TR Fastenings
The author noted that “Right to Repair” regulation is influencing designers’ considerations to return to fasteners rather than welding products, or having fixings that are permanent.

How the Lighting Cluster Emerged as the Sustainable Fastener Solution

March 26, 2024
The author makes the case that “Right to Repair” regulation is influencing designers’ considerations to return to fasteners rather than welding products, or having fixings that are permanent.

Alongside the advances in engineering, there have been some rapid recent changes in thinking from modern sustainable businesses around the conventional use of fasteners. One significant catalyst for this change has been the recent UK legislation Right to Repair,” which was introduced in July 2021 with the aim of extending the life of a range of electronics and appliances by up to 10 years. The regulations “aim to increase producer responsibility, reduce energy usage and electrical waste, and enable consumers to identify the most energy efficient products on the market.” 

READ MORE: A Glossary of Finishes and Platings for Fasteners

The law also legally requires manufacturers to make spare parts available to consumers and third-party repair companies. As well as providing products that will stand the test of time, the aim is to ensure that fewer domestic appliances end up in landfill—and the associated environmental benefits of this, at scale, are huge. 

The Evolving Fastenings Market 

We should first look at what’s driving the changes in the use of fasteners, which we’re seeing from domestic appliance applications to automotive applications, particularly in electric vehicles. Following this shift change in thinking from our customer base around the conventional use of fasteners, the Right to Repair regulation is influencing designers’ considerations to return to fasteners rather than welding products, or having fixings that are permanent.  

There is an opportunity to use thread forming fasteners with additional head features to ensure that they retain the clamp load required and in vibratory situations. Critically, this allows for disassembly, with fewer domestic appliances going to landfill. 

Advancements in Lighting Cluster Fixings 

For many years, automotive lighting cluster fixings have not changed all that much. One problem that persists is ensuring that there is no water ingress into the assembly, requiring a fastener with a sealing washer. This usually involves the fastener having a neoprene washer placed under the head of the screw, which inevitably deteriorates over time and leads to leakage. With this, there can also be loss of clamp load. 

READ MORE: Pairing of Slip Ring and Rotary Union Enable Automaker’s Robot Arm to Turn Screws Precisely 

Working in collaboration with a Tier1 automotive customer, TR Fastenings took on the challenge of developing a one-piece part fastener which would eliminate water ingress and provide the required clamp load.

TR’s technical team developed a new screw design with a unique integrated sealing feature in the head profile through firstly defining clearly the specific problems. Answering these with generalized solutions, the individual elements leading to leakage and clamp load loss were resolved, which improved repairability and recyclability culminating in the new design.

The Benefits of Lighting Cluster Fixings  

Firstly—and probably most importantly—the fastening has been optimized from a two-piece to a single-part solution. This has significant benefits in the manufacturing process, eliminating the need for assembly of the neoprene washers, allowing an increase in production speed and manufacturing throughput.

READ MORE: Switching Fasteners Increase Durability and Efficiency in Exit Doors 

In fact, TR fastenings now produces in the region of 60 million of such fixings each year, thereby eliminating the need for the same number of washers. Since neoprene washers are not easily separated from the light cluster at the end of its lifecycle, therefore compromising its overall recyclability, removal of these washers provides significant environmental benefits.     

There is a clear environmental and cost benefit to both manufacturers and assembly lines in the automotive industry. The fastener design is also future facing, improving recyclability of vehicles at the end of their life, which supports reduction in environmental impact in years to come.  

Potential for Other Sector Use Cases   

The benefits of this unique sealing screw have also become apparent for applications in other industry sectors, such as healthcare and home appliances, resulting in adoption of this patented screw design.  TR Fastenings introduces new products constantly, with over 3,000 parts added to its plastic and cable management range in recent months. These include push and drive fasteners, screw rivets, panel fasteners and an expanded range of PCB fixings.  

READ MORE: What Comes Next? Industrial Manufacturers Seek Better Pathways

The Power of Industry Partnerships 

The power of partnering technically to enhance product design and development cannot be overestimated. Aligning with fastener manufacturers and distributors, such as TR Fastenings, at the inception of projects can reduce time to market, reduce cost and increase value of the product over its life cycle.  

Sven Brehler is global director of Engineering at TR Fastenings.  

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