Steeling Beauty

When a building product comes packaged in boxes containing a thousand pieces, they’re obviously an important part of the construction process. But once that box is broken open so that one of those pieces can be separated from the rest, that single example loses its value. It becomes disposable, like a stone on a rock pile. Who cares if one goes missing?

Roof fasteners fit that description, even though each fastener fulfils a critical role in the success or failure of a project. One loose or faulty fastener can affect the quality of an entire job. Roofers understand their importance for that reason. Without them, they can’t complete their assignments. And there are retailers and distributors who specialise in fasteners and would therefore understand their importance to their livelihoods. The very fact that they specialise in fasteners is indicative of the demand for their product.

Still, how often would anyone look closely at a fastener and stop to think about how complex and time consuming it is to manufacture? Not often, I’d suggest.

One person whose job it is to ponder such mysteries is Dr David Collinson. David is the technical and product manager at Buildex, one of Australia’s oldest fastener companies, based in the industrial Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin. For near on 10 years, Collinson has dedicated his working life to making fasteners that allow roofers to drill quicker and straighter, without compromising their longevity. And when some of the fasteners that he and his three engineering colleagues design have a warranty life of up to 60 years, it’s pretty important that they back that up.

“The key thing for us is how [the fastener] performs in the real world on the roof,” says Collinson. “There are a lot of different ways you can do that, through salt spray etc., but real-world performance is the focus of what we do.

“Right,” I respond uncertainly, thinking it sounds like a simple explanation after asking him what his job entails. Surely, there’s more to it than that?

“It involves a lot of coatings,” Collinson continues, “putting it out on roofing material and seeing how long it lasts in an external environment. We then calibrate that back to zinc coupons, which tells us how much zinc we’ve lost (through corrosion) and therefore how long the screws will last.”

By coupons, David is referring to the test strips that he and his team send to the CSIRO for analysis. The results of that analysis enable them to calculate the level of metal corrosion that has occurred in the environment that they’ve selected. It sounds pretty simple when I listen to Collinson explain it, but delve further and only then do I begin to realise the time and frustration that must be part and parcel of his everyday working life.

“There are two parts to [making a fastener]. One is the dimensions of the screw – the drill performance, the hardness. The second part is the corrosion coating.

“The coating is mechanically plated with zinc and tin built up on the surface,” he continues. “The thickness of it and the way it’s built up controls how well it lasts. That’s the base layers. On top of that, we’ve got a Climaseal® (paint), which is a polyester-based system with aluminium in it. The two together comprise the coating system.”

Before Collinson and his three engineering colleagues at Buildex complete the corrosion testing, they must first make the steel fasteners. That they do in their Moorabbin factory. Take another step back and they have to design the screw.

That starts as an idea before it evolves into an illustration. Seventy per cent of Buildex’s fasteners are used for roofing, so they then have to consider whether the screw is going to be fastened to steel or timber, or a combination of the two.

When a building product comes packaged in boxes containing a thousand pieces, they’re obviously an important part of the construction process. But once that box is broken open so that one of those pieces can be separated from the rest, that single example loses its value. It becomes disposable, like a stone on a rock pile. Who cares if one goes missing?

Roof fasteners fit that description, even though each fastener fulfils a critical role in the success or failure of a project. One loose or faulty fastener can affect the quality of an entire job. Roofers understand their importance for that reason. Without them, they can’t complete their assignments. And there are retailers and distributors who specialise in fasteners and would therefore understand their importance to their livelihoods. The very fact that they specialise in fasteners is indicative of the demand for their product.

Still, how often would anyone look closely at a fastener and stop to think about how complex and time consuming it is to manufacture? Not often, I’d suggest.

One person whose job it is to ponder such mysteries is Dr David Collinson. David is the technical and product manager at Buildex, one of Australia’s oldest fastener companies, based in the industrial Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin. For near on 10 years, Collinson has dedicated his working life to making fasteners that allow roofers to drill quicker and straighter, without compromising their longevity. And when some of the fasteners that he and his three engineering colleagues design have a warranty life of up to 60 years, it’s pretty important that they back that up.

“The key thing for us is how [the fastener] performs in the real world on the roof,” says Collinson. “There are a lot of different ways you can do that, through salt spray etc., but real-world performance is the focus of what we do.

“Right,” I respond uncertainly, thinking it sounds like a simple explanation after asking him what his job entails. Surely, there’s more to it than that?

“It involves a lot of coatings,” Collinson continues, “putting it out on roofing material and seeing how long it lasts in an external environment. We then calibrate that back to zinc coupons, which tells us how much zinc we’ve lost (through corrosion) and therefore how long the screws will last.”

By coupons, David is referring to the test strips that he and his team send to the CSIRO for analysis. The results of that analysis enable them to calculate the level of metal corrosion that has occurred in the environment that they’ve selected. It sounds pretty simple when I listen to Collinson explain it, but delve further and only then do I begin to realise the time and frustration that must be part and parcel of his everyday working life.

“There are two parts to [making a fastener]. One is the dimensions of the screw – the drill performance, the hardness. The second part is the corrosion coating.

“The coating is mechanically plated with zinc and tin built up on the surface,” he continues. “The thickness of it and the way it’s built up controls how well it lasts. That’s the base layers. On top of that, we’ve got a Climaseal® (paint), which is a polyester-based system with aluminium in it. The two together comprise the coating system.”

Before Collinson and his three engineering colleagues at Buildex complete the corrosion testing, they must first make the steel fasteners. That they do in their Moorabbin factory. Take another step back and they have to design the screw.

That starts as an idea before it evolves into an illustration. Seventy per cent of Buildex’s fasteners are used for roofing, so they then have to consider whether the screw is going to be fastened to steel or timber, or a combination of the two.

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