Launch Slideshow

A Trip to the Nail Factory

A Trip to the Nail Factory

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    David Frane

    Most nails and staples are made from steel wire. This galvanized wire will be made into nails.

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    David Frane

    The wire shown here will be made into bright (non-galvanized) nails and staples. Each coil weighs approximately 3,000 pounds. Senco goes through more than 2,000 tons of wire per month; what you see here is less than one day’s supply for the factory.

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    David Frane

    These coils of wire have been dropped onto spindles in preparation for drawing—the process of pulling wire through multiple dies to bring it to the correct diameter. Drawing stretches the wire to many times its original length.

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    David Frane

    Before wire is drawn it is run through one or more descalers, which use a series spinning wire brushes to remove slag, rust, and other debris. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    After exiting the descaler wire passes through a box where loose particles are blown off with compressed air and captured by a dust collection system.

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    David Frane

    The now clean wire is pulled into a wire drawing machine. You’re looking at the back half of one of many such machines in the factory. The hinged yellow cover can be lifted out of the way to access the drums and dies that are used to bring the wire to the correct diameter for the fasteners being made.

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    David Frane

    This is the first of many dies and drums inside of the wire drawing machine in the previous photo. The wire enters from the left and passes through an open box containing chips of a soap-like substance that lubricates the surface before it enters the die. The die is inside the green box. After exiting the die the wire is coiled on a drum and then sent through a series of smaller and smaller dies—each with its own drum and box of lubricant.

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    David Frane

    After the wire is drawn it enters a machine (the one with steam coming out the top) where it is cleaned in an acid bath and then rapidly dried.

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    David Frane

    These wire winding machines recoil the wire after it has been drawn and cleaned. The coils that come off of these machines are ready to be made into fasteners. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    Wire drawing is a continuous process. To avoid having to thread the end of each new coil of wire through all of the machinery you just saw, the beginning of the new coil is welded onto the end of the one before it using one of these electric welding machines.

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    David Frane

    This wire has been drawn and is ready to be made into fasteners. It is not galvanized and to prevent rusting it must be processed within a matter of days.

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    David Frane

    A coil of drawn wire has been placed on a spool at the infeed side of a series of machines that are set up to make coil pallet nails.

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    David Frane

    This is one of many nail making machines in the plant. Wire enters from the right and exits to the left as partially finished nails—cut to length, pointed, and headed. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    Nails fall onto a conveyor at the outfeed side of the nail making machine and are conveyed to the hopper of a rotary orienting feeder, a device that positions them for processing by the next machine. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    The nails come out of the rotary orienting feeder edge-to-edge—as they would be when collated—and are fed into device that forms rings on the shaft. Click here for video. The rings are made by the spinning gizmo at the end of the clip.

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    David Frane

    The now finished ring nails are conveyed to a second rotary feeder that positions them edge-to-edge prior to being wire-collated.

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    David Frane

    This automated gizmo welds the finished nails to the collating wire. Nails enter from the right, are welded to the wire (look closely and you’ll see the sparks), and then spun into coils (left side of photo). Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    These spools of wire feed to the automated gizmo that welds them to the incoming nails.

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    David Frane

    Here’s a closer look at nails being spun into a coil. When the coil is complete the machine lifts it off the spindle and ties it with string prior to boxing. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    This man is hand-boxing coils of pallet nails as they come out of the machine. He runs a production cell that contains multiple nail making machines. In the old days wire would have been cut, pointed, headed, ringed, and collated by multiple people in multiple locations inside the plant. Now, a single person can turn wire into a finished product that is boxed and ready to ship.

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    David Frane

    A variety of paper-collated stick nails are being made in this part of the plant. The boxes you see are empty and waiting to be filled. Unlike coil nails, which are delicate and need to be boxed by hand, stick nails can be boxed by machine—but the box is closed by hand so a person can inspect the fasteners before they go out.

