First published in Bolted #1 2017.
What is Expander’s business?
“Our patented Expander System is a state-of-the-art, cost-effective solution that permanently ends pivot wear in construction, forestry, mining and other heavy machinery. Fitted in the pivot, a double-locking expanding pivot pin assembly increases stability and safety and eliminates welding and line boring of worn-out pivot lug ears. The system has been field-tested for over 50,000 hours without failure.”
How did the company start?
“My father, Everth, and his twin brother Gerhard, did road work in the 1950s, starting out with one bulldozer. Machinery joints and pivots are prone to wear and tear, leading to expensive downtime and repairs, but they came up with a makeshift solution, knocking a rusty nail into the lughole to eliminate the gap. This worked surprisingly well, which inspired them to start developing the technology.”
When did you get involved?
“I learned about their ideas and immediately saw the potential. My father and I founded the company in 1986. At quite an early stage we got involved with computer engineers in the development of a parameter-controlled CAD system. This is an invaluable tool, as each Expander System is custom made to fit customer-specific applications.
In the 1990s we expanded geographically. North America is a huge market and in 1997 I moved there to get a business foothold. The launch was successful and in 2006 we established our own production facility in North America.”
Why did you sell the company?
“Enormous markets, such as South America, are starting to develop, but you need local presence. It was about either setting up my own network or selling to someone that already had a global subsidiary and distributor network. We already collaborated with Nord-Lock and after several discussions with Ola Ringdahl, CEO, Nord-Lock Group, I was sure that the Nord-Lock Group was a perfect fit.”
What does Expander bring to the Nord-Lock Group?
“There has been a major change in how people view repair and maintenance, which makes the market potential for the Expander System huge. We’ve only scratched the surface.
Also, we and the Nord-Lock Group have often shared customers, but solved different problems. Bringing our solutions together – and cross-fertilising them – will make our portfolio and product range so much stronger, which will benefit the customers.”
Facts: Roger Svensson
Role: Founder and former CEO, Expander System Group.
Lives: Sedona, Arizona, USA.
Background: Studied Economics/Political Science at UCLA (double major). Member of the UCLA team that won the prestigious NCAA swimming championships in 1982. Held a couple of positions with other companies before starting Expander with his father in 1986. “I have always been an entrepreneur.”
Passion: Music: sings, plays guitar and writes his own songs. Is currently working on his debut album. Also paints and likes to write.
First published in Bolted #2 2016.
What fastener knowledge gaps do you see in the modern workplace?
“In North America, the general workforce is aging and companies are finding it difficult to replace experienced personnel. In the USA, over 10,000 ‘baby boomers’ retire every day. Following them is a large influx of millenials and, as a result, the workforce needs to be re-educated.
“Millennials think about work very differently than their predecessors, but are especially drawn to employers that show an interest in them. This is positive, but does present a challenge for companies who must invest in training new personnel.”
What are some fastener trends in the manufacturing and automotive industries?
“Compared to Europe, the US fastener industry has been slow in updating itself. I believe that companies here are starting to reinvest and reinvent themselves. In recent years it has been very much about lean manufacturing and driving efficiency.
“Today’s spotlight in the automotive industry is lightweighting. Auto OEMs are increasingly designing mixed material structures with a focus on aluminium, composites and ultra high strength steel. These are not possible, however, without ‘enabling’ fastening technology. Hybrid, non-traditional combinations such as aluminium to aluminium, aluminium to steel or magnesium to steel are becoming commonplace.”
What are the challenges for end-users surrounding multi-material joints?
“A unique technology is emerging, in which European companies are at the forefront. Cars have traditionally been welded together. However, when mixing materials, this no longer works. Innovative companies have introduced flow drill thread forming screws and friction welding technology to address the challenges of these new multi-material joints.”
How important is it to think about life-cycle costs when choosing fasteners?
