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Exporting fasteners to Europe

Takes about 23 minutes to read

Europe is one of the largest markets for fasteners in the world. Germany is especially interesting, with good opportunities for exporters from developing countries. Demand for application-specific products and price competition are dominant trends on the European fasteners market. Your options are to supply relatively standard fasteners to European buyers in high volumes at low prices, or to specialise in customised manufacturing.


1 . Product description

Fasteners are objects which allow for two or more elements to be ‘joined together’. Their range of application can be categorised as follows:

  • Indirect connection, for which a nail or screw is used,
  • Detachable connection, with screw or bolt and nut,
  • Difficult detachable connection, which can only be loosened by damaging the construction; for example, with blind rivets.

Fasteners are used in virtually every industry thinkable, varying from the automotive sector (the largest market segment for fasteners) to the sectors of machinery, furniture and construction.

When ‘fasteners’ are referred to in this survey, this concerns all the codes in the Harmonised System (HS) in Chapter 7318. The TARIC database shows more details for Chapter 7318.

Product specifications

Specifications of fasteners as required by European buyers are described below. Pictures below show a few examples of fasteners sold in Europe.

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From left to right: screws, bolts, nuts
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From left to right: washers, hexagon socket countersunk screws, self-drilling screws with countersunk head

Quality

As a rule of thumb, application-specific fasteners imported from outside of Europe may have a maximum defect rate of 50 ppm (parts per million). Sometimes, customers of the European distributors have even higher quality requirements (10 ppm instead of 50 ppm). In such a case, the European importer sorts the fasteners in his warehouse to reach the stricter 10 ppm.

Material and design

Fasteners can be made of many different materials, such as steel, stainless steel or iron, brass, copper, aluminium, alloys, exotic materials such as kuprodur and titanium.

As a rule of thumb, the particular field of application defines the material requirements. Often, steel and iron fasteners also get a coating or treatment against corrosion such as:

  • Zinc plated (Cr6 Zinc plating will no longer be allowed after 2017 for environmental reasons. Cr3 Zinc plating will remain the standard),
  • Hot-dip galvanised,
  • Nickel-plated,
  • Black or yellow passivated,
  • Phosphated,
  • Geomet (particularly automotive).

The coating also depends greatly on the application and will be specified by the buyer.

Considering design, there are many forms, such as:

  • Standard fasteners,
  • Internally threaded,
  • Externally threaded,
  • Non-threaded.

In addition, there are also several application-specific designs, varying from self-drilling roof screws to aerospace-grade fasteners.

Labelling and packaging

Fasteners can be packaged in a carton or a wooden box, depending on the size of the parts. The outer package should include the brand name and type number. In the specific case of (Do-It-Yourself) retail packages, customers will have very specific packaging requirements. For example, there is the use of plastic bags or carton or plastic boxes. Retail customers will also want to specify the labels, including a barcode. 

The package for ocean transportation is a wooden, steel or plastic pallet, wrapped with plastic sheet and sealed with metal strips. The size of the boxes depends on customer requirements and preferences and is also influenced by the weight per box and handling possibilities.

For the purposes of identification during transport, packaging is always labelled. You should indicate the following information: quantity, weight, the products themselves, and the name of the producer.

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Example of export package and a label

The EU maintains a set of requirements on packaging and labelling. If you use wood packaging materials to export products to Europe, you must consider health (phytosanitary) requirements set for these materials. In practice, this means that the wood must have undergone heat treatment or have been fumigated with methyl bromide. Please see the EU Export Helpdesk for more information on these requirements.

2 . Which European markets offer opportunities for exporters of fasteners?

Imports

European imports of fasteners increased by 4% per year between 2011 and 2015 to €12.5 billion in 2015. Fasteners are mostly imported from countries within Europe. However, the share of imports of intra-European origin dropped from 65% in 2013 to 62% in 2015, because imports from outside Europe grew more rapidly in that period. In 2015, imports from developing countries represented 14% of all European imports.

Germany is the largest importer of fasteners. The import from developing countries reached €518 million in Germany, making up 30% of all European import from developing countries in 2015. However, imports from developing countries in Germany decreased in the period under review (‑€39 million absolute value).

Other countries with large fastener imports were:

  • France
  • the United Kingdom
  • the Czech Republic
  • the Netherlands (with only marginally more imports than Italy and Austria).

Countries that showed high absolute growth in imports from developing countries re:

  • the Netherlands (+€72 million)
  • the United Kingdom (+€45 million)
  • Poland (+€33 million).

