There are smart phones and smart watches, so why not a smart bolt? At its 75-year-old Tonawanda (New York) engine assembly plant, General Motors is using bolts with embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to keep tabs on the construction of its new Gen 5 small-block V-8s.
These "databolts" look fairly normal on the outside, but their cores are hollowed out to house the RFID tag and a wire antenna. Each bolt can store 2 kilobytes of information, and travels with one engine block or head through the entire assembly process.
General Motors needs to tag its engine parts because there's a lot to keep track. There are 29 machining processes for Gen 5 blocks, and 11 processes for heads. Once machining is completed, blocks and heads are mated on their way to becoming a finished engine.
The databolts are scanned at the end of each machining process to confirm that it's been successfully completed, as well as during leak tests. According Popular Mechanics, this happens about 50 times during production, and it gives workers a complete record of each part's journey down the line.
If a flaw is found, the affected block or head can be identified by its databolt. This allows workers to keep track of potentially defective parts, ensuring that they're properly inspected and that they don't leave the factory. The data also helps track these flaws, so line operators can determine whether an improperly-machined block is just an anomaly or part of a larger problem.
If you think GM is collaborating with the NSA to sneak tracking devices into your new Corvette, don't worry: the databolts are removed at the end of assembly and reused.