Brexit Forum - Brita-in or Brita-out? 

In the light of the upcoming European Referendum, the organisers behind the UK Construction Week, surveyed construction professionals about the upcoming EU referendum. Of the 3,200 that took part, 57% believed the UK should stay in the EU, with 43% wanting to leave. Interestingly, engineers and architects are more likely to stay, with subcontractors voting by 58% to leave. 

At a forum on the 26th of May at Grimshaw Architects, a worldwide architectural practice, a mixed panel of industry experts was invited to discuss the realities of a Brexit to the Construction Industry. The panel, hosted by Brian Kilkelly, founder Member of the World Cities Network and Development lead of Climate KIC, consisted of Brian Berry, the Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), Cezary Bednarski, founder of Studio Bednarski, Paul Scully, MP for Sutton and Cheam, David Cash, Chairman of BDP, and Mark Middleton, the Managing Partner of Grimshaw Architects. 

Brian Berry began by turning the red tape argument on its head, arguing that regulation and skilled labour were vital in the UK Construction Industry, and being part of the EU, was therefore important to ensure a supply of suitably trained tradespeople, working in a well regulated environment. He did concede that many individual tradespeople would vote to leave based on their personal beliefs and experiences, but over half of them said that they would like more concrete information to inform their choices.

Cezary was keen to put what he called a ‘philosophical’ view to the audience. As a Polish immigrant many years ago, who had to fight for his British Citizenship, and who has completed many architectural commissions throughout the world, including Africa, he took the view that ‘elephants do not gallop’- the EU was too slow to respond to changing market conditions, and it was therefore in Britain’s best interests to leave. 

Paul Scully, businessman and recently elected conservative MP, had three reasons for voting to leave, trade, immigration, and sovereignty. He believes that Britain is shackled by EU Trade Groups, and stated we would be far stronger on our own. 

David Cash, also an architect, believes that Britain’s economic fortunes are firmly tied to the EU. In the longer term, businesses will continue to build connections in Europe, however an exit would surely create a ‘tough patch’ in the UK. He also argued that he has no issues with adopting several identities; English, British or European, depending on where he is in the world. 

Much like David, Mark Middleton not only enjoys the lifestyle of a European and visa free travel, but also is keen to emphasise that Britain holds a powerful ‘third position’ by not being part of the Schengen Agreement and the single currency. He sees that a breakaway from Europe will mean forcing us enter into negotiations for European Trade, something we have not done since the 1970s. He cites the Norway example of how not to do things- all the costs but with none of the influence. 

The first issue discussed was the Housing Crisis in the UK. David was first answer this, making the point that building housing is not necessarily connected to the EU. The London housing market has been overheated by international money buying up expensive properties at the expense of affordable housing in the capital. Brian Berry shares this view, suggesting that affordable housing was very much in the remit of the UK Government, and it was wrong to blame immigrants for it. He also put it down to the fact people are living longer, and the shortage of land to build on. Brexit would lead to a decline of investment in major infrastructure projects, because Europeans might withdraw from the UK. But also any ‘tough patch’ in the building industry created by a Brexit may see householders lacking the cash and confidence to upgrade or repair their homes.

In direct contrast, Cezary believes that money is neutral and will follow the market, so for him infrastructure investment is not an issue, and housing very much a responsibility for local authorities and housing trusts. By rewriting immigration rules, skilled people would be attracted to the UK to address the much-discussed shortage of construction skills.

This idea of widening the search for skilled workers was an attractive prospect also to Paul Scully, particularly with America and Australia. He also disagreed with Mark’s view of negotiating trade deals, claiming we already had trade deals with Europe, and a Brexit would allow Britain to move ‘nimbly’ through the international market, and allow many small British businesses a freedom from red tape. 

The debate then moved on to a discussion of infrastructure. The survey had revealed that 16% of respondents claimed that major infrastructure projects would be positively affected by Brexit, 47% said it would make no difference, and 37% thought that the effect would be negative. 

Mark feels that we are in a more important period of infrastructure building than in Victorian times, believing we have benefited from the EU, as we simply do not have enough skilled people in Britain, nor the funding. Paul believes with 95% of small business are currently not involved in major infrastructure, leaving the EU would make little difference. 

Given the opportunity to sum up their positions, it became clear that emotional arguments are just as important as practical or philosophical ones. The panel agreed that the EU needs to adapt to survive. Economically, there are still countries like Spain and Greece that need support. The balance between economic regulation and freedom needs to be redefined in order to create a more vibrant free market economy that would be more open to the world markets that Britain would like to trade with.

It also faces real difficulties like the immigration crisis and the threat of Russia, in which concerted European efforts will prove to be necessary to solve, regardless of Brexit. There is no doubt that Britain will still need to deal with the effects of migration, whether in or out. 

In a show of hands, a slimmish majority of the audience voted to stay in, although many stated that the debate had really helped them crystallise their thoughts on the upcoming referendum. 

Flex 18v Recip Saw – A Welcome Addition to the Flex Cordless Range

Aimed at: Pro users who need cordless flexibility to demolish and cut. 

Pros: A powerful and flexible cutting friend- just chose the right blades for success. 

Too many years ago than I care to remember, I reviewed a recip saw newly arrived from the US. After using it a bit I showed it to some tradesmen, who almost universally dismissed it. They told me it was too heavy and clumsy (no 18v Li ion cordless then!) but look around now on sites and recip saws have been wholeheartedly adopted – especially by window fitters and first and second fix carpenters. This is just because they are VERY useful tools – doing things that others can’t. And now with a variety of blades that will cut timber, steel etc etc they are assured a place in the van.

Many things have changed in the intervening years, like SDS blade fitting, lighter weight and compact versions for use in tight corners. But the real revolution in the last few years are the cordless recip saws with enough punch to do the job. Enter the Flex RS 29 18.0!

