Utility supplies: Five fast fastener tips for manufacturers of electric products

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Utility tools: Manufacturers of electric products can oftentimes overcome production challenges presented by fastening problems by utilizing the design expertise of fastener engineers and suppliers who can not only meet stringent specifications, but can incorporate design features which save on assembly time and costs while improving the quality and durability of finished assemblies.

Here are five tips that can help manufacturers work in partnership with their fastener suppliers to optimize design and production process of their products.

1. Bring in the fastener supplier early in the design phase.
Receiving early input from a fastener supplier’s engineering staff can help develop a simpler design solution, saving on fastener costs and production time.

For example, “over engineering” is oftentimes a chief cause of cost overruns. On the other hand, up-front design consideration of ergonomics, assembly efficiencies and durability can help avoid problems down-the-line.

“Getting the fastener supplier involved in the design process early on can provide significant cost savings,” says Lynnette Stacy, Purchasing Agent at Brooks Utility Products of Farmington Hills, MI -- a specialist at providing custom, one-off solutions for the power generation, transmission and distribution markets.

“For example, we work with Holbrook Manufacturing’s engineering group on our new application, and they will take charge of the complete fastener design process,” says Stacy. “That makes the process simple and efficient.”

Holbrook Manufacturing, Inc., Wheeling, IL, is a manufacturer and distributor of standard and custom fasteners, including screws, bolts, nuts, studs, sub-assemblies & screw machine products. The company partners with customers to determine engineering specifications that will best suit an application in terms of simplicity, quality and minimal assembly requirements, while remaining competitively priced.

Choosing a fastener supplier who is proactive about product design can also be an important asset.

“We were purchasing a part with a so-called turned head, which was a very specific configuration,” says Stacy. “But we had to do a secondary operation to get the turned head shape. One of Holbrook’s engineers asked why we were using that shape. It turned out that we didn’t need it, and we were able to eliminate that secondary operation. That level of customer support really means something to us.”

2. Opt for licensed products to ensure product robustness
The expense of recalls and other warranty issues -- not to mention tarnished reputation -- far exceeds that of investing in quality fasteners of proven durability in the first place.

Just as important, the proprietary designs of licensed products often address problems and issues that non-licensed designs cannot. Beyond that, look for a supplier that has the expertise and in-house capability to customize licensed products to meet unique challenges.

“We get a special fastener specified for some of my assemblies.” says Mark Hetherington, Materials Manager at Multi Precision Detail of Auburn Hills, MI -- which specializes in custom work-holding devices.

“You have to be licensed to make those screws, so that naturally affects your selection of fastener suppliers,” says Hetherington. “Holbrook is one of the companies that is licensed to make that particular item, so I have been buying from them for several years.”

3. Try to avoid the need for a custom fastener
Quite often a product design will force the OEM into requiring a custom fastener, but custom fasteners are more costly and take more time to produce. Numerous reviews may be required before the OEM approves the final design.

Instead, brainstorming with a fastener supplier might find a way to effect a design change that will allow a standard fastener to work. This is a huge time and cost saver, especially when considering the large number of fasteners often involved in production runs.

“Many of our applications require custom fasteners,” explains Stacy. “However, that doesn’t mean that we have prolonged design time or high costs. I simply turn the design, early on, over to our fastener supplier, and they give me the most practical solution.”

4. Keep it simple
That is, keep the design for which the fastener is made as simple as possible. One successful example involves a company that manufactured a handle assembly of four pieces. Three of those pieces were screw-machined, which is an expensive process. Yet, they still had a problem with the handle loosening at the user level.

To solve the problem, the fastener supplier¹s engineering team reviewed the design, combined the four pieces into a two-piece assembly, and made it a “cold headed” part versus “screw machined.” The result was a more positive tightening feature, and loosening was no longer an issue. It was a large cost savings to the customer and it also improved the product.

“That’s where you can get added cost savings,” says Stacy, “by having the fastener supplier’s engineering group come in and take a look at your products and suggest alternate designs that save steps in the assembly process.”

5. Aim for fast and flexible
With lead-time being one of the biggest issues today, consider how quickly an order for fasteners can be filled. Aim for a lead-time of no longer than four to five weeks. Seek an even quicker response time for rush orders necessitated by a design change.

“Turnaround time is crucial,” says Hetherington. “Minimum order quantities are also important, and inventory requirements shouldn’t be overlooked. We get all of that from Holbrook, who supplies fasteners for some of our products.”

For more information about Holbrook Manufacturing or other products, click here to go to Utility Products’ Buyers Guide.

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