“The automotive industry is very cost-conscious, but one client learned the hard way that price should not be the primary measure when choosing a supplier. Their price-driven ‘strategy’ has had two negative consequences. They suffered major quality spill – saving money in the short term, but their business lost out in the long term. They also found that suppliers who had previously been happy to help them with technical support were no longer able to assist them. This has had a hugely negative effect on their business.
“I believe that the pendulum is shifting back. Fasteners are not a simple commodity and customers who previously wouldn’t pay premium price for a component are now more willing to do so. They are waking up to the bigger picture.”
FACTS: Laurence Claus
Title: President, NNi Training and Consulting, Inc.
Lives: Northern suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.
Background: Graduated as a Mechanical Engineer. Has over 25 years experience in the fastener and automotive supplier industries. Bulk of career spent with an automotive fastener manufacturer, the last six as Vice President of Technology and Engineering. Started NNi four years ago.
Passion: Family. Has five children, aged between 2 and 10. NNi is named after his first three children – Noah, Nathan and Isaac.
First published in Bolted #1 2016.
FACTS: Fred Heaton
Role: Founder and Managing Director of Boltight.
Background: Started his career with GKN Bolt & Nuts at the age of 15. After ten years with GKN, he founded Hydratight Ltd in 1975, which he sold to T&N in 1979. He remained Managing Director of Hydratight for 17 years before becoming New Business Director for the T&N General Products Group. After T&N was acquired by the automotive company Federal Mogul he left and started his own management consultancy company, which would later become Boltight.
For Fred Heaton, what started out as a hobby in 1999 quickly grew into a thriving business specialising in hydraulic bolt tensioners. Now Boltight has been acquired by the Nord-Lock Group, in a move that is set to strengthen both companies.
What does Boltight do?
“As the name suggests, we provide tools for tightening bolts. Bolted joints do not always receive sufficient attention at the design phase, which can lead to tightening problems later, and we are here to provide a solution.
“Most of our customers are in the oil and gas, offshore, power generation and heavy engineering industries. Around 50 per cent of the time, we can provide a solution using standard tools, while the other 50 per cent will require tools designed and manufactured by us to meet the customer’s needs. We use a 3D CAD system to model the customer’s problem and our solution.”
What are Boltight’s strengths?
“We are fast to respond, quick to deliver and have many years of experience solving customers’ bolting problems. We keep every tool we’ve ever designed stored in our 3D modelling system, which we can use as references whenever we’re faced with a new problem.”
What will Boltight bring to the Nord-Lock Group?
“Being able to draw on our product range will mean the Nord-Lock Group can offer a greater field of solutions. No one tightening solution fits all applications, so it’s important to have a number of different products, other than just mechanical. Some customers will want a hydraulic solution, and Boltight has a whole range.”
What will the Nord-Lock Group bring to Boltight?
“We have good products and good engineers, but we are a small company and not particularly strong when it comes to sales and marketing. We have built up a distribution network and 95 per cent of our products are exported from the UK but we’ve only really scratched the surface of the available market. With Nord-Lock sales & marketing resources, we can reach out to new markets and applications, and we expect to see good growth. For example, we tend to sell to large one-off projects, but with the Nord-Lock network, we can now start to supply to original equipment manufacturers as well.”
Is the Nord-Lock Group a good fit for Boltight?
“Yes, Nord-Lock has a clear strategy and sees this as a long term investment. They are not just buying and selling companies – they expect long-term value and want to see Boltight grow.”
First published in Bolted #2 2015.
If not for the big barn next to his grandparent’s home in Halabacken in Jämtland, in Sweden’s northwest, this story would probably have been completely different. The rather humble business that started here 55 years ago, in the middle of the woods with a backdrop of snow-clad mountains some 40 kilometres from the nearest town, has evolved into an international industrial company.
Kurt Persson has been with Nord-Lock (and its predecessor Nobex) for 50 years, and can these days be addressed as both Senior Advisor and senior citizen. He describes himself as a person who always looks forward and who never gives in.
“I finished school after nine years of compulsory schooling and since then it has been ‘learning by doing’.”
