Lead Screws Play Crucial Role in Rapidly Growing Cannabis Industry

The legal cannabis industry in North America is projected to grow from $9.2 billion today to $47.3 billion over the next decade. Worldwide, spending on legal cannabis is forecast to hit $57 billion by 2027.  As much as 67% of the cannabis spending is projected to come from recreational use while medical marijuana will take up the remaining 33%.

These forecasts were reported in Forbes Magazine and provided by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics as part of their 2017 report on the growing cannabis industry.

The report says that medical-only cannabis regulations enacted by certain U.S. states and Canada prompted other countries to enact similar regulations. When California and Canada legalized adult recreational use, that triggered a second wave of laws internationally to increase access to cannabis.

As the legal cannabis industry grows and becomes more mainstream, it is increasingly using sophisticated laboratory testing equipment to maximize the quality, consistency and production levels of legal cannabis products. This includes Laboratory Automation Equipment, Gas Chromatography Equipment, Mass Spectrometry Equipment, and Autosamplers, among others.

These devices rely on lead screws to function and in many cases require precision medical grade drive screw assemblies with zero defects and no margin for error.

As a pioneer in the custom thread rolling industry since 1956, Noll supplies lead screws and drive assemblies to many of the leading manufacturers of automated devices for the medical and biological science manufacturing industries.

Part of the Noll’s success over the years has come from its ability to forecast industries that are poised for rapid growth and rely on lead screws for their equipment. Legal cannabis is a perfect example of such an industry.

Noll was recently featured in an article by Terpenes and Testing Magazine regarding the company’s behind the scenes role in equipment used in the legal cannabis industry. Click here to read the article.


How Lead screws are used in today’s modern equipment

A lead screw (or leadscrew), sometimes called a power screw or translation screw, is used to translate turning motion into linear motion. Lead screws can be manufactured by rolling, cutting, or grinding the threads.

The screw threads of a lead screw require a large area of sliding contact between the male and female members, which causes more frictional energy loss compared to other linkages.

Lead screws were first developed to deliver a large amount of force in devices such as olive presses and grape presses. They are still used that way in some applications when combined with a metallic nut. For example, today you will often find lead screws used in visespresses, and jacks.


However, in this modern era, lead screws also serve an important function in instrument grade applications where smooth, precise, clean, and maintenance free operation is required for intermittent use in low power actuator and positioner devices. In these devices, the nut material is typically made of an internally lubricated polymer.

For example, lead screws are often found in rapid prototyping, engraving, and data storage equipment.


They are also widely used in the Biomedical industry. You will find lead screws in clinical and hospital equipment both for human and veterinarian medicine. They are used in the syringe and Infusion pumps for blood and drugs needing precise fluid measurement and intravenous fluid delivery.


Another common application for lead screws is in lab testing equipment such as sampling, scanning, and fluid handling devices:


While Noll Inc. has produced custom lead screws for a large variety of applications and equipment over the years, the rise of the BioTech industry worldwide has created the greatest challenges and opportunities for our company.


BioTech requires custom lead screws with zero defects and absolutely no margin for error. It was very clear to us that these demands were not going to be met by piecing together parts from a catalog company.  That’s why Noll provides many of the leading Bio Tech equipment manufacturing companies with custom lead screws for a wide variety of applications.

A Short History of the Lead Screw

Restored olive press from Roman Empire. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

To explore the history of the lead screw we need to go back to ancient Greece and the invention of the screw. A screw is known as a device that converts rotational motion into linear motion and also converts rotational force (torque) into a linear force.

The most common form of screw consists of a cylindrical shaft with helical ridges called threads. The screw passes through a hole in another object that often has threads on the inside of the hole that mesh with the screw’s threads. In screw mechanisms, either the screw shaft rotates through a threaded hole in a stationary object, or a threaded collar, such as a nut can rotate around a stationary screw shaft.

Some experts credit Greek mathematician and engineer Archimedes with inventing the screw. Others say it was Archytas of Tarentum. In ancient times, the screw was primarily used in screw presses to magnify force. Screw presses were large machines that were typically turned by men or oxen. Screw presses were typically used for squeezing juice from grapes and oil from olives.

The Greeks credit Archimedes with inventing the Archimedes screw water pump around 234 BC. However, The Encyclopedia Britannica says there is also evidence of a similar device being used prior to that time in ancient Egypt.

Crude screw-cutting lathes were developed around the 15th century. That’s when screws started to become more widely used as fasteners, drills and augers.

Around 1750, Antoine Thiout introduced the innovation of equipping a lathe with a screw drive. This allowed the tool carriage to move longitudinally. In 1770, Jesse Ramsden developed a relatively precise screw-cutting lathe. Using his lathes, a long screw could be cut from a small original screw. Precision screws were crucial to the development of precision instruments used in the construction of steam engines and other machines.

A lead screw, also known as a power screw or translation screw, is a screw shaft that rotates causing a nut to move linearly along the shaft. It’s difficult to pinpoint when lead screws were first invented because you could say that the original grape and olive presses were a form of lead screw. Lead screws have also been used for many years in various types of vises, jacks, and machine slides.

Herman R. Noll became part of lead screw history when he established the original Noll Facility in 1956. Noll helped introduce thread rolling to Southern California, mostly for the aircraft and aerospace manufacturing industry.

In the early days, Noll primarily produced aircraft threaded inserts that allowed bolts to hold torque in components made of aluminum and other alloys.

In 1960 Noll moved his manufacturing facility to San Luis Obispo to be closer to the rising microwave industry in Silicon Valley. Microwaves were increasingly being used in communication, medical devices, and lasers. These devices required ultra-fine pitch tuning screws for adjusting frequency.

In the mid 1970’s to the mid 1980s, Noll also provided lead screws for office product and printer companies such as Hewlett Packard and IBM.

By 1992 at the infancy of the biomedical industry, lead screws required even more precision and demands on tolerances. Noll began merging the screws and plastics together to offer turnkey subassemblies that required 0 defects and 100% reliability.

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