This tool is part of the new 18v range from Flex of Germany. It too, takes advantage of the advanced 18v battery system that Flex has launched a few months ago. The system is designed to prevent battery packs from overheating during use and safe from deep discharge, thus ensuring longer battery life and reliability. The diagnostic charger is unique too – the only one I have seen that uses an LED screen to count down the minutes to “fully charged” so that workers can keep track of the battery power available.

 

Flex tools are aimed at professionals and are generally sold through trade outlets, and it seems that, these days, professional power tools need to be presented in stackable boxes. Accordingly, the saw arrived in a smart black L-Boxx with discreet Flex logo. A custom insert held the tool securely in transit and included in the box were two battery packs, a smart charger and a pack of blades.

I had lined up several jobs to do with the Flex RS 29 – namely cutting up some old uPVC window frames, removing another frame and then a bit of not-so-gentle pruning of a quince tree that is slowly taking over a corner of the garden and annoying the neighbours. These jobs are perfect for a recip saw, especially a cordless one, because they demonstrate how the saw can jump from one job to another by simply changing to a suitable blade.

For some reason recip saws are always heavy. Maybe something to do with the recip mechanism hidden in the nose of the saw, and at around 3.6 Kgs with battery pack, the Flex feels quite chunky. However, because of the nature of recip cutting, you don’t really want something too light because you need the weight to keep the saw stable and in the cut.

The rear part of the saw is in familiar Flex red with a black and red battery pack (2.5 or 5Ah) slotted onto the end of the main handle. A comfortable and well-designed rear handle has enough grippy rubber to be comfortable, and the trigger and interlock are well placed for average hands. Speed is controlled via the trigger and is especially controllable at low and high speeds. (0-3100 rpm)  Of course, there is some vibration, as you would expect from a recip saw because of its cutting action. In my view, this vibration is about the same as I have experienced on other recip saws I have used. But it is not the kind of tool that I would use all day so you probably need not worry too much about vibration levels.

 At the “business end” we have very robust housing covered with a slightly rubberised black plastic coating. Some tradespeople who tried it liked the bulkiness as it gave them something to hang on to. In truth, I found it pretty much the same as any other recip saw I have used and the design allowed my left hand to guide and aim the saw accurately where I wanted it to cut.  Also on the “nose” of the saw, are the tool holder lever, the front shoe adjuster and the orbital stroke switch. I also liked the inclusion of a bright LED light right on the front end where it does a good job of illuminating the workpiece should you need it.

A good blade is worth the money on a recip saw and I started with a fairly fine-toothed metal cutting blade to cut up the couple of old uPVC window frames that needed dumping. I had set aside about twenty minutes for the job because they were large frames and I have a small car. The Flex was so efficient that I finished in fifteen minutes. Both plastic outer frames and internal steel strengtheners of the windows were cleanly cut without drama.

On another day with a bigger toothed and longer blade I tackled the quince tree – again I was very happy with the rate of progress. In the end, most of the tree was taken down to ground level simple because it was easier and I had a few encouragements from my neighbour to get rid of it completely.

I also ended up using the Flex on site to cut through the rusted screws holding the ply roof of a brick built shed and then cutting up the ply into sizes small enough to fit in my car. Demolition is truly the forte of recip saws and this tool has no reason to feel ashamed of its performance.

Some specs might help put all of the above into a real context. The retail price is around £110, so it is very competitive for a “real” trade rated tool. The RS 29 will cut 18mm thick metal, 100mm metal pipes, 200mm plastic pipes and 180mm thickness of wood – basically pretty well the sort of things that the average worksite will throw up.

In my view, the Flex RS 29 18 covers all the bases and the Flex 18v cordless system is as well thought out as most of the competition – so for a competitive price you will get a capable tool with a future. 

 

SMART Tools and Purple Series Blades - A Cutting Combination?

Aimed at: Anyone, amateur or pro who needs a well priced and oscillating Tool.

Pros: Combined with purple series blades it is a great performer on all materials. 

The market in oscillating multi tools is crammed with many good and excellent products from a majority of leading power tool brands. The result is a range of tools from good to excellent at various price points and the weak need not apply – because the market will be quickly find out the vulnerable.

SMART is not really a brand associated with power tools, and yet the oscillating tool I was sent for review showed all the signs of being a very good product – and to underline the confidence that SMART has in it, it comes with a Ten Year Warranty.

Well presented in a robust French Blue custom fitted plastic case with enough space for the tool and 3m of cord and a load of spare blades, it makes a good first impression. The presentation is neat and professional and with a SSP of £139+VAT it is very competitively priced too. For the tool and 60-piece accessory kit the price is only £30 more. A Fair price to pay for delta sander, scraper etc that put the “multi” into multitool. 

The body of the tool is, well, - sleek and very neat and it looks well made. There are no odd moulding “nibs” or other giveaway signs of a cheaply made product.  It is slim enough to get a really good one-handed grip and the panels of grippy rubber do indeed help to minimise the inevitable vibration generated by this type of tool.

A simple slider switch on the top of the body selects on/off and a six position dial at the cord end selects the speed. An alloy casing on the front contains the oscillating mechanism, metal gearbox and a bright LED worklight. On top of the casing is the blade release lever for toolless change of blades. This operates very smoothly with no “snap” for unwary fingers and the flange fitting is designed to accommodate pretty well all of the range of blades available on the market.  

The motor has the inevitable whine associated with oscillating tools and it is always better to wear ear protection when using them, but the SMART does not suffer from louder noise levels than most of the competition.

To complement the SMART 300W Multi-Tool, the company has focused on the development of its Purple Series of blades that is intended to create a simple solution for the end user - a pack of four blades with the same tooth design and capabilities but in different sizes according to the selected task. Generally speaking this translates into wider blades for bigger and softer materials and smaller blades for more concentrated tasks and harder materials. These bi-metal blades are coated in Titanium alloy to help keep the blade cool and this in turn helps that blades to cut quicker and last longer.

