Keeping cost in check is critical for maintaining the overall financial health of any business. Costs, both direct and indirect, seem to have a way of getting out of hand fast.

Construction projects are no exception, especially for those operating within the energy, infrastructure, and manufacturing sectors. Unexpected costs creep up in various project areas, with the complexity of each project making it hard to accurately track and forecast expenses. The result is projects that are over-budget and behind schedule.

Peter Drucker famously said, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” The areas that are not closely tracked can be precisely what sends everything into a tailspin. While a project is focusing on keeping labor, materials, and equipment costs down, a seemingly miniscule problem can escalate. The devil’s in the details, after all. That’s why bolted joints can be the little-known Achilles’ heel of construction projects.


Why proper bolt tightness is crucial 

If your project involves a network of piping systems joining all of your equipment together, improperly tensioned bolts could be costing your facility millions. Let us explain.

Bolts are a necessary part of the versatile piping systems at industrial facilities. They secure and enforce the many connections and joints through which large quantities of gas, chemicals, and other process components flow.

To keep these systems as safe and efficient as possible, they are built to adhere to stringent engineering standards. They are also regularly tested to help ensure that the facility has no leaks on startup. 

However, despite impressive technological advancement, leaks in piping systems are still a fairly common occurrence. This is often due to improperly tightened bolts. When a bolt is over or under-tightened, it can cause a breach in the integrity of the connection. With over 26.4 million bolted joints touched each year during maintenance or construction, this is the perfect condition for a leak to occur. 


The hidden cost of improperly tightened bolts 

Initially, bolts might not seem like an expensive cost to your project. After all, they’re a relatively inexpensive component to order and keep in stock. They’re also very common, and most project managers rightfully accept them as a bare bones project necessity.

However, there is a massive hidden cost associated with seemingly innocent bolts. When they are improperly tightened, expensive problems in the form of quality issues, safety breaches, productivity slowdowns, and sustainability mishaps can occur.

These costs typically don’t occur until weeks, months, or even years after they’ve been installed, which is why the costs can sometimes go unnoticed. Four of the most common costs of improperly tightened bolts are as follows:


1. Poor Quality and Rework 

A recent study found that correcting poor work quality costs construction companies and their customers over $625 billion each year. The stakes are especially high when it comes to bolted joints.

Improperly tightened bolts can cause leaks that force an entire facility into an unplanned shutdown. For the manufacturing industry, over $50 billion is lost each year as a result of unplanned downtime. Just one hour of downtime can cost a facility over $100,000. 

In addition to being extremely expensive, unplanned shutdowns are also a massive safety concern. That leads us to number two…


2. Worker Safety Concerns 

Workers are 70% more likely to be injured during rework than planned work, which impacts over 1 million construction workers and their families each year.

The safety of workers is of utmost importance to industrial facilities. Yet when fixing quality problems, workers are under increased pressure to get the work done and have less time to assess safety issues. When considered in conjunction with the overall decrease in morale that rework causes, it’s no wonder that injuries are more likely to occur.


3. Productivity Bottleneck 

The last 25% of project progress takes up 50% of the overall project time. Sound familiar?

The last stretch of project work often involves tying up loose ends and correcting poor quality issues, which is why it can take a disproportionate amount of time. Quality personnel inspecting the integrity of various bolted connections can be a part of that time drain.  

Further, for any downtime that occurs once the work is wrapped up, projects can see a loss in productivity of up to 20%. This can easily cause a project to go into the red if they are already operating on a narrow margin. 

4. Environmental Impact 

These days, quality, safety, and productivity aren’t the only important metrics for projects to track. Sustainability has come to the forefront as a core area where the industry must improve. 

The industry has an average bolted joint leak rate of 10%. This, in turn, causes 170 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

How to ensure bolts are properly tightened 

Since you’ve made it this far, this post may have caused you to develop a somewhat negative association with bolted connections. After all, they’re likely costing your project in the form of quality, safety, productivity, and sustainability.

The good news is that most problems with bolted connections can be traced back to human error. With this in mind, technology can be implemented into critical work activities involving bolts to reduce the room for error.

As a starting point, your project should conduct a joint integrity review. Otherwise, your bolts could be inadvertently over or under-torqued. By using asset55’s bolt load calculator, you’ll be able to quickly assess the impact of any given bolt load upon the flange components. It’s a modern alternative to torque tables or bolt load spreadsheets.

Take things one step further with a digital bolted joint management system, such as the Smart Torque System. By using Bluetooth-connected digital tools, your target torque values are automatically achieved and stored digitally. This makes it easy for quality personnel to digitally review work, and creates accurate work records in the event of an audit.

For more information on implementing a digital bolted joint management system, schedule a