moreover, some screens come with a built-in backlight, which allows you to work in low-light conditions. This is a major improvement from the traditional needle gauge measurement system offered by conventional wrenches.
Some digital torque wrenches allow you to input the desired torque with pinpoint accuracy, and their electric motors will automatically deliver the requested torque to the targeted nuts and bolts. Milwaukee Tools’ M12 Fuel is a good example of a fully electric motor-powered digital torque wrench.
It can produce far more torque than conventional human-powered wrenches. Furthermore, they are way faster than human-powered wrenches as well. This makes them perfect for heavy-duty industrial uses, previously constrained by the limits of human physical strength in the days of manual wrenches. However, digital torque wrenches that fully rely on electric motors are not yet common in the market, due to the presence of impact wrenches.
A good digital torque wrench always comes with a digital notification system. This can be in the form of sound signals (such as a beep), colored lights, or a combination of both. This notification provides useful feedback to its user, typically alerting the user when the desired torque level has been reached. This is useful to prevent under- or over-tightening of nuts & bolts, which has immense impacts on a product’s safety and quality.
Data Storage and Integration With Other Devices
Perhaps the most important feature of digital torque wrenches is their ability to collect, receive, store, and share information with other industrial appliances. Digital torque wrenches come with a built-in digital sensor and memory system to store their torque readings.
This digital torque wrench has several useful features. For starters, managers can create a simple visual step-by-step guide that production workers can follow. Such visualizations include text annotations, arrow schematics, color coding, and other easily understood visual aids. This is helpful in knowing which nuts and bolts need to be torqued, and how many Newton meters are necessary.
It can also receive and process information gathered by Crane Electronics’-produced WrenchStar Multi Torque Wrench. With this feature, Curatas Wrench Control can detect defects and mistakes in the production line. This streamlines and speeds up your quality control process.
However, software such as Curatas Wrench Control also has its shortcomings. First, it has a vendor lock-in nature, since it only works with other Crane Electronics-produced wrenches and devices. This limits your company’s choice of hardware products to only Crane Electronics-produced wrenches and production tools.
Fortunately, some QMS software providers are hardware agnostic – meaning that their software works with any compatible hardware, regardless of the brand. This broadens your choice of production tools, as you are free to choose the most suitable products quality-wise and cost-wise for your company, without any brand limitation.
Second, Curatas Wrench Control’s functions are relatively limited. Its instruction visualization and data gathering & procession features are mainly for torquing-related uses only. Meanwhile, Azumuta’s all-in-one app offers so much more.
With Azumuta’s Digital Work Instructions module, you can draft work instruction visualizations that are beyond torquing-related activities. Our drag-and-drop feature is designed so that everyone can create and understand production instructions that are simple and easily understood. Check out Bewel’s success story of how our Digital Work Instructions module has greatly lowered employee stress levels and improved Bewel’s employees’ job satisfaction.
Besides a Digital Work Instructions feature, you can also integrate your digital torque wrench as a part of a greater quality control system, thanks to Azumuta’s Quality Management module.
Your wrench’s torque readings data can be integrated with the digitalized & real-time Quality Management system, which is certainly handy for quality control and audit purposes. Take a peek at Nitto’s success story in streamlining its quality control process thanks to our Quality Management module.
How Does a Digital Torque Wrench Work?
In general, a digital torque wrench has a similar purpose to conventional torque wrenches: to tighten and fasten nuts and bolts by delivering the necessary torque. However, it’s equipped with numerous technologies that make torquing tasks easier, such as easy-to-read digital interfaces, computer-driven sensors, a built-in memory system, and sound & light feedback signals. Some advanced wrenches are even equipped with electric motors.
A digital torque wrench is electric-powered and obtains its energy either from batteries or an electric cord. A good advantage of a digital torque wrench is that it is fully supported by a wide array of technologies. For example, there are digital sensors within the wrench to measure the torque value.
The data detected from these sensors is used to ensure that the given torque values are as accurate as possible. Good wrenches ideally have a maximum deviation of around 2%.
Besides that, the collected data will also be fed into its digital screen to be seen by its user. The data is also used to generate beeping sounds or flickering lights (or both) as a feedback signal to its user if the requested torque level has been reached. This is crucial to prevent under- and over-torquing.
Digital torque wrenches come with a built-in memory system that can record data from thousands of past torque readings and are able to execute wireless data transfer with other devices, with the help of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or RFID networks.
The Key Advantages of a Digital Torque Wrench
Digital torque wrenches have a myriad of advantages compared to their analog counterparts. While it might be tempting to buy analog torque wrenches due to their lower costs, they are less suitable for professional industrial applications. For industrial use, it is highly recommended to use digital torque wrenches instead of analog ones. Some of the key advantages of digital torque wrenches are:
High Precision in Assembly Lines
Digital torque wrenches offer far higher precision than analog ones. Thanks to its computerized nature, your employees can pinpoint their desired torque in Newton meters or other commonly used units.
