Rivets: A Versatile and Durable Fastening Solution(engineer drawing Antony)

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Rivets have been used for thousands of years to join materials together in a strong and long-lasting way. From ancient shipbuilding to modern skyscrapers, rivets continue to be an essential fastening technology across countless industries.
In this article, we’ll explore what rivets are, how they work, the different types available, and the many applications where rivets are the fastener of choice.
What Are Rivets?
A rivet is a mechanical fastener that joins two or more materials by inserting a metal shaft through aligned holes in the materials and forming a head on one or both ends. The rivet shank fills the hole and the formed head securely holds the materials together.
Rivets work by placing the rivet shank under tension rather than shear stress. As force is applied to pull the materials apart, the rivet is placed under tensile stress as it is stretched. This makes rivets superior at withstanding vibrations and shock loads compared to fasteners like nuts and bolts.
The most common materials for rivets include aluminum, steel, stainless steel, copper, and Monel. Softer materials like aluminum deform easily to form the rivet head, while harder materials are stronger in tension. The choice of rivet material depends on the application and materials being joined.
How Rivets Work
Rivets work by first drilling a hole through the materials to be joined. The rivet shank is inserted through the hole and the head is formed using a riveting hammer, press, or other riveting tool. As the head is formed, the material expands, filling the hole and clamping the materials tightly together.
The rivet diameter, length, and head size are precisely matched to the thickness and strength of the materials being joined. This ensures the rivet completely fills the hole and provides maximum strength without cracking or distorting the surrounding material.
For softer materials like aluminum, semi-tubular rivets with a partial hole are used. This allows the rivet to expand easily during heading to fill the hole. For harder materials, solid shank rivets are used as they have greater strength in tension.
Rivet Types
There are several types of rivets designed for different applications and installation methods:
- Solid shank rivets: As the name implies, these have a solid cylindrical shank and are the strongest type of rivet. They are installed by upsetting the tail end to form the second head.
- Semi-tubular rivets: These have a partially hollow shank that flares outward during installation to fill the hole. The hollow core allows for some flexibility and easier installation.
- Blind rivets: These are tubular with a mandrel through the center. As the mandrel is pulled, the rivet flares against the rear surface for fast installation without access to both sides.
- Drive rivets: These feature a small transverse pin protruding from the head that is hammered to upset the shank. Designed for high speed automated installation.
- Self-piercing rivets: The rivet pierces directly through the top material and flares into the bottom material without pre-drilling. Used to join dissimilar or layered materials.
- Structural rivets: Extra-large rivets designed for joining structural steel. Their large shank transfers greater loads between members.
- Multi-grip rivets: Shanks have grooves or notches allowing them to expand and fill differing material thicknesses. Accommodate variations in manufacturing.
Rivet Applications
Thanks to their vibration resistance, shear strength, and ease of installation, rivets serve an indispensable role across many industries:
Aircraft Construction: Rivets are the primary fastener used in airframe manufacturing. The structural stress on aircraft make rivets the ideal choice over other fasteners. Standard aircraft-grade aluminum rivets come in a wide range of diameters and lengths.
Building and Construction: Steel structural rivets are used extensively in the assembly of steel beams, bracing, and reinforcing bars in all types of buildings and bridges. The structural joints assembled with large steel rivets carry massive loads through tension in the rivets rather than shear stress.
Shipbuilding: The extensive use of rivets in shipbuilding dates back centuries. The hulls of ships were assembled with millions of steel rivets. Though welding is now more common, rivets are still used extensively in shipbuilding.
Industrial Manufacturing: From machinery to structural platforms, steel rivets offer high clamping pressures for structural assembly and vibration resistance in industrial environments. Riveting also allows for precision alignment during manufacture.
Electronics: Small aluminum and stainless steel rivets securely fasten components like heat sinks onto circuit boards and electronic enclosures. Softer aluminum rivets prevent damage to sensitive components during assembly.
Consumer Goods: Rivets find uses in many everyday items from jeans to walking poles. Copper and brass rivets reinforce stress points on clothing and gear. Home DIY projects often use basic aluminum pop rivets.
Automotive: Self-piercing rivets are now common in car manufacturing for joining body panels and frame components of different thicknesses. Rivets allow flexibility during design changes and compensate for differences in manufacturing tolerances.
Advantages of Rivets
Compared to other fastening methods like welding, screws, and adhesives, rivets provide a list of unique advantages:
- Vibration and shock resistant: The clamping pressure of rivets maintains joint integrity in high vibration environments. Rivets also absorb rather than transfer shock impacts.
- Quick installation: Most rivets can be installed in seconds with minimal tools and training. Automated tools allow very high-speed installation.
- Strong and durable: The rivet shank is placed in tension rather than shear for great joint strength. High clamping force maintains strength over decades of service.
- Corrosion resistant: Many rivet alloys, like stainless steel and Monel, provide excellent corrosion resistance in harsh environments.
- Can join dissimilar materials: Rivets can clamp many material combinations from metals to composites that are difficult to weld or glue together.
- Adjustments and disassembly: Mistakes in installation can usually be drilled out and replaced. Joints can also be disassembled by drilling out the rivets if needed.
- Widely available: Rivets come in thousands of sizes and alloys tailored to nearly any application. Local sources provide quick and easy sourcing.
Disadvantages of Rivets
Rivets do have some drawbacks and limitations:
- Hole drilling required: The base materials must be pre-drilled, adding an initial preparation step compared to welding or adhesive bonding.
- Not designed for reuse: Rivets are designed for permanent assembly. Reusing a hole usually requires a larger rivet or alternative fastener.
- Lacks shear and tensile strength: Rivets themselves have limited strength in shear or tension compared to hi-lo bolts that combine shear and tension loads.
- Potential for corrosion: If dissimilar metals are joined, galvanic corrosion can occur between rivet and base material over time.
- Less rigid assembly: Riveted joints have some flexibility versus a continuous weld or single-piece casting. Not optimal for applications requiring absolute rigidity.
- Skill for quality installation: Proper rivet spacing, hole sizes, and installation pressures require training and practice to master.
While rivets have limitations, their advantages make them an essential, versatile, and cost-effective fastening solution used worldwide. Continued innovation also expands the capabilities of modern rivets. From eco-friendly materials to new alloys and installation methods, rivets remain a future-ready fastening technology. CNC Milling