Nobex’ business sprang out of his father Bengt’s interest in technology. For a long period, the production focused on an innovative oil burner, which was later succeeded by mitre saws. These were produced until 2001. When Nobex acquired a company that produced locking washers in 1982, the seed was sown for Nord-Lock.
“For the first seven years of washer production we were in the red. We didn’t have a clue about what we were getting into. We have taken some pretty hard knocks, but have never doubted the longevity of the product.”
How did you solve the issues?
“The technology has always been good, but initially the product was not up to standard, and we more or less got thrown out of some large-scale Swedish companies when we tried to enter that world. We turned it around through continuous improvements of the wedge-locking system, design developments, and by making sure that we had technically skilled people in the sales organisation. Now we act as a partner to large international companies in a variety of sectors and fine-tune customer-specific solutions.”
What does the production look like?
“During the 33 years that we have produced our washers, production technology has changed immensely. We have roughly 350 variants of the wedge-locking system, but quite often get specific inquiries. A nuclear plant wanted a unique solution and we had to develop a special tool to produce the ten washers that they requested. It was not a cheap solution, especially as they only used two of the washers, but they were satisfied.”
Are there any decisive moments in the company’s history?
“One milestone was when we built the first real industrial building in Mattmar in 1980. The municipality supported us, but the county administrative board said no. They didn’t think we could succeed in this sparsely populated area. In the end we received the funding and were able to start construction, provided we put in ‘real doors, so that it at least can be used as a bus depot’.”
How do you feel about Nord-Lock’s future?
“It is incredibly satisfying to retire knowing that Nord-Lock is growing strongly and has a dynamic management team and wonderful employees.”
FACTS: Kurt Persson
Name: Kurt Persson.
Title: Senior Advisor.
Background: started cleaning machines at the age of 4 at Nobex, Nord-Lock’s predecessor. Joined the family business aged 16 and has since worked as, for example, production technician, workshop manager and production manager. Nord-Lock CEO 1985–2010. Now works part time as Senior Advisor.
First published in Bolted #1 2015.
FACTS: SALIM BRAHIMI
Title: President, IBECA Technologies Corp.
Lives: Montreal, Canada.
Background: Master of engineering in metallurgy and a graduate diploma in management. Over 25 years of experience in fasteners, as well as quality systems and process optimisation. Active in several standards organisations (e.g. ASTM). Leads research programme on fastener hydrogen embrittlement at McGill University, Montreal.
What are some current fastener industry trends?
“The majority of fasteners are mass-produced commodity products, so cost-effectiveness is crucial. The capabilities of the manufacturers vary and while the expertise is growing, there is not yet consistency. Manufacturing should focus on producing value-added products, for example, to the automotive and aerospace industries.”
Going forward, what are the challenges?
“Apart from producing commodity products at a competitive price, the challenge is also to maintain quality and consistency for products used in critical applications. It requires high-quality personnel, but there currently is no institutional approach for training that focuses on the fastener value chain. There is a lot of reliance on handing down knowhow; how to operate the machines, but also how the standards work.”
What do the standards organizations bring to the table?
“They play a significant role as the standards are the technical blueprints that facilitate trade. I can’t emphasize enough that experts from all over the world are involved in this. People don’t necessarily appreciate the importance of that. It is something that I am proud to be part of.”
Tell us about the standards organisations’ work.
“Consensus standards organisations all have their respective perspectives, geographical penetration and structure. Technical committees in ISO and in the European CEN are made up of delegations of experts representing each member country, technical committees in North American bodies such as ASTM and ASME are made up of individuals who commit on a volunteer basis. This makes them quicker to respond to market trends. Regardless of the model, it comes down to expert consensus. When you bring people with different perspectives together, the results receive wide scrutiny, which means robust standards in the end.”
Are there other differences?
“In North America we have both metric and inch fasteners and to complicate things, the US market has its own, independent metric system. But in reality, in terms of metric standard, ISO is the way the world has gone. The trend is for USA and Canada to defer to the ISO standard. At the same time, they want a say at the table and are increasingly active in ISO.”
