We reproduce the article (full version) published by Il Sole 24 Ore | June 2023 👇🏻
Partnership with E-novia for TOKBO, start-up that creates new fastening systems.
Airports and railways. And then subways, industrial plants, crane manufacturers, even the engines on ships. These are the first customers of TOKBO, a technology start-up that provides an answer to the need for control and safety in infrastructure. A project initiated by Agrati, multinational company with revenues of 680 million, one of the world leaders in fastener systems which has decided to take a step in the direction of the 4.0 world, thus adding electronics and ‘intelligence’ on board its bolts.
The outcome of the research project launched in 2018 is precisely TOKBO, a start-up controlled by Agrati and participated by e-Novia, which, after testing and validating the first prototypes, has developed a new generation of products, which are already on the market. Structural bolts thus also become sensors for real-time monitoring of clamping force, vibration and temperature. Screws and nuts positioned at critical points that customers want to monitor and that transmit data on tension and elongation, any acceleration undergone, and existing inclination. This allows real-time understanding of the operating conditions within the structures, intercepting anomalies in good time. ‘We have focused on the vast world of infrastructure and transport networks,’ explains TOKBO CEO Ivan Moroni, ‘because it is precisely here that the need for control is most evident. If a bridge vibrates when a train passes, for example, the acceleration of the bolt indicates how the structure is reacting, which can also be followed over time by comparing it with past data’.
Vibration data, clamping force, temperature and inclination are recorded.
The developed patent allows for wireless operation, although at the moment in the first applications a direct wiring that also provides power has been opted for, in order to avoid maintenance related to battery replacement.
Safety is improved in two ways: on the one hand, by directly monitoring the operating status, and on the other hand, by foreseeing on the basis of the collected parameters a productive maintenance that anticipates any potential problems. The start-up controlled by Agrati, whose CEO Paolo Pozzi is also president of the European EIFI Association, is currently unlimited in size, but within three years the target is to exceed 1.5 million in revenues. “The initial phase is gradual,” adds Moroni, “with customers starting on a limited basis to test these tools. But the possibilities of rapidly scaling up the business are concrete. Think, for example, of a railway operator that asked us to monitor a specific turnout: if this first step is adopted on the entire network, we can quickly scale up to hundreds or thousands of pieces supplied’.
By the end of the year, there are already twenty applications on the market, including airports, railways, subways, cranes, ships and industrial plants.
About ten systems are already active in the field at the moment between airports, machinery manufacturers, metro and railway operating companies, and crane manufacturers. But the possible applications are even broader, looking for example at the monitoring of landslides, buildings, bridges, signposts crossing motorways.
Another possible application is on ships, as is the case in two Ligurian ports to monitor possible spills at sea, with the control ship’s engine suspensions monitored by TOKBO’s system.
“By the end of the year, we expect to have at least 20 systems active at customer sites, with the aim of becoming a reference point in Italy for the monitoring of joints. a for the monitoring of bolted joints for infrastructure and industrial systems. However, we also have contacts abroad, and we are aiming to soon start a cooperation with a partner for Latin America. “
The individual monitoring points are in fact potentially a first step towards widespread and modular control: each control unit, which then conveys the data to the cloud platform, can in fact manage up to 250 ‘smart’ bolts.