As oscillating tools are often used where there is a danger of hidden nails and screws, the Purple Series bi-metal blades are also designed to cut through through small metal obstructions that could be encountered.

They also have a universal fitting that is compatible with most leading brands of multi tools as well as those with the “quick release” design that simply slides out when the flange is released.

I use multi-tools a lot for my general woodwork as well as on site where they a brilliant “get out of trouble” tool that will do a job where others can’t. On a couple of small jobs where I took the SMART tool with me I found that it was very good at doing the cutting, slicing and getting into small spaces that multi-tools are made for. The range of Purple Series blades proved to be very versatile and I particularly liked the wide (70mm) blade that allowed me to trim off a rafter end flush with the brickwork. And it didn’t seem particularly bothered by the occasional brush with the brickwork either – it just carried on cutting. The semi-circular blade was also very useful cutting out odd pieces of plasterboard needed to fit around a ceiling repair.

 

Cutting through steel and galvanised nails was also quite easily achieved with these blades. In my experiments I hammered a couple of rows of nails into a strip of MDF and sliced them off level with the surface with no trouble at all. There appeared to a bit of wear on the teeth of the blades, but they continued cutting well.

Cutting the same nails that were deeply embedded in a piece of wood created a physical problem, namely that the friction of the cut creates heat, and this heat has nowhere to escape, so there is a danger of some smoke. Then the user has to take care to use the whole blade, a slightly lower speed and generally adopt a safety first approach. I must stress that this happens whatever make of blades you use, the Purple Series shortened the agony by cutting as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A much tougher challenge is cutting through modern case-hardened screws commonly used nowadays. They are designed to be very hard and cut their own path even into hardwood because they are driven effortlessly by powerful torquey drill drivers. Gone are the days of guide holes and hand screwdriving! And much softer steel screws!

I found that I could cut these screws by slowing the speed slightly and using the whole of the blade.  Again, the amount of heat produced shows just how hard the blade teeth are having to work to cut the steel. I did something I don’t normally do, and I used another brand of aftermarket cutter on the SMART tool just for a comparison of cutting speeds, and the SMART Purple Series blades edge proved to be far superior. It cut more quickly and lasted measurably longer. Certainly the teeth on both blades showed signs of wear and blunting, but the Purple Series blade would still cut wood and softer metals quite happily.

Cutting, scraping and sanding are also done very easily with a multi-tool and potential purchasers of the SMART 300W multi-Tool would be pleased to know that it performs just as well on these as we would expect. Certainly, the SMART plastic case is well-designed enough to hold a range of common accessories that might be used on a decorating job for example.

So, if you want a competent, well-priced multi-tool the SMART might be your answer. Combine it with the Purple Series blades and save yourself a lot of time and hassle too. 

 

Security from ABUS – Advanced Locks that Work

Aimed at: Anyone who needs a high quality padlock that both looks the part is very secure. 

Pros: Use of ne Titalium makes for both lightness and strength. 

 

It is a truism that security is only as good as the weakest point – and in my observations, the badly fitted hasp and staple or sliding bolt held on with nails are quite common on sheds and gates up and down the country. For these situations it would be pointless fitting one of the ABUS TITALIUM padlocks I was sent for review. With an ABUS security rating of 8/10 they are definitely not the weak point.

Handling the locks and working the keys makes one aware of just how up to date these padlocks are compared with some we commonly see on the market.

Firstly, the bodies are made from TITALIUM, an alloy developed by ABUS that consists largely of aluminium and titanium (hence the name) that is not only light but also extremely tough. The body exteriors of the locks are specially plated against corrosion, as well as being ground smooth, so that attacks with hammers and bars are more likely to bounce off than break the lock.

Just looking at the engineering of the bodies, it is clear that each has been milled from a single solid block of TITALIUM, so there are no seams or joints for a potential thief to exploit.

Secondly, as far as I could tell, the lock mechanisms are inserted tightly, right into the body of the locks – again obviating any exploitable gaps or weak points. The complex double-sided key is slid into the mechanisms and can be inserted any way up, thus saving time and hassle. A complex key and matching lock mechanism also makes picking the lock quickly highly unlikely. 

The all important shackles are another potential weak point, and no padlock I have used so far in my career has been proof against a cordless angle grinder, thin cutting disc and enough time. Thieves might not always have the time to use this noisy option, so it is a limited threat, but I have actually given up on the bolt cutter option when it became clear that I was more in danger of pulling a muscle than cutting the shackle. Those locks you see on the movies being cut with a flick of the bolt cutters must be specially made….

So just for devilment, I got out my bolt cutters to try to cut either of the two shackles. The Extra Classe 96 has a NANOPROTECT shackle that is designed to minimise access to it, so it is hard to get a bolt cutter near enough to engage the jaws. I did try very hard and managed to dent the shackle a bit, but there was no way I was going to be able to cut it.

On the Monobloc TI 98 the special alloy shackle is again difficult to access, and again I only made a dent on it with the bolt cutters.

One of the other security confidence builders is looking the part – and these two locks certainly do. With solid bodies and smooth exteriors they provide a deterrence factor by simply looking strong enough to repel all attacks.

These locks from ABUS may be an “old” security solution, but it is clear that the application of modern materials and design has made them still applicable in the 21st Century. 

Leatherman Surge – A Thoroughly Modern Multi-Tool

Aimed at: Those who need a high quality multi-tool for work or play.

Pros: Usable pliers and it doesn't bust your nails trying to get the blades out.

While some people rabbit on about Health and Safety as though they are bad – I take a different view. Changing rules on Health and Safety often allow us to take a fresh look, and the consequent redesign is usually much better – especially in the area of tools.

The first multi tool I coveted, years ago, was a crude device compared to the slick stainless steel Leatherman Surge that arrived on my desk a few days ago.

In its folded form, the Leatherman Surge is a weighty bit of kit that fits neatly into the palm of the hand. Made almost entirely from different grades of stainless steel, it is very well screwed together and there are no sharp bits sticking out. It feels like it will do the job!