These countries were followed at a large distance by the relatively small importing countries of Hungary and Denmark (+€9 and +€11 million respectively).

The import of fasteners is expected to show a small growth (between 0-2%) in the next few years, as the market is close to saturation.

Leading suppliers

Germany, Taiwan and Italy are the leading suppliers to Europe. Together, they represented 42% of the total European import of fasteners in 2015.

Other leading suppliers are the United States, France and the Netherlands.

Imports from developing countries are dominated by China (€633 million in 2015), followed by India (€310 million). Out of these two countries, India showed the highest growth in four years’ time (+7% per year on average).

After India, Vietnam is in third position with €230 million in 2015. This country grew the fastest of all developing country suppliers (+18% in a year).

Turkey exported fasteners worth €204 million to Europe in 2015 (+7% growth), followed by Thailand (€113 million, -1%), Malaysia (€98 million, -10%), Indonesia (€34 million, -13%), the Philippines (€28 million, -25%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (€28 million, 0%), Croatia (€18 million, +3%), and Serbia (€10 million, +15%).

The large supply from China leads to relatively strong price competition. With the European market being flooded with so many unbranded, cheap and relatively low-quality Chinese manufactured fasteners, (low) prices are extremely important. This is especially the case for segments where brands are not important, basically for all products up to a DIN norm of 8.8. The higher-quality products, such as DIN 10.9 and 12.9, are still produced in Europe (but also already in Asia).

In other words, most products for the professional market are still being produced in Europe, while the products for the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) construction segment are mainly sourced in low-cost countries such as China.

Tips:

  • Benchmark your company against your peers from Taiwan in the first place, followed by China and India in the second place and European countries in the third place. Several factors can be taken into account, such as market segments served, perceived price and quality level, countries served, et cetera. One source that could be used to find exporters of fasteners per country is ITC International Trade Statistics (you have to register first).
  • In your benchmark against peers from China, you are advised to check on anti-dumping duties that are in place on imports into the EU from China. If they are, non-China exporters have an advantage (fewer duties to pay compared to Chinese competitors). The EU Directorate General of Trade allows to search for investigations and definitive measures in place.
  • You can get information on the latest trends and developments in the fasteners industry from international magazines and news sources. Examples are Fastener, Fastener + Fixing Magazine, Global Fasteners News and informative sources from main markets, for instance Industrie, Maschinen Markt, Springer VDI Verlag (Germany), Axes Industries, and Industrie & Technologies (France). You can use Google Translate to convert the website to your language.
  • You can use trade fair databases such as Eventseye or Auma to find relevant trade fairs in Europe. Relevant trade fairs for fasteners suppliers are Fastener Fair (check this site for other fastener fairs worldwide as well), Hannover Messe, BAU Germany), Midest (France).
  • Basically, visiting the Fastener Fair in Germany (every year, in Stuttgart or Hannover) is a must if you want to grab a share of the European fastener market.

Exports

The total European export of fasteners increased by 4% per year between 2011-2015 to almost €12 billion. The export of European fasteners was mainly destined for other European countries. Note that this also includes some re-exports of imports originally from developing countries.

In 2015, European exports to developing countries amounted to almost €2 billion. Developing countries importing European fasteners include:

  • China (37% of total European export to developing countries)
  • Turkey (11%)
  • Brazil (8%)
  • Mexico (8%)
  • India (7%)

Germany is the largest European exporter of fasteners (€4.8 billion in 2015, 41% of all European exports). German exports to developing countries are huge, thanks to the dominant position of Germany within the manufacturing industries and the fastener industry in Europe.

Other important exporters were:

  • Italy (13% share)
  • France (10%)
  • the United Kingdom (6%)
  • the Netherlands (6%)
  • Spain (4%).

The European export of fasteners is expected to show a small growth in the next few years, in the range of 0‑2%.

Production

The production of fasteners peaked in 2011 at €10.1 billion, but dropped in 2012 to €9.8 billion. Production increased again in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, the production of fasteners remained virtually unchanged at a value of €10.6 billion.

Germany is the largest fasteners producer in Europe (40% share), followed by Italy (20%) and France (7%). Italian producers still manufacture relatively low-quality fasteners, which also explains their strong request for anti-dumping measures to be put in place against Chinese imports in the past.

