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Quality components = quality end products

Advanced Textiles, Features | July 1, 2014 | By:

Hardware and fittings suppliers continually pursue improvements in their products to meet changing needs and increasing demands in the specialty fabrics industry.

Lighter, stronger, more versatile and easier to install. End product manufacturers (EPMs) want these qualities in the hardware, findings and accessories they use in their products. Suppliers of these components understand the challenge and are offering new products and enhancements to existing ones to be ready—before their customers even ask.

According to Steven Collier, sales manager at Bainbridge International Inc., a global distributor that supplies a diverse range of hardware and finishing supplies to many types of end users, all of Bainbridge’s hardware items are designed for ease of use, longevity of application cycle and durability under a range of extreme working conditions.

“Fabrics are expected to offer longer warranties than in the past and hardware and fittings are expected to match these,” Collier says. Bainbridge introduced CoverTrax System, a low-profile awning rail system with a durable polyester awning rope and sliding cover panel to hide mounting screws. The sleek, low-profile design conforms to many contours with controlled heat application and can be used for mounting enclosures, curtains and other panels.

In addition, Bainbridge’s Vadney Clip boasts a unique split design, which allows the clip to be used to mount a standard screw stud into many types of extruded track. The design of Bainbridge’s sew-on cover hooks allows both hook and eyelet parts to be sewn onto fabric covers with a straight-stitch sewing machine.

Making the distinction

Kerry Niehaus, director of marketing at Miami Corp.,
Cincinnati, Ohio, says that many of today’s hardware
customers are branching out, willing to try new things
and looking for something unique and different to offer their customers.

“We are always looking to offer products that differentiate us from our competitors,” Niehaus says. “We realize this may be through niche products, but we want to offer a wide selection that will entice everyone.”Â

Miami Corp. provides the marine market with supplies, hardware, frames, seating fabrics, flooring and coverings. One such new hardware product, Fastmount™, a fastening system originally designed for wall panels in marine applications, has grabbed the attention of many customers who are rethinking the paneling process.

“With boats, trying to get as much moving space as possible is key,” adds Niehaus.
Fastmount allows the installer to apply, remove and refit panels in any sequence, time after time, with perfect alignment and finish.  Combining speed, versatility and an outstanding aesthetic result, the clips allow for a more streamlined and custom installation.

Made in the USA

“We always see those military applications trickle down to commercial areas which means new opportunities for parts being used elsewhere,” says Aaron Krouse, general manager and chief operating officer at LOWY Enterprises Inc., Rancho Dominguez, Calif. “Aside from cost considerations that everyone is concerned about, we definitely see requirements for lighter and stronger parts, as well as for more domestically made items. That will more than likely increase, so ramping back up production in the U.S. will be interesting to watch.”

LOWY is a supplier of various fasteners, metal and plastic, primarily for applications using webbing. It carries many basic items—from lightweight D-rings to cargo control hardware. “We specialize in many strength-rated items, as well, that have use in various industries,” Krouse says. “We carry many military spec items that are domestically produced for military applications. We are always adding items that [are] unique, yet complementary to our product line.  The sourcing part for us is always fun, trying to find new items that might solve a problem or just improve a customer’s product.”

Commodity to custom

According to Craig Baker, president of Linal Inc., Windsor, Conn., today’s hardware customers and subsequent markets are becoming more sophisticated. “Technology and access to information have made a more informed buyer with higher expectations of quality and service,” Baker says. “In many ways this has been the root of our growth and the diversity of our products.”

Since Linal opened nearly 20 years ago, the profiles of its customers and its served markets have changed considerably.  This change has forced Linal to evolve from a supplier of mostly commodity-based products to a full service supplier of predominately custom-made products.

“We specialize in metal components such as castings, wire forms, stampings and machined parts,” Baker says. “We also have a commodity hardware line which is comprised of buckles, snap hooks, D-rings and other components for webbing, strap and rope applications. Our mix of products and capabilities makes us a valuable resource for a broad range of manufacturers and distributors in the industrial fabric markets.”