Meanwhile, manual torque wrenches fully depend on the intuition of the user to measure the given torque. This makes analog torque wrenches prone to over- and under-tightening of nuts and bolts.
Moreover, quality control officers can also check whether the required torque has been applied using their digital control wrenches. In many industries, precision in manufacturing is crucial, as it will directly impact the quality and safety of your products.
Data Storage for Consistency
Another major advantage of digital torque wrenches is their ability to store collected data. Many digital torque wrenches can store their usage history within their memory system.
Additionally, this data can also be transferred into computers and can be shared with your entire team. This feature is definitely handy for quality control and future audit purposes.
Digital torque wrenches generally come with a digital interface, where numbers are clearly displayed on a digital screen. In contrast, analog wrenches tend to use a traditional gauge, with a needle pointing to minuscule numbers. Sometimes, you might even need to squint your eyes to see them well. This means that the user needs more effort and time in reading the measurements while being more prone to errors at the same time.
Thanks to built-in lights, it’s also easier to see a digital torque wrench’s measurement in low-light environments. Whether you are repairing the underneath of a car, working in a poorly lit room, or simply working at night, digital torque wrenches suit you well.
Having Digital Feedback
What’s more, good digital torque wrenches typically come with a built-in sound/light (or both) notification system. It will inform the user if the prescribed torque value has been given, which is perfect to prevent under- and over-torque.
Under-torquing means there are loose nuts or bolts, which can lead to serious safety consequences. Meanwhile, over-torquing can damage the targetted nuts or bolts, add unnecessary stress to the related product, and potentially shorten its lifetime.
Why Precision is Crucial for Your Manufacturing Process
In numerous industries, pinpoint precision is non-negotiable. In the aviation industry, for example, a loose bolt or nut could easily spell disaster, as in the case of China Airlines Flight 120. Hence, here are some of the rationales for why maintaining tip-top precision is always relevant for your day-to-day manufacturing operations.
Protecting your Brand’s Reputation
Many say that reputation is any business’s most valuable asset. Reputation comes from continuous consistency, thus it is paramount for any manager to maintain your company’s reputation at all costs. One of the ways of keeping your products consistent is by using production tools that are designed to maintain consistency, such as computer-powered digital torque wrenches. Good production tools will also lead to good end products.
Avoiding Unnecessary Additional Costs
Besides reputational considerations, insufficient precision in production also has its financial implications. Among others, is the need to recall products in case of a defect for safety concerns. For example, Tesla had to recall 3,470 of its Model Y cars due to loose bolts in one of its sections. Such recalls cost valuable man-hours that your employees must bear, on top of financial costs to support the logistics of such recalls.
Ensuring Regulatory Compliance
In many countries, manufactured goods are strictly regulated and have standards that they have to pass before they can enter the market. Products such as vehicles have to pass national safety checks before they can be sold, and a single loose bolt or nut can derail an entire product’s entry into the market.
In certain markets, there are even additional certifications that need to be conformed to on top of national standards, such as in the EU. In short, never compromise the accuracy of your production tools – your product’s quality and regulatory compliance rely on it.
Having a Good Supply Chain
Thanks to globalization, a product’s components can come from country A, be assembled in country B, and be sold in country C. Regardless of the location, a high-quality end product is always appreciated.
In this digitalized age, tracking a component or product’s origin down to the exact factory that produced it has never been easier, thanks to standardized barcodes and serial numbers. Ensure that your part of the supply chain is always trusted by customers and partners alike, by using only the most precise tools.
How to Choose the Right Digital Torque Wrench
When googling “digital torque wrench” on any marketplace, you will be bombarded by hundreds of different choices. It can be overwhelming to choose the digital torque wrench that best suits your needs Don’t worry, here are the key features that you need to consider before buying one:
Size and Torque Range
The first thing that you need to consider is the size of your digital torque wrench – which corresponds directly to the torque force it can provide and the nuts and bolts that it can interact with. Despite their similar appearances, different wrench sizes have completely different uses. A small wrench cannot be used to repair large industrial-size gas pipes, and a large wrench will not work on changing your bicycle’s tires.
Thus, make sure you have a clear idea of what to use your digital torque wrench for before purchasing one. The most commonly found sizes (in inches): are ¼”, ⅜”, ½”, and ¾” wrenches:
¼ Inch Wrenches
The smallest size of common wrenches, they are perfect for small-size nuts and bolts. These wrenches are typically used for small objects, such as electronics, furniture, and small vehicles such as bicycles and motorcycles. For those who are looking for digital torque wrenches simply for casual personal use, ¼” wrenches are the perfect choice for you.