The more I explored the features of the Surge, the more I came to appreciate just how much safer and more useful it is compared to my first multi tool.

Safety-wise it is simply great. All the blades are lockable so will not suddenly release to trap or cut an unwary finger. The big sharp knife blades will not open unless the handles are in the closed position – so basically they are available only when you need them.

Opening up all the tools is now not a job for steel fingernails – they are mostly released via a spring catch and a generous finger niche is provided to help them open out. On the other hand, both the serrated and standard knife blades can be opened with the flick of a thumb – something that I have come to appreciate when I have been been working on site.

There is also a bit of future proofing built in because key things that get blunt, like the wire cutters and reversible screwdriver bit, can be replaced very easily.

What set the original Leatherman apart from others was the inclusion of a pair of pliers that actually worked. The Surge carries on this tradition, but with bells on. The narrownose pliers are revealed by simply opening out the handles. Milled jaws provide a good grip on wire as well as small nuts and bolts and the wire cutters are VERY effective on both electrical wires and small gauge steel wire. Behind the fulcrum are an electrical wire cutter and crimper that work very well too.

Some multi tools claim to have legions of blades, but in my experience, they often don’t all work. This is not true of the Surge – all twenty blades are completely functional and some are ingenious. The scissors, for example, have a brilliant spring mechanism that means they actually work properly - I cut paper, card and hard plastic quite easily.

I was also pleased to see that this Surge came in a leather belt pouch with elasticated nylon sides that not only held the knife securely, but also had some space to accommodate a couple of spares like the diamond and metal file blades.

So, the Leatherman Surge is a really practical, modern and safe multi that would be perfect for campers, travellers and emergency trade use. I like it!

GYSMi 80P Welder - As Compact as You Dare?

Aimed at: General users who occasionally Weld.

Pros: A portable and capable little welder that can be brought anywhere. 

Remember when welders were so bulky you had to use them in a workshop or not at all? Sometimes they even had wheels to help you out a tiny bit. It wasn’t that long ago. But, in what seems like an almost single-handed quest to help welding reach the masses, the GYS Company in France has been using modern electronics to reduce the size and increase the capability and controllability of welders to the point where I have been reviewing and using a tiny welder that would literally fit into a child’s shoebox.

 

Measuring just 215mm long, 99mm wide and 143mm high and weighing in at around 2.5Kgs the GYSMi 80P has enough capability in its tiny casing to weld ferrous metals up to 5mm thick using welding rods from 1.6 to 2.5mm. With the right rods, steel, stainless steel and and cast iron can be welded. With its perfect portability it makes sense that this is a “go anywhere” welder for small tasks such as mending farm gates and steel frame buildings, so it is also great to know that it can be used in conjunction with a portable generator as low as 3kW capacity.

The GYSMi 80P is the smallest of a small series of welders that increase in size and capability in steps up to a very capable 200 amps and 5mm welding rods, so users can choose the machine to suit the tasks envisaged. They all have some very advanced technology built in, clearly the bigger they are, the more the technology that can be included.

However, the GYSMi 80P is no slouch. Electronic technologies have a great part to play in welding because they can be used to monitor the human input as well as the heat, current etc taking place at the welding point. Using all this data, the welder can optimise the weld so that even inexperienced welders can end up with an acceptable result. And with overheating etc overrides built in the user has the reassurance that he will not damage the machine by using it inexpertly.

This outcome is something that our Continental friends have been able to access for many years because welding is very much part of their DIY and light trade culture. I can only guess that in the past in the UK we have either been too scared of welding as it is seen as “dangerous” or “too specialised” or even too expensive to invest in for occasional use.

To give some examples of how the GYSMi 80P helps make better welders of its users, the electronics helps with some of the following: - The so called Hot Start increases the current at the start of the weld so that the user can get the weld going. This avoids the stop/start of the welding rod that many new to welding experience that usually results in a series of blobs on the welding line. In my short experience of using the machine the Hot Start feature was the feature that helped me get a weld going smoothly so that I could judge the feed rate of the welding rod.

The next feature is Arc Force – this increases the current when the electrode enters into melted metal created by the weld and then tends to stick. Again, this allows the user to remove the electrode and move on as smoothly as possible into the weld.

The Anti Sticking feature is the one that also helped me in my experience of welding. I tend to get a lot of “sticks” because I don’t feed the electrode smoothly and evenly enough to get that desired “ribbed” look of a successful weld.

Since becoming known as having a welder in my workshop I have had a number of requests to weld a few things. One of these was a set of weighted volleyball net holders whose legs had broken off from being bent over too far. In the end, it was a simple matter of realigning and then reattaching the legs by a couple of straight (ish?) welds. They are still in daily use weeks later, so my weld must have been good enough.

Other uses have been a couple of short welds for a friend who fancies himself as a sculptor. He is already talking about borrowing my GYSMi, but with a price of around the £100 for a ready to go kit, I am sure he could afford his own.

From the dealer point of view, welders like the GYSMi 80P are now not really any more specialised than some woodworking machines or power tools that they might stock. There could be many advantages in taking on a new line. Some dealers I have spoken to in rural areas have seen increases in business by stocking welding gear.

Like many other products, the welding machines are very competitively priced, but welding accessories are an absolute requirement for continued use, and these can help dealers develop healthy sales in electrodes, gloves, masks and other small tools.

It only takes one member of a sales force to have a bit of training and experience in welding for him/her to become a bit of an expert. At its HQ in Rugby, GYS UK is able to give the necessary training and product knowledge required to successfully stock and sell welders.

There is lots to like about the GYSMi 80P – not least of which is the fact that it is ready to go – all you really need to add are some suitable electrodes and basic safety kit like mask and gloves etc. And I have to say there is something very satisfying about being able to make a simple and quick, and hopefully long lasting repair, to something using a suitable weld. I have done the vain attempts to bind a pair of metal pieces together with wire, only to see the repair fail as the whole thing moves or falls apart because the strength of the repair is simply not good enough. And with a machine that helps you to be a better welder via its electronics – I will take that any day. 

