To discuss the role of the ETA route to CE marking in the context of the anchor and fixing industry, we interviewed the Technical Director of Construction Fixings Europe (CFE) Thomas Holland-Letz.
Mr. Holland-Letz, European Technical Assessments (ETAs) are frequently used in the fixing industry. Why are ETAs so important in your industry?
ETAs in the fixing industry are often customer-driven or triggered by a new construction application. Based on the information contained in the ETA, specifiers, designers and contractors can safely and efficiently select the fasteners that are most suitable for their project, for example in terms of actions, exposure classes or lifetimes. This ensures safe applications.
Actually, Europe enjoys a well-balanced safety in construction. In the fixing industry, ETAs play a major role in this context. For example, I am not aware of any severe accidents related to fixing failures in Europe, while such incidents have been reported in other markets, such as the US or Japan.
The independent European Technical Assessment thus ensures a high reliability of the product performance information. And the product performance specification in the ETA is aligned with the design methods in the relevant Eurocode (EN 1992-4), which facilitates the Europe-wide use of anchor products.
This possibility for customers to compare the performance of fixing products across the internal market often stimulates investments in new or improved products.
Furthermore, ETAs enjoy a high recognition that goes beyond the borders of Europe. Last but not least, the ETA route to CE marking provides a level playing field for anchors produced in Europe (mostly by SMEs) and products that come from countries were the cost of labour is much cheaper, ensuring a competition based on performance and identical assessment and inspection procedures.
Could you name some recent European Assessment Document (EAD) developments that support the fixing industry?
I would say that those concerning seismic qualification have been most important because there are now anchors, CE-marked based on an ETA, that are suitable for seismic areas. This has considerably enlarged the application area for these fasteners, putting manufacturers in a better position to sell their products. Especially since seismic requirements have been introduced in parts of Italy, France and even Germany.
Broader coverage of fatigue loads, low installation temperatures and the EAD for assessing service life performance for chemical anchors up to 100 years are also important advances in EAD development. Our experts doubt that the development of such new applications for anchors would be so dynamic under a standardisation regime.
What is the relationship between innovation and fixings in general? And how does the ETA route come into play in this?
Product performance data based on ETAs and corresponding design methods are the fundamentals for reliable fixings. ETAs provide performance data for individual anchor products under various conditions (for instance concerning types of concrete, temperature etc.). Design methods translate this individual product performance (ETA) into actual applications. This alignment of ETAs and design standards provides an ideal basis for safe, fast and cost-efficient fastening solutions for manufacturers as well as for customers.
In this context, 'innovation' does not always mean a completely new product. It can also be a new assessment method of an existing product for a new application.
Can you provide a practical example of how ETAs create an added value in the fixing industry?
The ETA route presents several advantages. One of the most important ones, is short development times for European Assessment Documents (EADs). This is relevant, because construction companies often work under high time pressure.
To give one example: for the public mobility project 'Le Grand Paris', several European manufacturers had suitable high-performance anchor systems on offer. However, the lifetime for these products was limited to 50 years as per the underlaying EADs, while the service life required in the client specifications was 100 years.
The European manufacturers concerned submitted new ETA requests. The EADs were amended and the products reassessed to the same safety level in time for the manufacturers to compete in the tender. The speed of the EAD development made it possible for the manufacturers to go for a Europe-wide assessment solution instead of national approvals or expert opinions, which would only have been valid in France.
How important will CE marking based on an ETA be for the anchor industry in the future?
I think that without ETAs providing a transparent overview of the quality and performance of fixing products, the resources and efforts put into developing new fastening products in the EU will be substantially reduced. This reduced speed could also negatively affect other objectives and developments in the construction sector, such as industrialised manufacturing, the renovation wave or BIM.
The ETA route to CE marking remains key to fair competition in the European anchor industry, for manufacturers of all sizes.
What would Construction Fixing Europe wish for the ETA route to look like under a future Construction Products Regulation (CPR)?
Particular focus should be put on increasing transparency and especially easing complexity.
For example, for small and medium-sized companies it would be extremely helpful if EADs had an SME-friendly, modular structure. For instance, there could be a core EAD covering all characteristics that are generally needed plus compatible add-ons, e.g. for seismic characteristics. Clear rules on change management and clean references would, of course, be key to make this work.
In my opinion, limiting the validity of ETAs to five years, as it used to be under the Construction Products Directive, would also help increase the reliability of the system by ensuring that ETAs correspond to the state of the art. Other important measures include improving quality control and cooperation between Technical Assessment Bodies on EADs and implementing some kind of quality monitoring for ETAs.
What we would like to see also in future is the confidentiality of the EAD development.
Finally, simplification for CE marking and declarations of performance (DoP) for ETA products will be relevant improvements for a revised CPR.
Construction Fixings Europe is a sub-association of the European Tool Committee that represents leading European manufacturers of metal, plastic, bonded anchors, direct fixings and drill bits for concrete and masonry. Its members come from Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland and the UK. Most of the companies involved in Construction Fixings Europe hold one or more ETAs for their anchors, while CFE experts participate in several anchor-specific EOTA working groups.