The man behind the Smart Screw Connection: Dr. Peter Spies

May 5, 2022 | Portrait of Dr. Peter Spies, expert on integrated energy supplies

Peter Spies has been conducting research into energy supply for communication systems at Fraunhofer IIS since 1998. Read on to find out how his work led him from energy-efficient wireless systems to smart screws, and what he believes makes this technology so economical, sustainable and secure.

Peter Spies doesn’t have a long history with screw connections, but there’s another subject that has interested him since the start of his career at Fraunhofer IIS.

“My focus is on energy efficiency. Since I joined Fraunhofer, I’ve been working on making energy supplies for communication systems more efficient.”

Peter’s research quickly led him to energy harvesting, a technology that he has played a key role in developing for more than 20 years. Energy harvesting is a sustainable method for obtaining electrical energy from environmental energy. He first used this method – a “green” alternative to batteries and a wireless way to generate electricity – to supply energy to wireless systems, but his contact with other Fraunhofer projects inspired him to combine the two technologies to make a smart screw connection.

“I heard about a sensor technology that made it possible to measure the temperature in a pipe by combining a screw with a temperature sensor. I thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be possible to use these already-warm screws to generate energy and use it to transmit the measurement data?”


Peter Spies hält die intelligente Schraubverbindung in der Hand.
© Fraunhofer IIS
Peter Spies holds the Smart Screw Connection in his hand for the first time at the Technologiekompass event.

Screws get smart

He also remembered his colleague Saskia Biehl from the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST, who developed a sensor layer for ring washers to measure the preload force of a screw connection. Combining energy harvesting in the screw and a ring washer was an obvious step. Altogether, the core project team comprises 15 researchers from four different Fraunhofer Institutes – Fraunhofer IIS, Fraunhofer IST, the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC. A cooperation involving that many people from different institutes could present a major challenge, but Spies sees it from another perspective. He finds working with colleagues at other Fraunhofer Institutes to be truly enriching.

“I think it’s great and really motivating that so many people are interested in this technology and are passionate about developing and refining it.”


Peter Spies prüft, wie die intelligente Schraubverbindung funktioniert.
© Fraunhofer IIS
The screw connection works - and Peter Spies is thrilled.

The Smart Screw Connection Q-Bo® in action

What he enjoys the most are the collaboration with his team and how the project team stuck together in project phases when it wasn’t clear whether they would be able to develop the technology to the point that it would work without changing the screw itself. Ultimately, though, it was perseverance, determination, and the continuous re-evaluation of options and project goals that led Spies to his personal highlight. At Technologiekompass 2021, an event series run by the Positioning and Networks research area at Fraunhofer IIS, he was finally able to touch the smart screws himself and even tighten them with a torque wrench.

“Finally seeing the technology we’ve been working on for years in action and holding it in my hand – that was an incredible feeling.”


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