Because Linal products and customers are diverse, Baker says it is difficult to identify a single problem that its products are designed to solve. However, several performance requirements seem to transcend the specific markets, including corrosion resistance, strength requirements
and weight.

“Customers want lightweight, strong, corrosion-resistant components regardless of what market they are in,” Baker says. “Traditionally, these performance requirements were at odds with cost considerations, which ultimately influenced what was specified for a job. Today, a more informed customer often understands that specifying a higher quality product upfront adds value to their product and reduces costs associated with future issues, such as repairs or failures.”

Tex Visions, Carlisle, Pa., also recognizes that its customers increasingly want durable, high-quality hardware. “Custom products are also very much in demand,” says Jennifer Hacker, marketing manager at Tex Visions.
“Clients need functionality when looking for custom
products. And, of course, lightweight and durable items
are preferred for easy transport.”

A great example of a hardware solution Tex Visions has been able to solve is the hardware for its 3-D hanging displays, including its custom poles for hanging displays, which solve the issue of shipping package size.

“We can send very large hanging displays in small packages by creating shorter pole sets that are extended by connectors,” Hacker says. “This gives our clients flexibility of size and shape without the headache of a very large item to ship or transport.”

Customization also is key for Gerald Schwartz Inc., Stone Mountain, Ga. While the company provides a large selection of plastic and metal hardware, thread, zippers, webbing and both elastic and nonelastic cording, among other textile trim and findings, Gerald Schwartz currently produces USA-made, Berry Amendment-compliant hardware that most manufacturers use in their soft good products.  These products currently include side releases, loops, slide bars, D-rings and heavy-duty ladder locks.Â

“With the addition of plastic hardware manufacturing to our company model, we are now capable of adding customization to our bag of tools without great MOQs (minimum order quantities), all the while having a relatively quick turnaround,” says Chuck Schwartz, president of Gerald Schwartz. “Almost any color can be reproduced to meet the bespoke needs of our customers. What kinds of performance issues are your products designed to solve? How is that changing?  Our current products have been molded to meet the strict specifications required by our military but can easily be used to handle other applications.”

Future developments

As companies continue to streamline hardware products, avenues within the segment require constant improvement. If you ask any industry player about what improvements can be made to the hardware segment, chances are you’ll get the same answer: brand awareness of your product offerings while offering exceptional hardware components that end product manufacturers embrace.

“I would like to see more flexible exhibit displays,” Hacker says. “Right now, most products you buy are limited to one size and shape. You need to purchase another display if you have an event requiring less or more space. If hardware could be developed that could adapt to a client’s needs, they could find more value in the product.”

For Baker, many industry needs could be filled by the development of low cost, environmentally friendly, highly durable, highly corrosion resistant and aesthetically acceptable finish for metal products.

Julie Barry, global brand manager for Velcro Industries B. V., Manchester, N.H., is seeing a major increase in consumers who simply want the convenience of pressure-sensitive adhesives that work on fabrics through a simple peel-and-stick application.

“Many consumers reject iron-on and sew-on solutions for fabric fastening because they don’t have the time to work with some of these more traditional fabric fastening solutions,” Barry says. “We are constantly working on innovative solutions that address different market needs. Each market and product strategy is tailored to the specific and unique needs of that industry. For example, for our military partners, the issue of signature management—engineering materials to minimize detection—is critical and it’s an area that we are consistently working to address.”

Ultimately, improving the hardware elements within the industry requires working with customers in their prototyping efforts to bring market solutions to the masses. “It is exciting to work with companies and their designers on ideas and products and see them come to fruition by being sold in the marketplace,” Schwartz says. “The mold costs can be quite expensive though, but the advent of crowdfunding sites have helped our customers with the cash required to take on such projects, so options are always expanding.”

Maura Keller is a freelance writer and editor based in Plymouth, Minn.

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