Fixed ideas

As demand for access limitation and security of sites and belongings grows, so manufacturers and designers have found new ways to deal with these challenges. Julia Pierce investigates

Given the current national preoccupation with crime, terrorism and security, it is probably not surprising that the market for fasteners relating to this is flourishing.

As demand for access limitation and security of sites, premises and belongings has grown, so manufacturers and designers have found new ways to deal with these challenges.

Electra Engineering, which designs, manufactures and sells under the Security Fasteners and Fixings brand, has recently been involved in some innovation for the security fencing sector.

While the most tamper-proof method of fencing construction involves the use of non-removable screws that ratchet around if anyone tries to unscrew them, this may not always be practical as often, sections need to be removed for maintenance access, or the structure itself may only need to be temporary. For this reason, users must turn to removable devices that can all but negate the security of the system.

‘A problem with some mass-produced removable security screws is that the bits are readily available on the open market,’ said Peter Burnard from Electra’s sales team. ‘This means that anyone can visit a DIY store, collect some tools, tamper with your perimeter fencing, then replace the relevant parts without you being any the wiser.’

The company has therefore developed Fourtress, which can only be inserted or removed using a registered Security Fasteners and Fixings bit. Should your application require a more permanent structure, its non-removable Argus fastener is designed so that it cannot be removed by any bit currently on the market.

‘It is as secure as welding or riveting,’ claimed Burnard. The company has shipped its fasteners from Australia to Mexico, where a major automotive manufacturer is using a security nut manufactured by the firm. At home, the company was also involved in the development of fasteners for DVLA-approved tamper-proof vehicle registration plates.

Meanwhile, fasteners have also played a role in supporting monitoring technologies such as CCTV cameras. TFC recently helped UK company Grandeye, producer of solid-state intelligent 360º cameras for commercial security and military applications, by providing a spring for the focusing mechanism of its Halocam security camera.

‘Grandeye wanted a spring which collapsed down to a very shallow height, to fit into an existing product with minimal design changes,’ said Brian Goode, TFC’s technical director. ‘Our Smalley Preload spring was integral to the design of the focus mechanism.’

The spring is positioned within the focus mechanism to pre-load the components and eliminate tolerance build-up caused by a screw thread during the fitting and fastening process. The use of the spring dramatically reduced installation time, while improving the camera set-up procedure.

However, it is in the field of electronic access where real demand is being felt, as multinational company Southco has seen. According to senior marketing and communications specialist Lucy Merigold, sectors such as aerospace are now following the lead of the automotive market and investing in fasteners with this capability to bolster their safety and security.

At present the company offers the E-Keeper as a standard device, though is also involved in creating custom solutions for a variety of global customers. Designed to complement a mechanical latch, the E-Keeper puts the electronic actuation into the keeper instead of the latch.

This means there is no need for enclosure re-design, complex software, or major technical or financial investment as it is easy to fit into both new and existing installations with a variety of mechanical door latches. This offers manufacturers the versatility of secure electronic or manual operation without having to modify enclosure design.

The device accepts signals from input devices such as numeric keypads, magnetic-stripe cards, RF key fobs or networked security systems. It can be integrated with other devices to offer real-time monitoring of who is accessing a certain point. The device is suitable for use in a variety of locations ranging from glove boxes to supply store doors.

‘We are seeing more and more demand for this type of solution,’ said Merigold. ‘The medical sector is also interested as it is increasingly introducing restricted access to certain rooms as well as cabinets containing particular drugs and also sensitive equipment. It is a very common trend.’

As a result, the company has set up a dedicated global team to meet the needs of this growing demand and keep one step ahead. ‘The technology takes mechanical fasteners to the next level,’ said Merigold. ‘At first it was only the larger firms that were using such devices, but now demand for them is also trickling down to smaller companies who see the benefits of offering these next-generation solutions to their end-users.’

Such devices are also being investigated to increase security onboard aircraft. Unlike conventional fasteners, Intevia intelligent fasteners are activated by instruction using an intelligent tool, a PC or PDA, rather than applied physical force. Based on a concept invented by Australian technology licensing company Telezygology, the devices exploit the unusual properties of shape memory alloys.

A typical fastener contains two springs made from a shape memory alloy and an embedded chip. A hand tool is used to send commands to this chip, which induces the flow of a small electrical current in either of the two springs, heating them so they revert to their remembered shape. The springs control the position of a tiny piston that will either restrain or free the movement of the clips of the latch. Groups of the fasteners can also be networked.

The company said they are ideal for use on crew rest area doors, cockpit hatches and access panels as they can be integrated into a central network for secure control and monitoring. However, interest in them is now coming from other markets.

‘We have just signed a letter of intent with a Tier One US car manufacturer,’ said the company’s general manager Jane Heffner. ‘We will be supplying them for use in various areas of the vehicle cabin such as on glove boxes. In addition, we are shortly to announce military applications for the technology.’

As an increasingly security-conscious market for fasteners develops, it is clear that new, smarter technologies are in much demand. However, there is still room for innovation using physically operated systems as Electra Engineering has shown, allowing users to find a solution to their needs whatever their requirements.