Unlocking ABUS UK – 21st Century Security Solutions

Report by Peter Brett

History Means a Lot

The ABUS story starts in the village of Volmarstein, Germany, in 1924 when August Bremicker and his sons (hence AB und S = ABUS) founded the company. Initially they made padlocks and accompanying hasps and staples in the cellar of the family home, but 92 years later ABUS production is based in five different German locations, and two Chinese plants with worldwide partnerships and subsidiaries. Its 3000 or so employees are urged to live up to ABUS’ motto of “Security built on quality” so ABUS is justifiably proud of its market-leading security solutions for homes and mobile objects aimed to provide ‘the good feeling of security’

Founder August Bremicker and his family had very strong Christian values and these principles still guide his great grandsons who head the company today.  Honesty and integrity in dealing with customers, suppliers and staff are very important, as well as more current preoccupations like “green” issues and energy usage that have strong implications for the future of next generations. For example, ABUS production methods are so stringent that pollution from its factories is a fraction of current EU targets.

The UK’s current debate over a living wage has not been an issue at any ABUS operations.

There have been many milestones along the way since production restarted in 1947 after World War II. These include the iconic Diskus Padlock in 1949 – still an icon today set apart by its German production and trademark ‘Diskus’ logo.

Increasing demand and market share made it necessary to open the Rehe factory in 1957 in Westerwald, which is now also the centre for developing and testing commercial, domestic and mobile security products.  Rehe is the production base for the ABUS ‘Granit’ padlock range.

1957 also saw the introduction of the first brass padlocks on the market, the ABUS no 75, followed swiftly in 1958 by the first ABUS bicycle lock and a telephone lock. I remember my mum had one to stop my elder sister from having long teenage telephone conversations while she was at work!

The first bicycle U-lock was launched in 1971 and has been much copied, as was ABUS’ first additional retrofit window lock.

With the demand for extra home security solutions in the seventies, ABUS produced a range of retrofit domestic door locking products and the oil tank lock from 1981 again reflected the needs of consumers during the 2nd oil crisis.

In the “noughties” ABUS acquired the Pfaffenhain cylinder system company based in Saxony and later the Security Centre Company that enabled it to expand its competence into video surveillance and alarms as well. By 2008 modern security needs required the development of the Secvest 2WAY danger detection system which combined fire and intruder protection and in 2011 ABUS was selected as a security system “best for children” for its range of “child friendly” locks.

A relatively new development, also located at the Westerwald factory, is the ABUS Academy. Its modern facilities are used to train and inform ABUS’ distributors and installers about ABUS security products and general security issues, so their business partners have the best information about both ABUS security solutions and the security industry in general.

This lightning tour of ABUS’ past history is complemented with the introduction of the new series of TITALIUM padlocks in 2012 – a brand new alloy developed by ABUS using, amongst other metals, titanium and aluminium, to create a padlock body that provides a lower cost alternative to brass, but with equal or higher security rating – and the image of solid steel!.  This month sees the launch of shutter and closed shackle TITALIUM padlocks offering further high value and security.

ABUS in the UK – Markets, Marketing and Products

Inevitably there are always differences in the way that markets operate in different countries and Nick Vanderhoest, MD of the UK subsidiary of ABUS has had the job of managing ABUS’ growth since 2006 when CK stopped marketing ABUS and started marketing its own brand of locks independently. Today the bulk of ABUS UK’s padlock business is been managed via wholesale partners Toolbank, Hoppe and Aldridge.

However, markets don’t stay the same. Increasing internet sales and the introduction of more complicated electronic security products using smart technology and video recording, has meant that ABUS has had to develop its own team of experts and additional specialised distribution.

ABUS has not ignored the impact of the likes of Amazon and other internet sales companies, nor have they ignored the big retailers like Screwfix and B&Q and this has meant the development of a range of strategies to keep customers happy. 

The sizeable premises in Avonmouth near Bristol, is home to a team of sales and support staff who manage all the functions of a modern subsidiary. IT, as we would expect, is a key area, with roles in communication, accounts and product development. Each area of ABUS’ security products has its own dedicated Product Manager, whose role it is to explain and develop products and markets, support sales staff and all the other 101 things that come up.

Marketing is also an inevitable part of explaining and expanding awareness of products, and this important role is filled by Sarah Utley, the lady with the “In” tray that is constantly being filled with new demands – some from this magazine.

The building also houses a substantial warehouse space needed for stock as well as cylinder system assembly, servicing and demonstration space for new products and ranges.

Nick is a mine of information about the UK market for security products and how it differs from other markets – particularly the continental market, where security needs differ greatly than in some sectors of the UK.

One example he quoted was window security, where screw type sash locks are considered enough for most purposes in the UK. However, Germany and continental Europe they have floor to ceiling windows that can be tilted or fully open for ventilation and for easy cleaning. These windows provide a significant security risk, because they are easily big enough for an adult to enter through, and big enough to manoeuvre a giant flat screen TV through as well. ABUS has been providing both inbuilt and retrofit window locks for these types of windows for many years and continental householders think nothing of spending €100 or more for secure locks on each window. Hard to imagine an average UK householder spending £80 on door or window locks…… And yet with the more and more modern buildings with walls of glass being built in the UK, it will be only a matter of time, so perhaps specialist security retailers will need to start looking around at the products needed to fulfil the demand. 

It is a similar story with UK home security. As some readers may know already from continental holidays, each European manufacturer may have a range of different keyways to fit a continental euro cylinder lock. This means that European potential thieves would have to have literally hundreds of “bump keys” if trying to access a home via the ‘bumping’ method. However, in the UK, 95% of us use the 1A Yale keyway. While this is convenient for distributors cutting extra keys, limiting the range of key blanks distributors have to stock, it also means that a potential thief has to carry only one “bump key” to potentially gain entry to most UK domestic locks.