First published in Bolted #2 2014.
How did you know a footbridge was needed here?
“We’d already undertaken two projects in Sri Lanka so we have contacts in situ who give us leads. We visited the area and realised that the river separates the homes of around 2,000 people from their fields and school. So even if they could wade across when the waters are low it was very dangerous to cross during the monsoon season. The project was feasible and really helpful so we went ahead.”
How did you choose the exact site?
“There were technical reasons linked to the solidity of the river banks and to where the locals wanted the footbridge to be located, even if there was no road at all to reach the site. We had to build a temporary one using palm trees that we cut down so that our manual cement mixers and other equipment could reach the construction site!”
Why a suspension bridge?
“Well, it had to be cheap! We only have a small budget and it is my task to approach companies for supplies or funds. Nord-Lock gave us 1,300 pairs of NL12sp, 400 pairs of NL16sp and 50 pairs of NL20sp to ensure that the hundreds of bolt connections on the bridge remain tight. Due to the tools and manpower available, the bridge had to be easy to assemble. We wanted to avoid welding in these somewhat difficult conditions so bolting was the answer. And to ensure the bolt didn’t come loose it was recommended that we use Nord-Lock washers. We also didn’t want the bridge to be an eye-sore in the landscape as it is quite big: a 30 metres span for an overall length of 56 metres and 1.30 metres wide.”
How long did it take?
“Actual construction took place from July to October 2013 with a maximum of 22 people working at any one time. We had help from locals and several villagers came every single day. One of them was particularly motivated and reliable so today he is the bridge manager, checking the bolts and the state of the concrete. Overall the project took nearly two years.”
Who maintains the bridge today?
“As with all our projects the maintenance is in the hands of the locals and our successors in the student club check up on them from time to time. Earlier this year nine students went to Sri Lanka looking for a new project and they checked over our earlier operations.”
Facts: Robert Jürgens
Background: With his business engineering degree studies at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Robert Jürgens was the right person to handle the logistics, fundraising and public relations aspects of the bridge building project in Pitigala.
First published in Bolted #1 2014.
Aren’t these two passions contradictory?
“Not at all! A love of motor cars runs in my veins. My father was a car restoration expert but I wanted a cleaner, greener way ahead for automobiles. So that’s what my business works at.”
Do you build whole cars?
“No, we make liquid cooled electric motors and supply lithium-ion-phosphate technology batteries to car builders. However, we have developed a brand new electric motor, which we’re currently testing on the first car, which is being prepared for WAVE 2014. I’ll be using Nord-Lock washers on it for the same reason that I used lock washers from Nord-Lock on my WAVE 2013 rally car: to secure the motor to the car and make it tamperproof and also to lock the engine into place against vibrations.”
“World Advanced Vehicle Expedition! I’ve been involved with these expeditions since the first one was held in 2011. The 2013 rally was across the Austrian Alps.”
How did you discover lock washers from Nord-Lock?
“On the Internet. I thought they seemed to be exactly what I was looking for so I just phoned up. Nord-Lock was very responsive. I think they realised that I knew a lot of people in the sector and I was more than pleased to spread the word about the Nord-Lock wedge-locking technology.”
How did you do that?
“Nord-Lock supplied me with over 200 samples, which I brought out at the very first meeting of the 2013 rally to give to my co-competitors and tell them how I was using them on my car. And halfway around the rally one car experienced a technical problem which we sorted out with a Nord-Lock washer.”
How did you “fill up” with electricity during the rally?
“The support team drove ahead and installed the electric infrastructure so we always had a place to plug in. But if you’re driving on your own without this type of support you know every petrol station has at least one ordinary plug. I have never, ever driven more than 30 minutes without finding a plug and I have driven my electric car from Woking to Prague. I was the first person in the world to do that.”
How did the electric cars handle the altitude in the Alps?