Tips:

Demand

The European demand decreased to €10.2 billion in 2012 after having reached a peak value of €11.1 billion in 2011. From 2013 to 2015 demand was on the rise again, reaching €11.6 billion in 2015. Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom are the largest markets for fasteners in Europe. Together, they represented 52% of the total demand in Europe. Each of these four countries has its own market profile, which can be described as follows:

Germany

Germany is the number one producer in virtually every industry in Europe. It is well-known for its output of machinery, cars and electronics. The largest market segment for fasteners is the automotive industry, followed at some distance by a range of other industries:

  • Household equipment
  • Electronic equipment
  • Furniture
  • Machine building
  • Steel construction
  • General construction, such as house and office building

Italy

Italy’s main industries are:

  • Machinery building
  • Motor vehicle production
  • Aircraft
  • Household equipment
  • General construction, such as house and office building

After Germany, Italy is the second largest machinery producer in Europe. The country produces virtually all categories of machinery.

France

France’s leading industries produce:

  • Machinery
  • Automobiles
  • Aircraft
  • Electronics equipment
  • General construction, such as house and office building

United Kingdom

Key manufacturing sectors in the United Kingdom include:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Defence equipment
  • Electronics
  • Machinery and equipment
  • General construction, such as house and office building

The Netherlands

Key manufacturing sectors in the Netherlands are:

  • Machinery and equipment
  • Shipbuilding
  • Electric engineering
  • General construction, such as house and office building

In terms of machinery production, there are two segments that stand out: agricultural machinery and machinery for food, beverage and tobacco processing. The largest market segment for fasteners, however, is general construction.

Tips:

  • Exporters to developing countries could focus on market segments that are strongly represented in the focus countries. Specialisation in any of those segments may give exporters a competitive advantage, as there is an increasing demand for customised solutions. European importers therefore prefer specialised suppliers who are able to offer customer support and joint engineering in specific market segments.
  • You can use EU Export Helpdesk, ITC Market Access Map and ITC Standards Map for more information related to gaining access to the European market.
  • Commisceo Global offers a lot of information about differences in business cultures and etiquette. You should pay some attention to this before you start exporting to Europe.

3 . What trends offer opportunities on the European market for fasteners?

Rise of industry-specific fasteners

One of the major trends emerging in the European industrial fastener market is the development of industry-specific fasteners. For instance, companies are developing alloy fasteners and wrenchable nuts with increased strength, as well as corrosion and temperature resistance properties for the aerospace and defence sector.

Other developments are in the area of self-clinching and self-locking fasteners that are expected to enhance the operational efficiency for plastic assemblies.

Increasing demand for lightweight and non-threaded fasteners

Lightweight fasteners are clearly increasing in popularity in Europe, especially in the professional markets. Such fasteners are increasingly made of stainless steel or aluminium and coated with teflon or geomet, instead of being galvanised.

Non-threaded fasteners are also expected to show the highest growth rate in the next few years, as innovations in this product area may offer end users interesting cost advantages.

Substitute products are gaining ground

The market for fasteners with six-sided heads has decreased rapidly in recent years. As the production had been relatively energy-intensive, six-sided heads have been replaced by roundheaded products with an inner profile.

Another development is the growing usage of professional tapes, adhesives and glues. These substitute products are becoming popular and replace fasteners in a wide range of applications.

Tips:

  • There are better opportunities for you if you are able to supply advanced fasteners by offering customised manufacturing based on the need of end users.

The impact of legislation on environmental protection

Environmental awareness is growing among companies in Europe. This is mainly caused by the implementation of stricter legislation. Nowadays, companies not only judge products on aspects such as price, quality and standards but also on their environmental aspects. In the case of fasteners, special attention is paid to anti-corrosive surface treatment with chemicals such as zinc, chrome or other coatings such as geomet.

Tips:

4 . Potential focus industries

European industrial production is forecast to show continuous growth until the beginning of 2017. However, it is expected that the industrial production will decrease afterwards.

European industrial production is set to increase further in 2016 (by an estimated 1.2%), after it has recorded year- by-year gain since 2013. Signals of progress in several manufacturing industries will create favourable conditions for industrial suppliers in and to Europe in 2016. Other positive factors such as a relatively low inflation rate should support these positive developments.

Another potential focus industry is new residential construction. New residential construction in Europe is also expected to grow by 2.5-4.0% on average in the period from 2015 to 2017, while residential renovation and maintenance will grow by some 0.7-2.0% per year. On average, the construction segment is set to growth by about 2-3% per year.

5 . Removal of European anti-dumping duty on China

The anti-dumping duty on iron and steel fasteners from China was removed in February 2016. After a seven-year conflict between China and the European Union, the European Commission decided to drop the 74.1% anti-dumping duty. This is because the World Trade Organization (WTO) has found that Chinese producers had not been dumping.