⅜ Inch Wrenches
⅜ Inch wrenches offer more torque force compared to their smaller counterpart. Wrenches of this size are well-suited for the maintenance of engines of small vehicles such as cars, and medium-size machinery.
½ Inch Wrenches
Going up the size chart, ½ Inch wrenches can serve larger bolts & nuts, and offer more torque to the aforementioned sizes. These wrenches are commonly used in the maintenance process of vehicle suspensions, as well as larger machinery.
¾ Inch Wrenches
The largest of the commonly found digital torque wrenches, this tool is used for industrial purposes, and not for personal use. They are often used in huge machinery, as well as in the maintenance of vehicles as large as airplanes and large trucks.
A digital torque wrench needs to provide tip-top accuracy, for the reasons previously mentioned in this article. Ideally, a good digital torque wrench should have an accuracy or tolerance deviation of around 1% (the lower, the better).
Higher-end digital torque wrenches with good precision commonly cost hundreds of Euros in the market. But don’t let the sky-high price tag intimidate you. For industrial use, the high initial cost can save you thousands in damages due to inaccuracies in the long run.
Material and Build Quality
Not all digital torque wrenches are created equally. Wrench bodies made of stronger materials and corrosion-free (such as stainless steel or chrome-plated) are preferred. Despite their costs can easily reach hundreds of Euros, for industrial uses, their durability and strength are a worthy investment for the long-term.
Besides the material of the wrench body, also check its handle. The more firm and comfortable the grip is – the better. Before purchasing your wrenches, it’s always a good idea to physically examine them, to check and feel the materials with your own senses. Moreover, always check for any defect. If a defect is found, directly inform the distributor/manufacturer – while the guarantee period is still valid.
User-Friendliness of Its Interface
Digital torque wrenches can give a visual (such as color-coded lights) and/or audio (such as a beeping sound) feedback signal to its users. This signal will inform the user if the desired torque has been delivered, or if an incorrect torque value has been detected. This is a useful feature for quality control purposes. It’s best to choose a digital torque wrench that offers both visual and audio signals for extra user awareness.
Maintenance Possibilities In Case of a Breakdown
Similar to any electronics, a digital torque wrench can at some point break down. Servicing requires spare parts and trained technicians – and their availability affects how soon you can use your wrench again. Therefore, it’s advisable to stick to the larger digital torque wrench manufacturers and their wide distribution network in your region.
Finally, a digital torque wrench’s cost is also an important consideration. Per unit cost is typically in the hundreds of Euros, with higher-end ones that can go beyond EUR 1,000. Mostly, its price correlates with its torque range, available features, and overall quality. Hence, it’s best to find a middle ground between what your company’s needs and available budget.
Leading Brands of Digital Torque Wrenches
There are hundreds of different digital torque wrenches on the market, with specifications and prices. Besides the above-mentioned criteria, there is another aspect that cannot be measured by numbers: reputation. Some reputable European digital torque wrench brands include Atlas Copco, Crane Electronics, and Desoutter.
Maintaining Your Digital Torque Wrenches
Just like any industrial hardware, you need to properly maintain and store your digital torque wrenches. This is important to maintain the quality of their outputs and to prolong their product lifespan.
To ensure its accurate measurements, digital torque wrenches need to be regularly calibrated. According to the international standards set in ISO 6789:2017, it should be calibrated at least every 12 months or 5,000 usages, whichever is first. Some even calibrate their wrenches more frequently, such as every 6 months or 2,000-3,000 uses to achieve a higher certainty of precision.
Some digital torque wrenches have their own self-calibration feature. If yours does not have this feature, there are plenty of firms out there that offer digital torque wrench calibration services.
Tips for Proper Maintenance and Storage
If not in use, it’s recommended always to store your digital torque wrench in its case. Otherwise, storing your wrench is not different from storing most other electronic devices; keep it dry, away from humidity, dust, and overly low or high temperatures. Do not use your wrench to apply torque beyond its designed capacity, as it will surely damage your wrench.
Always remember: a digital torque wrench is an electronic precision tool. Do not treat it the same way as an analog wrench or even sturdy hardware such as a hammer. Should you drop your wrench, it’s always a good idea to recalibrate it – to ensure its precision.
The Future of Torque Tools
Torque wrenches have come a long way; from its inception in 1918, the introduction of hydraulic wrenches in 1968, up into the digital ones that we see today. In our day and age, not only torque wrenches can serve as a conventional industrial tool, but also as a data sourcing & sharing platform thanks to QMS software such as Azumuta.
Various industrial equipment manufacturers such as Atlas Copco have successfully integrated their hardware as a part of a broader digitalization thanks to Azumuta, which leads to a significant increase in operational efficiency in our consumers’ production plants.