They had no trouble at all. With an electric motor, engines don’t overheat or explode. The joy of driving in the Alps is that once you’ve climbed up to the pass and are then driving down the other side, you use regenerative braking. So by the time you get to the bottom your battery is fully charged again.
“It’s an energy recovery mechanism, which slows a vehicle or object down by converting its kinetic energy into another form, which can be either used immediately or stored until needed.”
Are the WAVEs just for fun?
“No, they’re not only for fun. At every overnight stop we visit the town’s school or college and line up the cars for the students to admire. We also try to answer all their questions about this new technology. Climate change is a big problem which we really have to prepare for. And we need to develop the technology now. That’s really what this is all about.”
First published in Bolted #2 2013.
What is Velan’s role in the nuclear industry?
Velan was founded in 1950 by A.K. Velan and started supplying the emerging nuclear industry soon after. It began by supplying valves to the first US nuclear submarine (US Nautilus) and to the Oakridge National Lab. During the 60’s, Velan developed its full range of forged valves and successfully supplied the North American nuclear reactors.
During the 70’s, when the French decided to use PWR (pressurized water reactor) technology for its reactor fleet, Velan decided to localize its production in France in order to supply the French market. Velan S.A.S. was established in 1974 as a joint venture with the French power conglomerate Alstom: in 1999 when it became a 100% subsidiary of Velan Inc. Our company has also inherited of the know-how of other prestigious valve manufacturers such as Sereg, Schlumberger, Bouvier Darling, and Adareg, through successive acquisitions.
Today, Velan supplies classified valves to approximately 350 nuclear reactors around the world and is recognized as a major player in the industry. The company currently employs approximately 2,000 employees in 16 manufacturing plants located in North America, Europe, and Asia. We focus on valves for oil and gas, power (conventional and nuclear), mining, chemical processing, and general services. Velan is largely a family owned company (only 28% of shares are on the stock market in Canada) and is a global and stable valve manufacturer able to serve its many clients worldwide.
Located in Lyon, Velan S.A.S. sells into Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, and China while our Canadian headquarters, located in Montreal, Quebec (Canada), supplies the North American market through three ‘N’ stamp plants located in Canada and in the USA.
How has Velan become so dominant in the nuclear industry?
The world’s very first nuclear power plants (in the 1950s in US) used Velan valves. So we have a long experience in this industry. This is the first reason. Secondly, we always tried to develop the right products for this very demanding market. Velan has always focused on new technologies, high-quality production, and R&D. The decision to manufacture large, three-dimensional dye forgings for our valve bodies (made in one piece) is the kind of innovation that brings additional reliability and safety to the game and also extends the valves’ service life up to 60 years (particularly important for valves that must ensure the safe operations of nuclear power plants).
We also developed, in co-operation with nuclear operators, our range of modular maintenance valves that make it possible to replace the internal working parts of the valves in less than 15 minutes. This technology helps the nuclear operator save significant time and money during plant operations.
The third reason we have consistently maintained such a large competitive advantage is our focus on product qualifications. Ninety percent of our valves are used inside the nuclear island to cool the reactor, spray water, and control the chemistry of the cooling water. We have performed a large number of tests and reports to qualify such valves during the past 60 years. Velan now owns more than 250 qualification reports certified by independent third parties.
The fourth point is the tremendous amount of operational feedback and expertise we’ve gained over the years. Most of our valves have been operating for 20 to 30 years. We clearly know whether they are good according to our operational experience onsite.
The fifth point is that our company has the appropriate size to deal with large nuclear projects worldwide. Thanks to Velan’s worldwide presence, we can also be a global partner for our clients. We can manufacture locally in any one of our 16 manufacturing plants if needed by the market or if required by our clients.
The last point is that we are a very stable company with a very stable ownership and management team. The company has from day-one been fully committed to the nuclear industry. This helps assure plant operators that we will always be here to supply spare parts and on-site services during the whole life of the plant. We have the ability to establish the kind of long-term partnerships that are essential in this industry.
Why are valves so important for the safety of nuclear reactors?
