This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing metal bolts, nuts, screws, rivets, washers, formed and threaded wire goods, and special industrial fasteners. Rolling mills engaged in manufacturing similar products are classified in the major group for primary metal industries (33); establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing screw machine products are classified in SIC 3451: Screw Machine Products; and those manufacturing plastic fasteners are classified in SIC 3089: Plastics Products, Not Elsewhere Classified.
332722 (Bolt, Nut, Screw, Rivet, and Washer Manufacturing)
Manufacturers in this industry produce the materials that hold American industry together: bolts, nuts, screws, rivets, and washers. Producing these items in lots as small as 1,000 and as large as 20 million, manufacturers make both custom-ordered and standard fasteners using processes quite different from that of the screw machine product industry, SIC 3451: Screw Machine Products, with which it otherwise shares many similarities. While screw machine product manufacturers produce goods using some form of screw machine that cuts into a metal product to produce the needed tooling, fastener manufacturers use a variety of cold-forming and rolling processes to produce simpler parts with greater strength. Both industries trace their beginnings to the early stages of industrialization, which made innovations in the field of fastener engineering possible.
The fastener industry is remarkably decentralized, with hundreds of small shops producing the majority of fasteners. Manufacturers in the fastener industry tended to cluster around the industries that purchased its products—traditionally the automotive, defense, and aerospace industries. The industry is therefore concentrated in the auto-producing states of the upper Midwest and the defense and aerospace-oriented regions of California. But such dependence has had its costs. Slumps in the auto industry during the 1980s posed severe challenges to fastener manufacturers, and defense downsizing in the 1990s posed an equally significant threat. Domestic fastener manufacturers were also seriously threatened by an influx of cheap, foreign-made fasteners in the 1970s and 1980s. The Fastener Quality Act of 1990, passed in response to complaints about poor quality and fraud on the part of foreign fastener manufacturers, promised some protection for the domestic industry.
Total industry shipments in 2000 grew to $8.69 billion, compared to $8.65 billion in 1999. The cost of materials increased to $3.69 billion, compared to $3.66 billion in 1999. Employment in 2000 fell to 53,295, compared to 55,336 in 1999.
Manufacturers in this industry produce a wide and ever-changing variety of products that fall under the general name "industrial fasteners." According to the Industrial Fastener Institute, the trade association for the industry, a fastener is "a mechanical device for holding two or more bodies in definite position with respect to each other. A high percentage of fasteners have threads as part of their design, but unthreaded items such as rivets, clevis pins, machine pins, etc., are considered fasteners as well." The industry produces fasteners using the primary manufacturing operations of heading, upsetting, forming, forging, and extruding. Fasteners primarily use ferrous metals for products, usually carbon and alloy steels. Most fasteners begin as wire, rod, or bar, which is cut to length, headed, and then threaded.
A typical hex-head bolt begins as a shaft of metal whose length is a number of times longer than its diameter. This shaft is placed in a die, a metal holder that maintains the shaft's position when it is struck by a punch, which is designed to impart the hexagonal shape of a bolt head to the shaft. Multiple punches are sometimes used to impart more intricate head shapes or to form harder metals. The headed shaft is then given an external thread in another cold-forming process called thread rolling. In thread rolling, the headed shaft is pressed between stationary and moving hardened-steel dies, which squeeze the material into the desired thread form. The nut that accompanies this bolt may also be cold-formed using a thread-forming tap that displaces rather than removes metal to form the interior thread. These and other processes like them constitute the major means by which industrial manufacturers produce goods.
According to the Manufacturers' Capability Guide , published by the Industrial Fastener Institute, "Cold forming is a high-speed, high-volume production process, with economical production rates determined by part size, design complexity, and degree of forming required—all factors that determine the number of blows required to form the part and thus the complexity of the tooling and equipment required." Cold-forming has the advantage of allowing the manufacturer to produce many thousands of products an hour. According to John E. Neely and Richard R. Kibbe, authors of Modern Materials and Manufacturing Processes , "Production rates on upsetting machines can be as high as 36,000/hr. for small unpierced rivets, and No. 8 size screw blanks can be made at 27,000/hr." Such economies of scale allow manufacturers to offset the very high costs of cold-forming equipment. Cold-forming also has the advantage of wasting no material, since the metal is pressed into shape rather than trimmed away by machining, and of allowing the metal grain to form in continuous unbroken lines, improving tensile and shear strengths and resistance to fatigue.
