Microchips, Wireless Turn Hand Tools Into (Little) Machining Centers

Sometimes it seems like literally everyone has their faced glued to a smart phone screen, so I guess it should be no surprise that even basic tools are getting digitally hooked up, too. 

Anyway, I’m walking around Assembly Show 2013 last week in Rosemont, Ill., and I run into the Ingersoll Rand exhibit, where not only have their traditional pneumatic tools been joined by a 20-V line of cordless devices, but a bunch now have internal data processors for measuring performance, logging data, and even reporting it via wireless to supervisory entities for quality control checking. 

Now, I’m used to seeing large machining centers and packaging lines reporting data via fieldbuses and wireless, receiving recipes and other instructions, and even communication among themselves to coordinate production lines or use a robot to pass parts between production cells. And, sophisticated hand tools have long had measurement functions for ensuring proper torque and other levels have been met. However, what’s happening now seems to be hybrid of the two — sort of a handheld machining center.

For example, Ingersoll Rand’s QX Series cordless screw driver has a little HMI screen for torque settings and immediate feedback, but it also has eight programmable torque, angle and speed configurations to tighten multiple joints with one tool, and then has closed-loop transducer control for more precise performance and traceable results. 

Finally, if this kind of data exchange didn’t make this screwdriver a bona fide machining center, then QX also has wireless communications, which lets it join the wireless network in its plant or facility via Ingersoll Rand’s wireless process communication module (PCM), which includes a receiver and other components. This wireless capability gives the screwdriver process control with I/O data, automatic configuration switching, and real-time data archiving for up to 10 tools via PCM. 

"When coupled with the new PCM, QX creates a plantwide communications system that provides real-time monitoring, process control and data management," says Mark Hasz, Ingersoll Rand’s product manager.

Sounds pretty close to a modern, smart phone-enabled machining center to me.

Jim Montague is the executive editor for ControlControl Design and Industrial Networking. Email him atjmontague@putman.net or check out his Google+ profile.