If you’re working in manufacturing or repair, there’s a strong chance you’re already using some variety of torque wrench. In any application where the fastening of bolts and screws is critical—which includes the aerospace, automotive, medical device, electronics, and packaging industries, to name a few—businesses depend on torque tools to deliver the precise amount of force necessary to hold a fastener in place indefinitely.
The most common type of torque wrench, and the simplest, is the “click wrench.” While click wrenches are effective, durable, and cost-effective torque control solutions, they are not high-performance tools, and a company relying solely on click wrenches will eventually reach the upper limit of what they are able to accomplish. So, if your business is using primarily click torque wrenches, you may find yourself asking—is it time to upgrade?
Click Wrenches, Their Limits, and More Advanced Torque Wrenches
Before we dive headlong into in-depth descriptions of the more advanced torque wrenches, it’s best to start with a simple definition of the click wrench, the wrench you’re already working with. Click wrenches are basic tools. They control the amount of torque an operator places on a bolt by emitting an audible “click” sound when the predetermined torque amount is reached. Depending on the wrench, this torque amount can be easily adjusted externally, or the adjustment mechanism can be protected inside the wrench. Click wrenches don’t stop the operator from applying too much torque—they simply inform the operator in time to stop themselves.
The most obvious upgrade from a click wrench is to a torque wrench which physically prevents its operator from applying too much torque. There are two types of hand torque wrenches which do so, the break-over wrench and the cam-over wrench. When an operator using a break-over wrench reaches the predetermined amount of torque, the wrench will “break,” or deflect 20-90 degrees, preventing them from applying any more torque. Similarly, the cam-over style wrench “slips,” or disengages its clutch, when the operator applies the predetermined torque amount. This also keeps the operator from over-torquing a fastener. For applications in which incorrect torque values are too dangerous or costly to allow, either cam-over or break-over wrenches are more appropriate choices than click wrenches.
In addition to upgrading for precision, a company using only click torque wrenches may find themselves in the position to upgrade for speed as well. While there is no significant gain in production speed from switching to different types of hand tools, speed can be greatly increased by switching from hand tools to pneumatic or electric tools. These tools are not only much faster than hand tools when employed in a well-designed assembly process or repair shop, but they also mechanically limit the application of torque, rendering them more precise than click wrenches as well.
On the surface, it seems like cam-over, break-over, pneumatic, and electric torque tools are superior options to click wrenches across the board, as each possesses useful capabilities which click wrenches do not. However, click wrenches are still the most common type of torque tool in circulation today. Why? Because even though other tools are more capable than click wrenches, unless a business has a demonstrated need for that extra capability, it can be difficult to justify the increased investment. Before upgrading your tool inventory beyond click wrenches, therefore, be sure you have a solid business case to rationalize the expense.
Making a Business Case for Upgrading Your Click Wrenches
Click wrenches are so popular because they are more cost-effective than other types of torque tools. Where the price points break, it actually makes little sense to purchase a more advanced torque wrench when a click wrench will get the job done. While a single cam-over wrench may not seem to be wildly more expensive than a click wrench, the price gap widens as you multiply the price points by the number of tools you’ll actually need. The larger your shop, the more it will cost you to retool.
That said, there are many applications for which click wrenches are simply not precise enough. As the function of the fastener becomes more critical, the necessity for control becomes more stringent. While click wrenches may be able to deliver the right levels of torque to products such as internal medical devices, high-stress aerospace or automotive fasteners, and packaging and electronics components with tight tolerances, their usage would require a further level of expensive and unwieldy quality control to guarantee product safety and efficacy. Simply put, at a certain point, it’s more expensive to check over the work of click wrenches than it is to invest in cam-over or break-over wrenches.
Also, while the initial investment must still be reconciled, any company producing products with these stringent torque requirements must likewise have invested in higher-precision torque tools. So, the cost of higher-priced torque wrenches can be redeemed while still offering your products at a market rate price. However, this only applies if you anticipate that demand for your product will allow enough sales to redeem the cost of your wrench. The more wrenches you upgrade, the more higher-priced products you’ll have to sell to make up your investment.
Similar logic applies to upgrading click wrenches to power tools to increase the rapidity of your production. While power tools are more expensive than click wrenches, if demand for your product allows you to increase your production capacity enough to amortize your investment in a reasonable time period, the cost is justified.
In answer to the original question, should your business upgrade its torque wrenches, the answer is—it depends. Can you bring in enough revenue by increasing your precision or speed to justify the investment? If so, then the odds are good that upgrading your click torque wrenches would be a valuable decision.