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In today’s facilities, technology seems ubiquitous. Work orders are issued via hand-held computers. Tool and key tracking software can tell storeroom clerks the precise second an item was checked out. And microprocessor-based control systems locate problems within HVAC systems.
While many maintenance and engineering efforts increasingly are based upon microchips, some are not. Some maintenance efforts still focus on more traditional concerns, such as performance and durability.
Although door closers and operators won’t likely receive embedded microchips or infrared communication ports anytime soon, door hardware manufacturers continue to refine their product lines, focusing upon low-maintenance devices that readily withstand high-abuse environments in institutional and commercial facilities.
Custom designs, technical support, and application recommendations are other ways in which today’s door hardware manufacturers solve their customers’ maintenance and specification needs.
When door hardware does not perform properly, it often damages more than just the affected component. Maintenance managers in high-abuse environments often have to replace hinges, latches or jambs, and worry about vandalism or security concerns caused by improperly performing doors. According to door hardware manufacturers, the latest trend within their industry is to build products that withstand these environments and ease maintenance concerns.
Michael Pen, Sargent Manufacturing Company’s product development team leader, says the company crafts products that are designed for durability.
“In 1999, we released a series of heavy-duty closers specifically created for high-abuse applications,” he says. The company conducts 300-pound hang tests on closer unit arms to ensure they don’t bend or fail under extreme duress. Pen adds that closers feature overload protection devices and pressure-release valves.
“We think of ourselves as a total-opening company, which means that we’re concerned about the safety of building occupants when they use doorways, but we’re also concerned about the opening itself,” Pen says. “Our goal is to help protect the hinges, doorjambs and frame.”
Managers can minimize abuse to both closers and door frames by specifying closers which use relief valves and oil bypass ports. Sargent also improves simplicity by offering closers in one size and that are universal, or non-handed.
Norton Door Closers is also focusing upon improved durability and ease of installation, says Ken Tursam, Norton’s design manager. The company’s current product line includes closers with modified arms that are designed to be more durable and less likely to be damaged by vandals. Aside from damage to closer arms, Tursam says one of the other ways to ruin a closer is by pushing it closed faster than its regular rate of return.
“When a door returns too slowly and it is forced closed by someone, it puts the hydraulics inside the closer under extreme pressure,” he says. “Then oil gets where it isn’t supposed to, and the closer’s lifespan is shortened.”
As a result, Norton’s products incorporate pressure-relief valves that help divert internal fluids to help avoid broken closers. Norton also changed some internal parts in its line of concealed overhead closers from plastic to metal to increase durability. The company’s new electronic limit switch detects doorway obstructions to further limit damage to the door or closer.
“Our newest product is a simpler swing-door operator,” says Mark Dugo, director of sales for Dor-O-Matic. “We find that many specifiers want something that’s easier to install and takes less time to install.”
To satisfy those requests, Dor-O-Matic created a single-sized operator with fewer features than its standard swing door operators, resulting in a lower-cost operator that suits a wider variety of facility needs.
To alleviate vandalism worries, the company’s tamperproof designs often incorporate a heavy-duty unit encased at the base of the doorway, Dugo says.
“Another of our interests is improving installation requirements,” Tursam says. “We’re tailoring our instructions because we’ve found that more and more of the folks who install door hardware may not have ever performed such a task before. And English may not be their first language.” As a result, Norton is equipping many of its closers with self-drilling screws and full-size installation templates.
“We’re also tailoring the instructions,” Tursam says, “with fewer words and more graphics, making it easier for non-English-speaking installers.”
Almost every door hardware manufacturer uses tamper-resistant screws to deter potential vandals in high-abuse environments, such as high schools and detention centers.
Abusive environments are particularly hard on closers and operators. But the maintenance ramifications extend beyond simply replacing door hardware.
When doors are pushed beyond their normal stops, hinges tear away from doorjambs, often requiring replacement of the hinges and jamb. When doors are forced closed faster than the regular return rate, the hydraulics inside closers can fail, resulting in doors that slam closed or don’t close at all. And when door operators are abused, internal gears or motors can fail.
When doors do not latch or fail to close completely, their ability to withstand fire plummets dramatically. Likewise, doors that fail to open with standard opening force might limit egress in the event of fire. Because of such concerns, it is imperative to both the facilities that rely on door hardware and to manufacturers, that durability is maximized and failure rates minimized.
Central to creating heavy-duty closers and operators — and complying with ANSI, ADA, NFPA and other guidelines and standards — are rigorous tests, both at a manufacturer’s in-house testing facility and in independent laboratories.
Often, these component functions overlap. For example, the same closer shield that keeps oil from combusting in a fire can also serve to deter vandals.
Pen says one of the door closer tests to gain UL listing includes an oil combustibility test. To meet the requirements of this fire test, companies have to keep a closer’s hydraulic oil from combusting when on the cool side of the doorway.
Because fire safety is so important to facilities, many companies now incorporate smoke detectors into the closers. Sargent’s offering uses optical smoke detectors that spot airborne smoke particles.
“The detectors will cut the power circuit, and the closer-holder release devices closes the door to maintain fire safety integrity,” Pen says.
From time to time, maintenance and engineering managers are confronted by applications or environments that require special closers or operators. In such cases, a manufacturer’s standard product line might not contain products that suit a facility’s needs. For this reason, many manufacturers work with specifiers to create or modify products to meet a facility’s requirements.
According to Dugo, Dor-O-Matic routinely builds customized doorway devices to suit customer specifications.
“We recently created custom doors for a school in Iowa where the door was on an 8-degree slope,” Dugo says.
While Norton doesn’t build products to specification, the company makes a line of devices for unusual applications. For example, Tursam says Norton makes a device that operates pocket doors. The company also has a technical product support (TPS) division that helps customers modify closers and door frame considerations for almost any environment.
“Last week,” Tursam says, “we had a customer who had a brick pillar next to a gate. He wanted to open and close the gate by placing the closer on the pillar and the arm on the gate. Our TPS team helped him figure out how to do it.”
Norton also is one of the few companies to manufacture the ‘pot-belly’ style closer, a traditional design that uses a coiled spring inside the closer housing to return the door to a closed position, rather than hydraulic oils.
“You often see them in old churches and some older university buildings,” Tursam says. “They’re ideal for retrofit applications or for specifiers who want an authentic-appearing closer device.”
In constructing door closers and operators with greater durability and easier installation, door hardware manufacturers are striving to meet the needs of today’s maintenance managers. For unique applications or special situations, it’s important for managers remember to communicate with door hardware manufacturers — they often can create custom designs, or come up with creative applications for existing products, that suit institutional and commercial maintenance needs.