This article originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Industrial Distribution, a Manufacturing.net sister publication. To view it in its original format, click here.
They used to say that love is the glue that holds a family together. But what holds everything else in this world together? What keeps the concrete slabs under foot from floating away from the sill plate? What keeps the roof overhead from sliding off the walls? The answer is fasteners.
These intricate and essential little pieces of metal and plastic play a large part in daily life and in the life of a distribution company, whether it’s on their own warehouse floor or in meeting the specific needs of a certain customer. And like in almost every aspect of the industrial world, rapidly improving technology and a need to create and place emphasis on customer experience are key factors in the fastener sector of today.
Fasten-ating Technology, Cost Savings
Technology enables consistent growth in the fastener market, allowing manufacturers to deliver better products to distributors every day. Sometimes these improved products even seem to sell themselves because of their obvious advantages. Matt Minchew, vice president of sales at PAM Fastening Technologies, says that the driving force behind their desire to innovate is to create “tangible performance advantages.” He also mentions that, through technology, PAM has been able to use significant progress made in the area of thread design to heighten insertion speed and create an overall greater holding power for their collated screws — sometimes up to 43 percent faster, as in the case of their “Fast” drive subfloor and decking screws.
This, of course, translates into efficiency and cost savings on labor and resources — another important issue when it comes to today’s economy.
Minchew notes that in this industry, numerous factors, like rising labor and material prices, have collided in recent years to drive production costs upward, so straight cost savings isn’t always an option for manufacturers, and consequently isn’t a guarantee for distributors or consumers. PAM Fasteners believes in differentiating through quality and performance to meet customers’ needs, instead of just focusing on the bottom line.
In other areas of fastening, technology means new products and entirely new — and often better — ways of doing things. For example, there is a company that is working to revolutionize the way that contractors affix structures to asphalt. Rudor Teich from Asphalt Anchors Group notes that even in their narrow section of the fastening industry, they “see an expansion in the range of solutions — accommodating larger bolts, offering stronger anchoring, and creative applications for the anchors that expands into the marketplace.” Today, options for consumers are as important as quality, because even if it is a great quality screw, if it is not the right screw, then it wasn’t the right product for that consumer in that application.
Their product offerings allow a contractor to eliminate waste and time out of the equation when using anchors in a setting where asphalt is present. Traditionally, drilling directly into the asphalt to place an anchor has merely served to weaken the area, resulting in more work needing to be done. Most often, the asphalt located where an anchor needs to be placed is simply removed and replaced with concrete and concrete anchors do the job. However, this is a time consuming and often costly project. By creating an anchor that works with grout to create a successful anchoring point directly in the asphalt itself, Asphalt Anchors has filled a niche in the marketplace, saving the end-user time and money in the process, and creating a unique product for distributors to help meet the needs of their customers.
Customer Experience, Consistency
Another issue in fastening technology today is improving the overall customer experience with the product. Minchew notes that a newly designed line of exterior decking screws creates less splitting in pressure treated lumber. That, for the user, “translates to an easier driving screw that performs like a drill.” A better, less-stress experience is key for a positive overall experience.
As in other sectors of distribution, customization is also a driving force in the fastener industry. PAM Fastening works with many customers who have very specific fastener needs not usually available off the shelf of the local hardware store or distribution center. “These screws might have specific head designs, lengths, or performance criteria,” says Minchew. “In these instances, we use our experience and capabilities to meet these specific customer needs.” This high-level of involvement with their customers is yet another example of the ever-increasing need for companies to implement value added services in their offerings.
Asphalt Anchors also emphasizes a continuing customer relationship beyond just product delivery, noting how product vendors can help improve the overall experience of the distributor — and in turn the end-user — by making available continuing technical support for the product and education for the distributor. “In the emerging sub-section of asphalt anchors, technical support is paramount. Novel uses by customers require close support from knowledgeable engineers at the factory... a good manufacturer should provide an extensive library and use guides online to reduce the burden on the distributors,” says Teich.
Minchew also adds that a consistent relationship between manufacturer and distribution is key when it comes to fasteners. Distributors not only need a quality product, but they need to know that they will receive it on time, every time — and they need to find a vendor that can deliver on that promise. “Confidence in the quality and timeliness of supply is critical,” he says. “We view excellent product as a piece to the overall puzzle.”