According to The Heritage of Mechanical Fasteners , a publication produced by the Industrial Fastener Institute, "Man's conquest of nature has depended upon his ability to fasten useful things together." Ever since an axle was bound to a wheel to provide the means of moving a cart, humans have been using fasteners to make lives easier. People were fashioning nails as early as 2800 B.C., and the first screw appeared around 250 B.C., but it was not until the fifteenth century that what we now know as threaded fasteners began to appear in common usage. In this century, the first printing press was held together and run by a screw, tiny screws held Swiss-made watches together, and French mathematician Jacques Besson designed the first practical machine for cutting screws.
The Industrial Revolution, which swept the Western world in the late eighteenth century, brought about many of the technological innovations that gave birth to the modern fastener industry. In 1760, Job and William Wyatt became the first known manufacturers of threaded fasteners. The English brothers employed 59 people in their water-powered factory, producing 1,200 gross of wood screws a week. Screw makers started up throughout England and America, but purchasers of their products were faced with a serious problem. Because fastener makers shared no common rules for size and thread pitch, a nut from one shop had little chance of fitting a bolt from another. Nuts and bolts had to be carefully paired, for once separated they were practically useless.
"The one man most responsible for starting threaded fasteners on the way to becoming the high-precision, freely interchangeable, taken-for-granted components we know today was the English inventor Henry Maudslay," according to The Heritage of Mechanical Fasteners. Maudslay invented a bar lathe capable of making highly accurate and duplicable threads, and his ideas led others, including American inventor David Wilkinson, to design machines that would form the basis for the new machine tool industry. Most early threads were cut on a screw machine, but in 1836 William Keane of New York invented a process known as thread-rolling that formed threads without cutting away material. That process, which later became prevalent, differentiates the fastener industry ( SIC 3452: Bolts, Nuts, Screws, Rivets, and Washers ) from the screw machine products industry ( SIC 3451: Screw Machine Products ).
In 1834, the C. Read & Company of Providence, Rhode Island, became the first significant manufacturer of screws in the United States. In 1840, Rugg & Barnes of Marion, Connecticut, became the first American firm that solely manufactured and sold nuts and bolts. In 1842 the A.P. Plant Company of Plantsville, Connecticut, became the first company to issue a price list and discount large orders. The 1840s also saw other advances in the industry: in 1844 Julius B. Savage introduced machine-made nuts, and in 1847 William E. Ward patented the first automatic cold-heading machine.
Fastener manufacturers benefited from the Civil War—when all of American industry was mobilized in the production of firearms, machinery, and railroad equipment to feed a war that devoured machinery as fast as it did men. Shortly after the war, the center of the American fastener industry shifted from the Northeast to the Midwest (then referred to as the West) in order to stay close to the expanding railroads and growing iron and steel production facilities. By the end of the nineteenth century, Cleveland, Ohio, was the capital of the American fastener industry, and most of the processes for creating its products had been established.
Beginning in 1864, U.S. fastener manufacturers adopted the Sellers Thread System over the Whitworth Screw-Thread used by the British, and in 1884 the American standard for screw threads, bolt heads, and nuts was established. Having different thread systems posed no problem for the two countries, until it came time for them to cooperate during World War I. American manufacturers were not equipped to manufacture the British threads, and field repairs of machinery were disastrous. The fiasco was nearly repeated in World War II, but temporary adjustments helped avert disaster. In 1931 a dozen fastener manufacturers met in Cleveland and formed the American Institute of Bolt, Nut, and Rivet Manufacturers, which in 1949 became the Industrial Fasteners Institute.
In 1964 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) announced two universal thread systems: ISO Inch and ISO Metric. Despite occasional efforts to convert manufacturers to the metric system, the United States remains the only country in the world still tied to the inch system. This practice leads to dual manufacturing facilities and inventories, but American manufacturers and the American public have resisted conversion to the metric system.