Producers of fasteners from all over the world are concerned about losing protection against low-cost products from China. However, there is still uncertainty about the whole termination process as the European Union has time to decide what to do until December 2016. It is possible that the European Commission may initiate a new investigation on dumping of Chinese fasteners, allowing for anti-dumping duties to be imposed.

Tips:

  • Basically there are two market entry strategies for fasteners producers. (1) The first strategy is the production of mainstream, relatively low quality fasteners for low-end markets. Importers/distributors in Europe sell these products passively to their customers. (2) The second strategy is the best choice for most fastener manufacturers from developing countries: smaller volumes and customised manufacturing, based on customer (importer/distributor) or end user requirements. This approach, although more demanding in terms of quality assurance of production and service, offers the best opportunities.
  • See our study about Trends for Metal Parts and Components for general trends.

6 . What requirements should fasteners comply with in order to be allowed on the European market?

Requirements can be divided into: (1) legal requirements you must meet in order to enter the market and (2) non-legal requirements, which are those most of your competitors have already implemented; in other words, the ones you need to comply with in order to keep up with the market.

See our study EU Buyer requirements for Metal Parts and Components for a general overview of requirements.

Legal requirements

For fasteners in general, there are no specific legal requirements applicable. Some restrictions are in place, in the form of ‘prior union surveillance’ for iron and steel products. There are, however, three exceptions: fasteners intended for use in the construction industry, motor vehicles and railway systems.

Liability

The Liability for defective products (Directive 85/374/EEC) in fact refers to finished products. The Product Liability Directive states that the European importer is liable for the products supplied to the European market. The European importer, however, can in principle hand on a claim to the producer/exporter.

Packaging

Europe sets requirements for wood packaging materials used for transport (including dunnage) (Directive 2000/29/EC).

Another packaging-related directive is the general directive about packaging and packaging waste (Directive 94/62/EC). This directive prescribes the marking of the kind of packaging material used and the maximum levels of heavy metals in the packaging material.

Import duties

For most fasteners a 3.7% duty is levied on European imports from third countries, which also covers China and India. Several countries benefit from a preferential 0% tariff, for example Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Bosnia and Egypt. The TARIC database shows more details for Chapter 7318. Note that it is only possible to claim a preferential tariff treatment with a Certificate of Origin.

Although the import tariff for most fasteners is 3.7%, there are a few exceptions. For a few products from specified countries there are anti-dumping tariffs in place. This, for example, applies to some fasteners imported from China, but also from other Asian countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines.

Anti-dumping tariffs vary greatly: they start at 22.9% and go up to 27.4% for self-tapping stainless steel screws from the Philippines and 74.1% for spaced thread screws from Malaysia, for example.

Tips:

  • Make sure that your wood packaging material is approved for the European market. If you are unsure, ask your wood packaging material supplier for clarification. Your wood packaging material supplier should take any further action required in order to comply with the Directive. If the supplier is not able to do so, it may be possible to switch to another supplier.
  • Exporters from a country with a preferential 0% tariff have a small to considerable competitive advantage versus competitors from countries without such a preferential tariff. Stay ahead of new developments concerning European anti-dumping tariffs for specific countries for specific fasteners and fastener materials.
  • Be sure about the origin of your product and the correct use of preferential rules of origin. Depending on the trade arrangement between your country and the EU, using preferences to import into the EU may result in penalties. Research through the EU Export Helpdesk.

Non-legal requirements

The customer’s main requirements will be related to the technical aspects of the fasteners; design, material, dimensions and finishing must meet the buyer’s specifications.

In general, a mechanical fastener is described by about 10 to 20 geometrical characteristics and about as many mechanical characteristics laid down in international or national standards. Such products have to fulfil acceptance tests according to ISO 3269 (acceptance inspection). This standard contains sampling plans and statistically-based acceptance quality levels (AQL) for the acceptance of a manufacturing lot.

Fasteners for special applications or markets, such as automotive, electronics, and made to drawing for highly sophisticated or safety-critical applications, may have additional quality requirements. In such cases, the defect rate is measured by parts per million (ppm) and camera inspection systems are used for statistical process control.

There are many standards which apply to fasteners, varying from standards for acceptance inspection and quality assurance systems to standards specifying dimensions, mechanical properties and surface coatings. 

