Oct. 26, 1999 A specially designed nut -- for quick and easy assembly of components in the harsh environment of space -- is being licensed by NASA to a Philadelphia firm in a step that could result in saving lives on Earth.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has signed a licensing agreement with M&A Screw and Machine Works of Philadelphia for the quick-connect nut.
The design permits nuts to be installed simply by pushing them onto standard bolts, then giving a quick twist. To remove, they are unscrewed like conventional nuts.
Sometimes, speed of assembly can even make the difference between life and death, according to Norman Morse, vice president of M&A.
"The mining industry is constantly erecting support barriers to shore up loose shale and rock," Morse said. "The longer it takes to erect those safety barriers, the more risk is placed on the people doing the work. This technology would help them do it much quicker."
The nut evolved from technology used in Pathfinder, a NASA project dedicated to in-space assembly techniques. Its licensing to M&A is an example of how NASA brings its technology into the private sector, according to Sammy Nabors of Marshall's Technology Transfer Department.
Technology transfer is the process of developing, transferring, and commercializing space program technology for the benefit of American people, American businesses, universities and government agencies. Improving America's standard of living and keeping the nation competitive in the global economy are the bottom-line results.
"We offered this fastener for licensing to help improve assembly processes on Earth," Nabors said. "In situations where seconds count, having to make 10 or 20 turns on a nut before it starts to tighten wastes time -- usually meaning money, too."
Bruce Weddendorf, the engineer who invented the fastener in a Marshall Center laboratory, sees possibilities for using quick-connect technology undersea. "This could be used for assembling oil drilling platforms," he said. "Space and undersea have a lot of common problems. Time is really critical, because both environments are dangerous, and it's very expensive to keep someone in either one."
Other potential applications include assembly of underwater salvage equipment, fire-fighting equipment, scaffolding, assembly-line machinery, industrial cranes, and even to change lug nuts on race cars.
"The guys in the pit stops are already really fast, but this would help greatly in that world of competition where time is so critical," Weddendorf said.
Due to their specialized nature, quick-connect nuts are not something consumers can buy at their local hardware store. "These are not the small, inexpensive nuts you would find in a jar in your workshop," Morse said.
Quick-connect nuts typically are more than three times the size of common nuts and custom-made to each specific application. Their cost can range from $35 to more than $200 each, depending on size, material specifications and quantity needed.
But, quick-connect nuts fill a critical need when time and safety are more important than cost, Morse said.
M&A, specializing in standard fasteners, manufactures quick-connect nuts by custom order in Philadelphia.
Through licensing, U.S. patents owned by NASA are made available to industry in return for royalties paid to the inventors and their NASA center. Technologies developed for the space program have enabled American industry to introduce more than 1,200 new or improved products for sale at home and abroad, including cordless tools, motion simulators and smoke detectors.
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