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    David Frane

    All of this wire (click here for video) is being fed into a machine that glues them edge-to-edge (gangs them together) into a continuous strip. This “pre-collated” material is later fed into punch presses that stamp it into strips of staples or finish nails.

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    David Frane

    Here you can see multiple strands of wire being fed into the machine that glues them together and then rolls them into a coil. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    Two strips containing multiple strands of wire are sitting in the machine that glued them together. The machine isn’t running and that blob of glue you see oozed out and cured after the machine was shut down.

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    David Frane

    This glued material will be punched into staples or finish nails within a matter of days. If it sits around too long the glue will over-cure and the strands of wire will separate in the machine.

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    David Frane

    These strips of staples were punched from the edge-glued wire you saw in the previous two slides. Click here for a video that shows them coming out of the punch press and being stacked and boxed by a machine.

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    David Frane

    This is something you see in every factory, spare parts and motors to repair the machines. In addition to a maintenance department, most factories have machine shops with full-time machinists to make parts that are needed quickly or cannot be bought ready-made.

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    David Frane

    This wire is about to enter the machine that makes clipped-head framing nails. The machines for full round-head nails are in a different part of the plant. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    After the framing nails are made they are fed into a rotary orienting feeder (ROF) that places them side-by-side for collating. ROFs are extremely common; you’ll see them in any plant where individual pieces (of metal, plastic, food—you name it) must be placed in a particular position for processing. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    The paper tape on these rolls will be glued to the sides of the clipped-head nails in the machine, turning them into strips that will fit 34-degree framing guns. Click here for video.

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    David Frane

    The finished strips of framing nails are boxed by machine. The person who closes the box stamps it with numbers indicating the date when the nails were made, the machine that made them, the person who operated the machine, and the coil of steel they came from. If a customer has problems with a box of fasteners Senco can trace them all the way back to the vendor that sold them the wire.

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    David Frane

    These galvanized finish nails are about to be collated.

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    David Frane

    Finish carpenters will recognize the rolls of material being used to collate the finish nails shown in the previous photo.

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    David Frane

    All those nails (and tools—brought in from the company’s plant in China) have to go somewhere. This is just one aisle of many in the warehouse section of the plant.

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    David Frane

    Remember the long aisle in the previous photo? You’re now looking across it and 12 more just like it. That’s a whole lot of staples, nails, and tools.

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    David Frane

    The factory is located on the Eastern edge of Cincinnati, Ohio. Click here for a satellite view of the plant and here for a view from the ground. If it looks big it’s because it is big—approximately 500,000 square feet under roof.

Like most folks who build, I am interested in how tools and materials are made, so before my last trip to the Midwest I arranged to visit the factory in Cincinnati where Senco makes nails. When I arrived at the plant I was surprised by how big it was compared to some others I have been to. It covers a huge area of ground, 500,000 square feet, with offices, a design center, and test lab in front and a giant production area and warehouse in back.

Tools and fasteners are designed and tested at the plant but only fasteners are made there. The only Senco fasteners I know of that do not come out of the Cincinnati plant are DuraSpin screws (Taiwan) and some of the company's micro pins (Europe). Tools are made at a company-owned factory in China and shipped to Cincinnati for warehousing and U.S. distribution. Tools and fasteners are sent to satellite facilities in other countries for distribution there.

My tour might not have happened a few years back. The company went bankrupt in 2009 and could have disappeared. But it was purchased by a private equity group that recapitalized the business and changed the name of the company to Senco Brands. Senco Brands is privately held so there is no way to know if it's making money, but the fact that it has been introducing new tools and running three shifts in the nail factory suggests it's doing better than before.

I enjoyed touring the plant because I always wondered how collated fasteners were made. It turned out to be a fascinating process. Check out the slideshow to the left and you'll see what I mean. And be sure to look for the video links in the captions. I did my best to describe what's going on in the photos but nothing beats video for showing how a machine or process actually works.