Fasteners are used in every industry. In order to achieve the necessary high strength, durability and corrosion resistance, high-performance fasteners must be heat treated. Because of the size and pervasiveness of the fastener market worldwide, any discussion of the heat-treatment industry must include the topic of fasteners.
Fastener Industry Overview
A fastener is any device that mechanically joins or affixes two or more objects together. The fasteners that concern the heat-treating industry are manufactured from both ferrous and nonferrous metals. When strength requirements are moderate, they are made of low-carbon steel. When strength or weight is critical and for special use applications, fasteners are made from medium-carbon, high-carbon or alloy steels; brass; silicone bronze; or aluminum. These must meet specified mechanical properties such as tensile strength, yield strength, proof load and hardness. In order to meet these exacting requirements, high-performance fasteners must be heat treated.
High-performance fasteners (see lead image) include an extensive array of sizes and designs, including square and hex bolts, cap screws, carriage bolts, plow bolts, lag screws, studs, nuts, nails, rivets, washers and others, standardized by type, style, usage, properties, dimensions and tolerances. They are used in a vast range of applications, including automotive and truck assembly, aircraft, farm equipment, construction equipment, industrial and factory equipment, appliances, toys and furniture. Nearly all of these require varying degrees of heat treatment and sometimes multiple heat treatments.
Global Industry Growth
On a global basis, the market for fasteners is robust (Fig. 1). It is currently at $76.5 billion annually, divided between Asia (38.2%), Europe (25.3%), North America (21.9%) and the rest of the world (14.6%). Of this total, the Asian market is dominated by China (14.8%) and Japan (10.1%).
The world demand for fasteners has been increasing for decades, and growth in recent years has been rapid. The expectation is for continued strong growth due to expanding second- and third-world consumer economies and corresponding durable goods and industrial growth, especially in China and Southeast Asia. Global usage is expected to grow at an average rate of 5.4% per year through 2020, with two-thirds of that being from China, the U.S., Japan, Germany and Taiwan.
The predicted annual increases by region (Fig. 2) are as follows: North America (4.0%), Western Europe (3.7%), China (9.7%) and the rest of the world (2.4%). U.S. fastener exports grew 3% in 2015, with the leading consumers in orders being Mexico, Canada, China, the U.K. and Germany.
“Research and Markets” reported in mid-2015 that fasteners would produce $10.3 billion in U.S. revenue with $4.9 billion in imports from mostly Taiwan and China and $4.1 billion in U.S. exports. Aerospace fasteners are expected to be the fastest growing segment followed by automotive, MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operational) and construction.