The North American fastener industry started in 1840 when Rugg & Barnes of Marion, Connecticut established itself as America’s first firm to solely manufacture and sell nuts and bolts. Competition soon sprang up, and with it, the problem of bolt and nut interchangeability due to screw thread variance from one shop to the next. To solve that problem, William Sellers proposed an American standard for screw threads, bolt heads, and nuts in 1884. That concept was gradually accepted, and the industry grew.
With that growth came the need for an industry association, and in 1931, a dozen fastener manufacturers met in Cleveland, Ohio to form the American Institute of Bolt, Nut, and Rivet Manufacturers - the precursor of the Industrial Fasteners Institute. In 1949, the association adopted the Industrial Fasteners Institute name (IFI for short). Today, IFI is comprised of the leading North American manufacturers of bolts, nuts, screws, rivets, and all types of special formed parts. Leading suppliers to the industry are also included as associate members.
By 1969, the North American fastener industry numbered 450 companies with 600 plants and 50,000 employees producing two billion fasteners a year. But by 1984, only 250 companies, 360 plants, and some 35,000 employees remained. Clearly the industry was in crisis; largely because of a major invasion of foreign fasteners at significantly lower prices.
The industry's response was to shift to the production of highly engineered, value-added fasteners, both standard and custom order, as well as formed parts with the fastening function designed in. This lowered assembly, labor, and inventory costs. In support of this shift, IFI underwent a major restructuring in 1981 to promote the industry’s new and diversified manufacturing skills.
The real turnaround began to take shape in 1985 when IFI researched and confirmed that millions of mismarked, bogus, and counterfeit bolts - most of them imports - had been installed on equipment in the United States and that many more were still in the fastener distribution system. Because these fasteners did not conform to required standards, they posed a serious hazard that could result in equipment failure, personal injury, and even loss of life. As the scandal gained momentum, Congress started an investigation that led to the Fastener Quality Act (FQA) of 1990, which was subsequently amended in 1996, 1998, and 1999. IFI participated actively with NIST in developing the implementing regulations. The FQA helped get the industry back on its feet.
In 2005, it is estimated that the U.S. fastener industry operates about 350 manufacturing facilities with 40,000 employees.
North American fastener production is strongly tied to the production of automobiles, aircraft, appliances, agricultural machinery and equipment, and the construction of commercial buildings and infrastructure. More than 200 billion fasteners are consumed annually in the U.S. - 26 billion by the auto industry alone.
In 2004, the U.S. consumption of fasteners was $9,878 billion while production of fasteners was $8,528 billion. The U.S. imported $3,065 billion worth of fasteners. Imports from Taiwan equaled $1,715 billion, from Japan $501 billion, and from China $421 billion—the fastest growing source. The U.S. exported $1,715 billion. Exports were largely automotive fasteners to Canada and Mexico and aerospace fasteners worldwide. The U.S. market share for domestically used fasteners decreased again to 69.0% of total with imports making up 31.0%.
With newly industrialized countries in the Pacific Rim entering the fastener market in a big way, and some expanded export opportunities to Mexico, Canada, Europe, and South America, the fastener industry has been undergoing a fundamental change. Consolidation has led to ever larger companies, and the largest U.S. fastener manufacturers are becoming more involved in the global arena, seeking export business and making foreign acquisitions.
To compete successfully in the global marketplace, the industry is shifting its focus to the development of highly engineered, technologically advanced fasteners and fastening systems. North American fastener manufacturers are also continuing to seek ways to offer an ever increasing array of value-added services and capabilities, including “just in time” (JIT) delivery and specialized design/engineering services with the goal of providing higher margin products that can be sheltered from open global competition.