As a rule of thumb, the professional market segment has strict requirements. For example, the tensile strength must be extremely high, with corresponding DIN norms of for instance 8.8, 10.9 and 12.9.By contrast, the non-professional DIY construction market segment is dominated by price, which makes quality demands much lower; most products are galvanised, so that the usual DIN norm is 5.5 or lower.

Last but not least, an increasing number of buyers from a growing number of industries in Europe ask for PPAP documentation level 3 (Production part approval process).

Tips:

7 . Buyer’s specifications

Prospects who have asked for a quote should receive a confirmation of receipt immediately, including details of the follow-up process. Sending the quote should be done as soon as possible.

In case the product offer concerns specialty fasteners which have undergone any CNC machining, exporters from developing countries can improve their chances considerably by sending some free product samples along with the quote. It is also very important to make a telephone call within 5 days after sending the quote. For example, you can ask if everything is clear.

If all conditions have been agreed upon (and if relevant, the samples have been accepted), the contract can be signed. After that, the main challenge for the suppliers is to deliver the products according to the agreed specifications, delivery times and volumes. Suppliers should not underestimate the fulfilment of these conditions.

Tips:

  • Exporters from developing countries can improve their chances greatly by sending some free product samples along with a quote. Another idea is to develop your own sample box of fasteners. The box can be sent to EU importers as a kind of gift. The box should contain a selection of the core products that you want to export.
  • The importance of customer satisfaction should not be underestimated. Of course, customers consider a good quality of the products important, but they also attach great value to compliance with delivery times and delivery volumes.
  • See our 10 tips for doing business with European buyers of metal and plastic parts and components and our 10 tips for finding buyers in the metal parts and components sector. The above tips also offer more information on which topics are decisive for European buyers when searching for (new) suppliers.

8 . Through which channels can you find fasteners on the European market?

Europe is home to several interesting prospects for producers of fasteners from developing countries. In fact, there are two main options to enter the European market: through importers/distributors and through manufacturers of fasteners.

Of the two possibilities, importers/distributors are the best prospect group. As all potential partners are unique, with their own customers, market segments and products, the profile of potential partners is very important. You are very likely, however, to find a match.

Trade structure for fasteners in Europe for professional and consumer segment

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The purchasing combination, introduced in the figure above, can be described as follows. Purchasing combinations often concern a cooperative society, with members who combine their purchasing capacity, paying an annual fee and a service fee. The purchasing combination negotiates supply contracts for large volumes at competitive prices on behalf of its members. Members are smaller retail chains and smaller distributors. Probably the largest purchasing combination in Europe is EDE from Germany.

For additional information, refer to our studies Market Channels and Segments and Competition for Metal Parts and Components. An explanation of the types of prospects, including a few examples per type, is given below.

Margins vary from country to country and from market segment to market segment. For example, in the automotive industry, margins are very narrow (single-digit percentages). Prices depend on the local competitive environment. Generally speaking, the total mark-up from manufacturer’s price to final consumer price including VAT can reach up to 400%, especially when taking the costs of logistics and services into account.

9 . Market segmentation

Generally, the market for fasteners can be divided into ‘professional’ (with users in the construction, machine building, automotive, shipbuilding and furniture industry, among others), and ‘consumer’ (where users can be defined as ‘Do-It-Yourself’ (DIY) consumers).

Some details per segment are as follows:

  • Professional segment: chances for direct sales are limited for exporters from developing countries. As a result, it is best to target specialised importers and agents when you are interested in supplying to these professional markets.
  • Consumer segment: because it is difficult for a small exporter to get into direct contact with large trade partners such as the DIY chains (or their purchasing combinations), it is recommended that you focus your initial attention on finding an importer or agent. In the consumer market segment in Europe, DIY market chains have a leading role, although their market share differs from European country to European country. Most Dutch DIY chains buy from distributors, because they do not have large stocking possibilities at their own DIY markets. Fast delivery is required, with mostly small quantities being ordered for delivery within 48 hours. Only special offers are sometimes ordered directly from manufacturers, such as buckets with screws or ranges of fasteners. This offers a (limited) opportunity for exporters from developing countries.

10 . Distributors

Most distributors can be classified as generalists. The majority of them sell a very broad range of fasteners. Examples of importers in the European focus countries are the following:

11 . Producers

Despite strong competition from Asia, many European countries still harbour a range of fastener producers. In several cases these companies have specialised in a product type (for instance the BECK Fastener Group specialises in wood-to-wood fasteners) or a market segment (for instance Bové specialises in roof construction applications). Examples of producers in the European focus countries are:

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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