To produce irrigation products trusted by crop growers around the world, a leading irrigation OEM’s engineers and quality assurance team submit each part of every product to military-grade testing.
The rigorous tests involve the fasteners that ensure leak-free performance under high-pressure and rugged outdoor conditions.
“The company owners want any product with their name on it to be associated with quality all the way down to the fasteners used,” said the head purchaser at the irrigation OEM, whose role includes inspection and quality control. The OEM has generations of experience in agricultural and industrial applications as well as multiple patents.
Although fasteners are often considered mere commodities in many industries, the quality can be extremely important in terms of ensuring safety, performance and longevity for important applications.
“Some of our valves hold and regulate up to 200 PSI of working pressure. Catastrophic failure could be very dangerous. So, we provide a generous safety factor for our products, particularly valves and our fasteners must be extremely reliable,” said the head purchaser.
In this case, he notes that the OEM utilizes the fasteners to secure its irrigation products to the main pipe, which branches off and feeds various combinations of downstream agricultural equipment, such as pivots or hand lines.
The OEM provides plated fasteners in kits with the various valves that it manufactures to secure a leak-free connection to inline piping.
When working with suppliers, the purchaser emphasizes quality in addition to responsiveness, price and availability, which has helped the OEM to weather widespread supply chain shocks during the pandemic.
For kitted, plated fasteners, such as screws, studs, nuts and washers in different sizes and configurations, the OEM has long relied on AFT Industries, a fastener and industrial supply distributor that provides in-house metal plating and finishing, manufacturing and kitting/assembly.
Based in Mansfield, Texas, the distributor has over 30 distribution centers across the U.S. and offers over 500,000 standard and custom fasteners through an easy-to-use e-commerce website with highly competitive pricing.
To ensure quality, the OEM requires a special zinc nickel fastener electroplating from the distributor.
“We have done a substantial amount of salt spray testing on different fastener platings. We found a zinc nickel plating with very high resistance to moisture and corrosion. So, we requested a thicker plating than is typical in the industry,” said the purchaser.
Standardized salt spray testing is conducted to evaluate the corrosion resistance of materials and protective coatings. The test mimics corrosive environments in an accelerated time frame.
“The plating provides really good corrosion resistance and keeps the fasteners looking beautiful. You could have a stud and nut kit out in the field for 10 years and the fasteners will still have a sheen and be rust-free. That capability is critical to fasteners exposed to irrigation,” he added.
According to the purchaser, he has approached other firms and platers to provide the special electroplated fasteners at the required sizes, volumes and specifications as a backup provider. “However, we get turned away all the time. Only AFT has met our specifications at the volumes we need,” he said.
As head purchaser, of course, price is always a prime concern. In this regard, he said that the fastener distributor’s pricing is quite reasonable and facilitates his company’s product sales and marketability.
The distributor now provides the OEM with hundreds of thousands of fasteners a month in a variety of kits, bagged and labeled.
For the OEM, uninterrupted availability is vital.
“Today, working with a reliable distributor is more important to us than ever. They must be willing to always fully stock their shelves and have the financial stability to do so. They need to earn the loyalty of customers like us who cannot afford to be out of stock or face excessive shipping delays,” said the purchaser.
Like many manufacturers, the OEM was faced with the prospect of interrupted supplies during the pandemic but fared better than many since they had a relationship with a reliable domestic provider.
“JIT delivery was a serious problem for many manufacturers during the pandemic, who found their supply chains disrupted and couldn’t fulfill their orders in a timely way. However, it was not an issue for us because I know our suppliers and we choose to purchase domestically as much as possible,” said the purchaser.
As a predominantly agricultural company, the irrigation OEM’s sales tend to proceed along predictable patterns since farmers usually focus on work that follows the seasons, which also affects distributors that stock their products.
“The challenge occurs when demand suddenly spikes, which has happened in the last couple of years. When panic buying occurs, customers may purchase a year’s worth of product very quickly,” said the purchaser.
Fortunately, his fastener supplier was very responsive at a critical point during the pandemic when a tremendous surge in demand threatened to overwhelm supply.
“When we unexpectedly needed a large supply of plated #6-10 screws, AFT bailed us out big time. They set up the air freight for a million screws ahead of time. They took control of the situation and handled it. I made a phone call and they took the issue off my plate,” said the purchaser.
In-house plating and testing capabilities from a domestic distributor like AFT offer significant time and cost savings for OEMs when the order size changes or there is a question about meeting strict specifications.
As a result, OEMs do not need to rely only on offshore sources that can cause months of delay in fulfilment when domestic options can readily satisfy their volume and quality requirements.
Over the years, the head purchaser adds that the distributor has worked with his company to improve the entire fastener fulfillment process including plating, packaging, palletizing and shipping.
“They are always right there with us whenever we want to make adjustments to improve our product, process and business. They have been a true partner in our success,” he concluded.