ABUS promotes it’s high quality cylinders as the ‘brain’ of the door, and rather promotes correct size cylinders protected by internally fitted strong door furniture across many often patented different key profiles as the better door cylinder security solution.   ABUS has just developed and launched a solution to consumers’ varying cylinder size requirements with its ‘Modular’ cylinder lock system that both minimises the sizes of cylinders distributors need to stock while adding extra strength against ‘snapping’ type break ins.

But as we would expect, Nick is also keen to tell us about the latest developments that ABUS has been making in “Mechatronic” (access control via a combination of top class mechanical security with electronic programming) and video security. Ironically this area has grown in the UK because some ABUS dealers have asked the company to help them install their own security system. The knowledge gained with involvement in installing the system has then led to the dealer to be able to confidently recommend and manage the more complicated sales process involved in installing a mechatronic system.

ABUS cylinder systems are already used in a number of high profile buildings like the Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai, Wembley Stadium and the Gherkin, and ABUS confidently predicts their Mechtronic solutions will be exploited in similar icons. Security issue in large organisations will be complex, with staff needing access to clean and service, while clients need the reassurance of security for themselves and their possessions.

This can now be achieved via electronic key fobs using 6 digit pin numbers that are almost impregnable to either manipulation due to the millions of combinations they offer, and their inherent mechanical strength and quality.

Either commercial or domestic needs can take advantage of this system, but it is not too much of a stretch to see that as the systems become more common (and therefore cheaper) these simple to operate systems will become the norm for “ordinary” householders to programme in unique numbers to allow a plumber access at a certain time, enable the Ocado delivery and let the kids in after school. Done remotely via a smartphone, AirBnB owners could manage a unique access time and code for their individual guests.  ABUS successfully sells many thousands of “key garages” for carer or holiday homes access.  But the mechatronic solution eliminates the potential “key garage” risk where actual house keys could be stolen or copied, and where guests inadvertently or deliberately reset a new “key garage” combination.

Increasingly, even home security now involves the use of video cameras to record movements and events. ABUS’ latest contribution to this are high technology low cost camera systems that are able to use existing analogue cabling to record high resolution digital images that can be used to identify individuals or car number plates.

The ABUS Academy can help provide extra information and training and ABUS’ team of individual Product Managers and Sales team can all be involved in helping clients choose and install a security system that is suitable for particular premises.

By now, readers should be able to gauge that ABUS’ knowledge of security is in-depth and extensive and this is reflected in the range of security solutions the company offers. Whether it is a cylinder lock for a front door, a disc brake lock for an expensive motorcycle or a surveillance and security system for a luxury house, the ABUS people have the expertise to recommend and supply a system that suits – whether this is in the UK or pretty well anywhere else in the world.

My big realization after our visit to ABUS UK is that I need to wake up a bit when it comes to my home and workshop security. And perhaps this is also a message that ABUS dealers could be passing on to customers. Increased security may not always cost that much extra, but as Nick told us, security is only as good as the weakest link and even a determined thief can be put off by the extra time that that extra bit of security might buy us. Time for a security evaluation I think. 

ABUS’ Security Viewpoint

I’d like to firstly stress the vital point of ABUS’ Christian belief.  We live today in a multi-faith country and world, but whatever one’s personal creed, faith or doctrine, we hope all our customers recognise, as do all ABUS staff, the very real benefit of the high ethical code on which all ABUS business is conducted.

This links strongly with the ABUS’ insistence on constant high quality of material and manufacture, and as Peter has already pointed out our founding statement is “Security built on quality”.

While on links, I also pick up and emphasise Peter’s point on security being as strong as the weakest link.  We see unbalanced situations where containers full of high value merchandise are secured by a brass padlock, or where a garden shed with high value leisure goods is secured with a Granite padlock, but the shed door needs only a screwdriver to take off the hinges.  So the fundamental rule of security is recognising all potential points of entry, and ensuring balanced appropriate security for the risk and value is comprehensively applied.  Police advise on cycle and motorcycle security is to spend at least 10% of the value you are protecting on security devises.  This commercial advice can be applied to all security applications.

I also stress Peter’s comments on the varying security needs in different countries, which as an international manufacturer and supplier of security solutions leaves ABUS with the continual challenge, to think global and act local.

I am very proud to work for the brand ABUS, and while we strive for perfection, recognise we sometimes may fall short of all expectations.  We none the less genuinely believe that ABUS, through our valued customers and UK distribution does make a genuine valuable contribution to ‘the good feeling of security’.

Nick Vanderhoest – Managing Director - ABUS UK

 

Snickers All Round Work Trousers-Comfortable, Hardwearing and Above All, Stylish

The days of workmen and women turning out in jeans and a scrappy T-shirt are pretty well over.

We have all been blessed with a highly competitive market in work wear that ensures that pretty well 100% of work people have access to practical and hard wearing work wear.

But not all work wear is equal, as I have found to my cost, especially when I have impulse-bought cheaper trousers. My most common complaint is with the depth and placement of the pockets and of course the all important bending and kneeling test that can reveal just how much material has been saved in certain areas???

On the other hand, the Snickers All Round Work Trousers I have been wearing on site for the last week and a half have been incredibly comfortable and I am already considering the need for a second pair, despite the fact that they are not the cheapest trousers on the market.

It is only with extended wear that I have become aware of just how thoughtfully they have been designed and almost each day I have been surprised by one or other feature.

So, some facts: - they are made in Grey Cordura Nylon which is hardwearing, easy to wash and dries quite quickly too – especially over a radiator – so next day wear is on the cards if a spare pair is not available. Sizing couldn’t have been easier – although it was a bit of a shock to discover my growing waistline, the tape measure reading was spot on. To help you remember your size for easy next purchase, an orange tab on the leg reminds you and everyone else what your size is.