By 1969, the U.S. fastener industry had reached its peak of production. In that year, 450 companies operating 600 plants and employing more than 50,000 people manufactured more than 2 billion fasteners each year. By 1984, however, the industry decreased in size to 250 manufacturers operating 350 plants and employing 35,000 people because of severe challenges from foreign competition and dramatic changes in the requirements of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The biggest challenge came from foreign fastener producers, who took advantage of inexpensive Third-World labor and material costs to produce cheap "standards," or fasteners that met nationally recognized product standards. The Industrial Fastener Institute reported that domestic manufacturers went from supplying 80 percent of American bolts, nuts, and large screws in 1969 to just 44 percent in 1984. During the same period, OEMs, especially automobile manufacturers, were pressing fastener manufacturers to develop specialized products at lower costs. The production of these items sustained many companies, but it drove the smaller, less technologically advanced companies out of the industry.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the American fastener industry began to rebound. Many manufacturers allied themselves with companies in need of technically sophisticated products rather than simple standardized commodities, and the falling value of the U.S. dollar drove the prices of foreign products up. Then, in 1985, reports began surfacing in newspapers across the country of "bogus bolts," bolts that were graded to withstand high loads but were failing in service, leading to the destruction of property and, in one case, the loss of life. The Industrial Fastener Institute began an investigation and, in 1986, urged an investigation by the U.S. Customs Service.
In 1988, after an 18-month investigation, a U.S. House subcommittee published a report entitled The Threat from Substandard Fasteners: Is America Losing Its Grip? The report stated that "the failure of substandard and often counterfeit fasteners has killed people, reduced our defense readiness, and cost both the American taxpayer and the American industry untold millions in breakdowns, downtime, reconstruction, and other unnecessary inefficiencies." The subcommittee concluded that the substandard and counterfeit fasteners at fault were largely foreign made. The "bogus bolts" controversy ended in the passage of Public Law 101c-92, the Fastener Quality Act (FQA), in 1990. This act provided for the "testing, certification, and distribution of certain fasteners used in commerce within the United States." Perhaps more important than the law, the investigation challenged the quality of the fasteners imported from abroad while affirming the quality of fasteners made in the United States. Passage, but not the actual implementation, of the FQA resulted in a soaring demand for fasteners made in the United States because they had quality control records that were both traceable and well documented.
Surprisingly, the FQA was never fully implemented because the U.S. government was reluctant to interfere with the $6-billion American fastener industry, and the government wanted to give the industry time to establish or contract for approved testing facilities. By early 1999, more than 400 such facilities were operational. Since its passage, however, many fastener manufacturers and end users of their products have sought to water down the FQA. "Powerful forces, including the American Automobile Manufacturers Association-the nation's largest user of industrial fasteners-and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association want to defang the Fastener Quality Act," writes David Sharp in Engineering News Record. The American fastener industry had long felt that its own internal policies, policing and record keeping would assure a safe, high quality product and that full implementation of the FQA would only hamper the industry.
In June 1999 the American fastener industry got its wish when President Clinton signed into law a series of amendments to the FQA, which according to Industrial Distribution , "makes the legislation more focused and less burdensome." Clinton signed the legislation less than a month from the deadline for full implementation of the FQA. Supporters of the amending legislation claim it shifted the policing focus from government mandated regulations to more "preventative measures." The new legislation also recognized decade long industry improvements in quality control and for the most part eliminated tests performed at government approved facilities. Clinton's signing also limited coverage of the FQA to high-strength fasteners and allowed companies to transmit and store records and reports electronically. "The amendments contained in the law respond to all the problems the industry had with the original law," David Edgerly, former director of the National Institute for Standards and Technology and industry consultant, told Industrial Distribution after the signing. The Fastener Industry Coalition, the National Fasteners Distribution Association, and the Industrial Fasteners Institute all lobbied for the amended legislation.
The industrial fastener industry experienced modest growth in the late 1990s as shipments increased from $8.2 billion in 1998 to $8.65 billion in 1999. Shipments totaled $8.69 billion in 2000. The number of employees declined from 56,334 in 1998 to 53,295 in 2000; production workers dropped from 42,434 to 40,445 over the same time period. Production workers earned an average of $16.10 per hour in 2000.