One nuclear power plant needs around 20,000 valves for the nuclear island and the conventional island. Of these valves, there are approximately 200 large, safety-related valves in the nuclear island, for the most part located in the main primary system and the safety injection system. We supply these valves as well as approximately 4,000 smaller modular maintenance valves (safety classified types) located in the safety systems. We focus on high-quality and highly technical equipment for critical applications.
How has the Fukushima incident impacted on suppliers like Velan?
It is clear that the sudden freeze on much of the new nuclear station projects worldwide right after Fukushima has had a moderate impact on our activity. However, even though we have fewer new projects at the moment, there is a rising demand for safety modifications and spare parts from nuclear operators in existing plants.
Fukushima has also re-oriented the market to an even stronger focus on safety, reliability, and high-quality levels, which is perfectly in-line with our business approach. The nuclear industry has always integrated the feedback from all incidents or accidents. Consequently, the Fukushima’s accident has generated new safety analysis to integrate new severe accident conditions in all countries using nuclear power. The design of the most recent third-generation reactors already takes this point into consideration. In this process, both nuclear engineering and operating companies rely upon well established, proven suppliers to help analyze how to optimize the design of products regarding, for instance, seismic risk.
In addition, our company already survived both the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, so we already had experience with such cataclysmic events and could anticipate quickly the consequences and re-orientate our strategy accordingly.
Security is top priority in the nuclear industry. What does this mean for bolted joints?
Bolted joints are a key element in the design of our valves. They must secure not only the integrity of the parts under pressure, but also guarantee the performance of motor-operated valves when they are submitted to various loadings. The main parameters to be considered are the fluid running in the systems and the external loads, such as mechanical vibrations or seismic loads. They can be amplified by the design of the systems and by the implementation of supporting devices for piping and valves.
A close cooperation between the valve manufacturer, the plant designer/contractor, and the final operator is a key point for mastering all these parameters. Once all the loads applied on the bolted joint are calculated, it is essential that the stress in the bolted joint be maintained during operation, regardless of what the external loads might be. This underlines the importance of using a reliable solution to ensure the continued locking of the joint over the time.
What benefits does Velan see in products and services from Nord-Lock?
Washers developed by Nord-Lock must ensure perfect locking of the joint over the time and during external loadings and in accident conditions. In order to do so, environmental conditions and parameters of the bolted joint, such as hardness and surface smoothness of the contact parts, must be considered. These parameters are very important and must be taken in account to guarantee the effective operating behavior of the washers. Another key element is being able to control friction and the risk of corrosion of the contact parts over time, both of which can depend upon the type of lubricant used. These joints (washers and bolting assemblies) must also be able to be quickly dismounted without damaging the joint and without increasing the working time of the operators who might occasionally have to work in an environment that contains ionizing radiation. Consequently, the reduction of maintenance time becomes a key safety point that must be considered during the product design phase.
Beyond the performance of this type of washer, it is also important to be able to perform an easy visual examination of the joints during checks on site.
Many customers say that Nord-Lock products are very cost efficient and help them simplify their production. Does this also apply to Velan?
Although keeping costs under control and simplifying production are important factors, safety and quality remain the key words in our business. The safety of the bolted joint is the essential factor that must be kept in mind in the design and optimization of the products with regards to the very stringent requirements of our clients.
If all the stresses are considered early during the design phase for the selection of washers, and provided the design is validated by a qualification test performed in real operating and accidental conditions, it is obvious that the Nord-Lock solution can bring additional safety to nuclear facilities and also reduce maintenance work.
About Jean-Luc Mazel:
Jean-Luc Mazel is the Industrial Director for Velan S.A.S., the French affiliate of Velan Inc. He started his career in 1988 at Velan and has previously been the Engineering Manager of the company. Jean-Luc holds a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Ecole Nationale d’Ingénieur (France). He has considerable experience in the design and manufacturing of valves for heavy-duty applications and in the field of nuclear and cryogenic valves.