Alcoa’s Fastening Systems (AFS) business has introduced a new patent-pending insert, called SmartSert, which can be installed in plastic or aluminium-based materials without a pre-tapped hole.
The innovative product, which was developed by AFS in Melbourne, Australia, eliminates steps previously required for thread-forming inserts.
Manufacturers traditionally used bolts inserted into a tapped hole to fasten items together. If the thread on the bolt or in the hole gets damaged - or “stripped”- the connection becomes weak and the product is ruined. The solution was to place a metal insert with a thread formation into the hole, restoring both the connection and the product. Over time, thread forming inserts became standard practice when a bolt connection needed to be strong, such as on aircraft.
‘One of the major drawbacks of threads is that the preparation for the insert – drilling a hole and then performing a tapping operation to thread the hole – is time consuming and expensive due to the machinery and accuracy required,’ said Simon Bowen, Director of Operations for AFS Australia. ‘The key to creating the SmartSert insert is that it can be installed quicker without a pre-formed hole.’
AFS turned to its expertise in wire forming to develop a wire that has a concave-shaped cross-section as opposed to the traditional diamond shape.
‘The insert doesn’t actually cut the base material when it’s installed,’ said Bowen. ‘Instead, the material flows around the insert just like modelling clay does when you press a finger into it. This eliminates cracking and other damage.’
SmartSert inserts are extremely compact, and require minimal space. Bolts can be tightened to higher torques without stripping, and are not easily dislodged by vibration. Potential new applications include scooter engines, aerospace materials, computer cases, printers, mobile phones, and electrical plugs.
AFS Melbourne has begun commercial production, with interest in the insert already being shown by major Asian automotive and electronics manufacturers.