Although the U.S. industrial fastener industry is continuing to export more products, it also faces challenges from foreign countries, especially Taiwan. In the late 1990s, Taiwan was the world's largest exporter of fasteners—1 billion kilograms worth $1.31 billion U.S. dollars. Despite the Asian financial crisis, these figures were expected to grow. In January through May 1999, more than 56 percent of Taiwan's exported fasteners went to the United States.
Despite foreign competition the U.S. industrial fastener industry is expected to grow 3 to 4 percent annually according to Purchasing . This figure, however, represents a decrease from the 9 percent growth spurt the industry enjoyed in 1998. Some analysts foresee fastener manufacturers facing growing competition from the adhesives industry as more and more products are being made with plastic, a product oftentimes best joined together by adhesives.
An expanding market for fasteners into the twenty-first century is the aerospace industry. The Freedonia Group told Purchasing that a 9 percent annual growth in fasteners for the aerospace industry can be expected. U.S. manufacturers are best equipped to meet this demand since specifications usually call for high-end products that are used in critical applications.
Fastener manufacturers have long congregated near the industries that buy their products, and according to Industrial Fastener Institute sources, the major purchasers are automobile manufacturers, the federal government, and electronics, machinery, aerospace, and appliance manufacturers. For this reason, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania lead all states in fastener production. California, home to major players in the defense and aerospace industries, is also a major producer of fasteners. Illinois Tool Works (ITW), with headquarters in Glenview, Illinois, is by far the largest producer of industrial fasteners in the United States, with total company sales of $5.6 billion in 1998 sales and more than 24,000 employees. ITW has prospered by following a policy of decentralization. In an interview, Vice Chairman Frank Ptak told Industry Week that when an ITW division hits $50 million it's time to split it into three $15-million to $18-million divisions. As an example Ptak offered the company's experience with their Deltar Division, which focused on plastic fasteners for the automotive market. It took that division seven years to reach $2 million as part of the company's Fastex industrial fastener group. When Deltar was separated as part of a decentralization program, it grew sevenfold in four years and has since been split four times into even smaller units.
SPS Technologies Inc. of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, came in second with $410 million in sales and 4,100 employees. In 1995, Textron Inc. purchased Elco Industries Inc. and formed Elco Textron Inc. (based in Rockford, Illinois) and garnered the third spot with $238 million in sales revenue and 2,200 employees. Other major manufacturers include Camcar Textron Incorporated of Rockford, Illinois, and Huck International Incorporated based in Irvine, California.
In the early 1990s, the fastener industry improved technology due to demands for stronger, lighter, and easier-to-use products. This trend for light, small fasteners continued throughout the decade—especially with the growth in popularity of laptop computers. Buyers were also demanding a variety of innovative and diverse fasteners such as self-locking, self-cinching, or self-sealing screws, bolts, nuts, and threaded inserts according to a Purchasing article on fasteners and the aerospace industry. Fastener manufacturers were also working to develop more environmentally friendly products, such as fasteners that maintain lubricity without the use of such plating materials as cadmium, a suspected carcinogen.
Throughout the decade there was much industry effort aimed at improving quality control so as to make total implementation of the FAQ unnecessary. "Improved industry standards, enforcement of those standards, and quality control personnel at both the distributor and manufacturer levels have made the FAQ redundant," according to Barbara Somerville in a 1998 article for Industrial Distribution. Towards this end, the industry instituted end-of-line quality control assessments and state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques such as quality assessment on the assembly line. The result has been greatly improved quality control and fewer rejects. "Under the old system, it wasn't uncommon to have a defect ratio of 50K/1 million," says Robert Harris, Managing Director of the Industrial Fastener Institute. "Today's in-line quality assurance techniques have reduced defects to below 100 ppm."
"Aerospace's Appetite for Fasteners Continues to Grow." Purchasing , 7 May 1998.
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Ciancarelli, Agatha. "Adhesives & Fasteners: Mixed Reviews on Pricing." Purchasing , 11 March 1999.
Cicione, Maryellen. "Fastening the Maker's Needs." Industrial Distribution , July 1998.
"Clinton Signs Toned Down FQA." Industrial Distribution. July 1999.
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