Belt loops are strong and frequent, including a double length loop at the back, so there is no gapping.

My first thought on all the pockets (I counted 15 of them) was that I surely wouldn’t need as many, but in the course of wearing the trousers I used them all, including the zipped holster pocket which held my phone and protected it from dust etc. The front holster pockets are simply great for holding screws, small tools etc and there are enough of them to allow me separate different sizes of screws, nails and bits. The standard front pockets are deep enough to hold car keys and change without any danger of them falling out if you have to kneel or bend. On the rear of the hips are a couple of tool loops as well as a screwdriver/plier loop on the right leg. One of the spacious rear pockets has a flap for safe holding of a wallet or even documents, while the other is a great place for a handful of sizeable nails or screws.

Custom kneepads are slotted into pockets on the knees – again so convenient to use and they didn’t end up halfway down my shins.

Two of the best aids to comfort is the stretch material used in the crotch and the ventilated knee sections.

Perhaps the best thing was that my clients both commented on how stylish and smart the trousers looked when I wore them. A small thing perhaps, but looks do count, and I can’t find any fault with the design either. These trousers definitely fall into my “Highly Recommended” category and I will continue proudly to wear them.

I also had the good fortune to try out the Solid Gear work shoes. These are in a “Tough Trainer” style with a Vibram sole and padded, moisture wicking inside. Key for me was the Boa Closure System on the shoes that allow almost instant tightening and releasing of the “laces”. On the particular job I was working on it was a great hit with me and the clients as I could quickly change shoes every time I went from indoors to outdoors without having to trail mud on the carpets and floors. I can foresee a time when all work shoes will be made like this…. 

For more information on Snickers Workwear and the Hultafors Brand, please visit www.hultaforsgroup.co.uk

Seventec stepladder from Zarges – Safe Working at Height

Aimed at: Professional fitters. 

Pros: Rigid safe and in all weather conditions with lumniscent Hi-Vi Strips.

Zarges is a company to look at when it comes to innovative solutions to new working at height products that conform to latest Health and Safety rulings. But the company is also not beyond innovating just because innovation to reflect new materials and markets is a good thing per se.

As it happens, I have been doing several jobs recently that have involved the extensive use of “hop-ups” and small ladders. As I have got older I have increasingly become less of a fan of ladders higher than three metres or so, but the arrival of the Zarges Seventec series is right within my comfort zone and also suits my main purposes very well.

 

The Seventec Series consists of three work platforms with double sided access, extra wide treads and working heights ranging from 2.49m to 2.99m.

The taller work platform with single sided access also has three versions with working heights from 2.66m to 3.08m and these are followed by the Seventec stepladder range, all optimised for safer working outdoors.

The three models have working heights ranging from 2.7m to 3.1m and I was sent the latter to try out.

I must admit that when I saw the ladder in its transit packaging lying in the ToolBusiness office I was concerned that it might be too big to fit into my hatchback, but with the packaging removed it was a good fit, with the top section fitting snugly over the passenger headrest so that it wouldn’t move around in transit. Of course this also means that it would fit nicely onto a roof rack or inside an average sized van with no trouble at all, and with a weight of only 8.1 Kgs it is easy to carry and shift about.

The stability test is a good “first impression” test that I always try when I have to use a ladder. This usually tells me whether the ladder feels too light or flexible to feel safe under my feet as I climb.

The Zarges Seventec is easy to open via the integrated platform hinge that does not have any play in it at all, so the two sections of the ladder very stably bonded together. The two side locking arms are made from substantial alloy strips and lock positively when pushed down. So, first impressions on opening the ladder and setting it up on a reasonably flat surface were that it felt very stable and solid, with very little “play” other than the necessary flexibility required for easy movement of the parts relative to each other.

The other thing that I think offers that “extra-stable” feeling is that the uprights on the ladder seem to have an upward taper on them that is much less than “normal ladders.” As a result, the ladder feels wider than many I have used and the wide treads offer more than enough space for working–boot clad feet.

I wondered a bit about how the Zarges team had managed to achieve such rigid upright pieces, but a close examination gives the answer: - on each side of each upright there are two deep U-shaped folds that would prevent distortion of the extrusions anyway, but then, since each tread is riveted into these folds, (four rivets per tread) the rigidity is increased still further.

Actually, the more I used the ladder, the more I came to appreciate its stable and “safe” feel and became quite comfortable working at maximum height on the few occasions that I needed it when doing particularly high ceilings.

I used the ladder largely indoors, but in many ways, its real forte is as an outdoor ladder. The large safety platform of roughly 380mmby 260mm is substantial and provides easily enough space for big boots.

However, it is the 85mm deep treads that are one of the real contributions to outdoor safety, even in wet, snowy or muddy conditions. Without making the treads feel flimsy, a series of holes have been punched into the stepping area of each. The holes alternate between being punched either upwards or downwards. The upwards punched holes tend to provide grip for snowy or muddy feet, and their slight roughness gives grip on the rubber soles of work shoes.  The downward punched holes allow water and slushy or melted snow to drain through them and then away – so no dangerous small puddles of wet collect to be a hazard.

Added to these are twelve longitudinal ribs that are part of the extrusion. They are sharp enough to add to the grippy feel that is transmitted to the sole of workboots, so the overall feel of the ladder underfoot is that your feet are secure and unlikely to slip.

On each ladder upright, near the bottom is a substantial strip of reflective and luminescent tape that tells passers by that a ladder (possibly with someone on it) is there. And then there is the issue of the all-important ladder feet to consider. Some ladders seem to have an afterthought of a plastic moulding stuck on the bottom of each upright, but this Zarges Seventec has almost what could be called “shoes” on each foot. They extend several cm up the legs and fit snugly so they will not move. A big rivet on the inside of each leg means that they are not going to drop out or fall off.

Underneath each “shoe” is a series of deep ribs that provide good grip on smooth and rough surfaces and will prove to be long lasting too, in my opinion.

One of the things that really helped my feeling of confidence when using this ladder is that the tread side uprights have been extended upwards beyond the platform and then topped with a retainer that provides a solid reminder of where you are so that you don’t overreach or overstep. This is also used as a tray for small tools and parts. At the top of each upright is a strong plastic fitting that provides a hook for adding a workshelf for tools etc. So much easier than having to replace stuff into trouser pockets.

Overall, using this ladder, I had a strong impression that a lot of thought had gone into making a piece of equipment that is really fit for purpose, stable, strong and safe to use. I felt confident using it, and that, for me, is a huge plus. 

For more inforamation on Zarges, please visit www.zarges.com

Take it Easy with Wera Tool Sets

Aimed at: Proffesional fitters and mechanics. 

Pros: Easy to locate and identify the tools in their wallets or in a crowded toolbox. Pro spec means they are tough and help achieve a good job.

Wera users are familiar with the incremental approach to development that their new products have. Sometimes not so revolutionary but evolutionary, these tools develop and change, but never leave their past behind. So my ten-year-old Rapidaptor still fits the most modern Wera hex bit set, even though it may have lost some of its original purpose due to the increased use of impact drivers and the specialist bits needed for impact work.

On review this month are two of the smaller sets from Wera that really reflect how the tools are developed in order to improve the end user experience and make their lives “simpler, safer and full of joy”, the essence of the Wera mission statement.

I will start with the smaller of the two – the Kraftform Kompakt Zyklop Mini 2. It is packed into the dramatic black Wera packaging that says “quality and high value” to anyone who looks at it or handles it. Inside the box is the rigid-sided nylon wallet with a hook and loop closure to keep the contents secure. Underneath the wallet closure are two small ratchets moulded in plastic that can be used to identify the set by sight or by touch if the set is in the bottom of a toolbox for example. A subtle detail, but an interesting example of where the Wera mission statement is really applied – no detail is too small to be included.

Inside are 27 pieces all neatly attached into rows where they can easily be seen and accessed.

On the “lid” of the wallet is a row of 15 hex shanked drivers. The line starts with a square socket drive that will fit into the driving tools and it has a ballbearing socket retainer so that the sockets can be held securely. It is followed by a Pozi 1 and 2 bit, Phillips 1 and 2 bits, six Torx bits from size 40 to 10, and four hex bits from 6 to 3. Each is identified by its laser markings and is easy to replace in the flexible rubber loops. If you are a careful worker, they all get replaced correctly each time in their allotted spots, which will save you time searching. I am only as organised as that sometimes….

On the “side “of the wallet is a row of nine mini-sockets with popular sizes from 13mm to 4mm. They are mini-sockets since they are just 18mm deep and are designed that way to be as slim and as compact as possible. Intended users are fitters who often operate on small apparatus in limited spaces – think computer fitting technicians, specialist electronics etc. The sockets are firmly held in place on square plastic pegs and will not move in transit, and the laser etched identification marks are also echoed in the white stitching of the sizes on the wallet itself – no real excuse to be disorganised with the sockets.

On the other “side” of the wallet is a small Kraftform Kompakt driver handle. Obviously not intended for applying higher torque, it is small enough to be used in fingertips for delicate operations. The highly magnet hex socket will hold all standard size 6mm hex bits and with the ¼ inch square driver bit in the set, the sockets can be used as well. 

Finally we come to the mini-Zyklop ratchets – Zyklop Mini 1 and Zyklop Mini 2. I can always understand how people might want to fidget with these ratchets because they are so smoothly finished and well made that they are just very tactile. But that is to miss the point somewhat because they are also fully functioning ratchet tools with a fine tooth ratchet giving 6 degrees of turn for use in tiny spaces. The extra slim heads on the ratchets mean that they will fit almost anywhere and be able to function as intended.

Zyklop Mini 1 is just 85mm long and the ratchet head itself is just 12mm thick. Even with a driver bit in, it is only 28mm thick.

The more meaty Zyklop Mini 2 is 105mm long with an 11mm hex drive socket on the end. The sockets fit snugly into this and are retained securely by a sprung ring, so no need to worry that they are going to fall into the machinery and cause havoc.

Moving to the less romantically named 8740 c HF 1 we find a similar story in the packaging and presentation, but this time there is a hex drive socket on the front of the wallet for identification.

Inside are just nine tools – hex drivers intended for use in heavy duty mechanical engineering and automotive industries. You can really see and feel the difference between the delicate sockets in the Zyklop Mini set and these ones. They would be perfectly at home even on the extended version of the big Zyklop ratchet reviewed last month.

But even here amongst the toughies, Wera has managed to introduce a bit of sophistication to make users’ lives easier. The ½ inch drive sockets all have a deep ring around them into which are baked different colours that serve to identify them visually by colour. They are also laser etched in large letters (I didn’t need my glasses) on the drivers and to aid replacement in the wallet, white nylon stitching marks their positions as well. It could be as simple as telling the assistant to “pass me a red”  (the 6mm driver).

Because these are heavy duty tools, Wera has not simply relied on a friction fit to keep the tools secure in their wallet. The new release and retaining system uses a quick half twist on the anchors to release or retain them.

Another little bit of sophistication and usefulness is that the hex driver ends have been tweaked to serve as a holder function for the fastenings that they will be used to drive. This involves a spring – loaded ball bearing right on the tip of the driver where it will fit into the socket of the hex bolt and this will hold the bolt well enough so that it can be fitted into place before it is tightened.

 

For those lucky enough to have a workbench or mobile trolley to hold their tools Wera has also included a strong strip of self-adhesive hook and loop material that can be fixed to a smooth surface.  This enables workers to have a favoured kit on hand nearby.

These kits are aimed at different ends of the technicians’ market and yet still have the common thread of innovation and developmental improvement that Wera lavishes on its products. I think that is the reason why Wera continues to enjoy a loyal following of tool users and dare I say, “Tool Rebels.” 

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