March 16, 2022
By Dr. Ulrich Bourgund, President, Construction Fixings Europe
This article examines the importance and benefits of the ETA pathway to CE Marking for fastener manufacturers and end users of construction products.
Although small in size, the importance of fasteners to construction safety is widely recognized. Therefore, it is obvious that major changes to the CPR (Construction Product Regulation), as the legal framework for construction products in Europe, will have a substantial impact on the economics of the industry as well as on the level of safety of structures.
Fastening technology products are widely used in construction and play a major role in the functionality and safety of constructions. Fasteners are used in a wide range of construction applications such as tunnel construction, insulation, facades, ceiling and roof substructures, high rise steel railings, roofing, as well as the construction of bridges, which also demonstrates the enormous impact on productivity in this area.
In any case, it is easy to imagine what happens if the products of the respective application fail. A transparent level of security and a reliable installation are essential for constructions. The major accidents that have occurred in recent years around the world have clearly shown that this should not be taken for granted and requires continuous attention and a reliable and solid basis.
Options for generating harmonized European technical documents
To achieve a balanced level of costs and appropriate safety in construction, standards (hEN) have been developed for many years. In addition, a few years ago, the concept of European Technical Assessment (ETA) was developed to respond to requests in a more agile way, which was well received by many construction stakeholders. The ETA identifies product performance data for a specific set of applications and intended use cases, such as seismic loads or fire, depending on what the applications are subjected to. The basis for issuing an ETA is the EAD (European Assessment Document), which is a document generated by the European Organization for Technical Assessment (EOTA) for the relevant parameters identified in the CPR as requirements requirements for construction work – also known as basic work requirements. (BWR) in the EAD.
In Figure 1, the main differences between the hEN route and the ETA route are identified. It is obvious that the ETA path is by far more attractive for small and medium-sized companies, beyond the speed of development alone.
Development in Europe and worldwide
In recent years, harmonized European documents (ETA, EAD, hEN) have accelerated the technical development of fastening technology in Europe and many other countries. In some countries outside Europe, these documents are even accepted directly as reference documents. 2,800 ETA in the field of fastening technology in concrete and masonry have been granted to numerous companies in Europe and outside Europe.
One of the main intentions of the European Commission (EC) when developing the CPR was to improve and strengthen the common market. A common market requires transparent rules for identifying performance data for products in specific applications. Fastener product performance data via the ATE route covers over 54 application areas. The most important are displayed in figure two. Anchors glued into concrete have the highest number of ATEs among the 54 applications.
Further analysis of available data from various Member States indicates that the level of European technical harmonization still has substantial potential for growth. As an example, Figure 3 shows the number of European Technical Assessments for all construction products compared to National Assessment Documents for a Member State. Quite surprisingly, the number of European documents is only around 10% of national documents, which clearly indicates the level of potential for improvement in technical harmonisation.
Important aspects from an industry point of view
The wide recognition and dynamics of the ETA path clearly indicate that this concept strongly supports the future development of the common market as envisaged by the EC. The great importance of the ETA route for the construction industry can be described in six essential dimensions:
- Strong attractiveness for small and medium-sized enterprises (availability of resources, confidentiality, scope for innovation).
- Fast reaction time on customer needs in construction (safety, productivity).
- Strong demand from the construction community, as this pathway is seen as an important driver for effective technical harmonization documents in Europe.
- Exceptional importance for strengthening the market leading position of European industry in certain construction sectors.
- Return on investment expected for European industry after more than 30 years of continuous and solid work on harmonized documents, which has been supported by respective industry and publicly funded research.
- Possibility of voluntary CE marking for products qualified via EAD/ETA for specific applications and intended uses.
Opportunities and risks for future revisions of the CPR
From the perspective of the fastener industry, as well as from the perspective of customers, the legal framework of the old CPD and the current CPR has triggered some momentum. New products and new applications have been continuously developed to such an extent that the range of applicability has been greatly expanded, and at the same time the performance of fastener products has almost doubled in some areas. Industry investment has led to a clear leadership position of the European fastener industry in the world.
To maintain the momentum and strengthen the European harmonization process, there are still opportunities to take into account in the European Commission’s review process. These include:
- The process of publication of EADs in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) still takes too long (sometimes several months), mainly motivated by formal or administrative reasons, which are beyond the control of the industry player.
- The interaction of public actors in the process of European technical harmonization (EC, EOTA, CEN and Member States) needs to be further developed to resolve conflict issues efficiently and quickly. It is imperative to avoid blocked processes.
- The current system deserves a more user-friendly and transparent “change management and documentation system”, which can be easily extended in a modular way for future new elements of the European construction product performance qualification system.
- Perhaps the greatest potential for improvement lies in market surveillance, which should be strengthened at European level and fully implemented in all Member States.
- The consistency of a future revised CPR can be improved by systematically engaging industry experts.
Of course, besides the opportunities, there are usually risks associated with the CPR review. The current effort to manage the EAD/ETA process should remain light and efficient, no additional effort or new formal burden should be asked of industrial players and any slowdown in speed should be avoided. These dimensions, as well as maintaining confidentiality when developing EAD for new products and/or new applications, are essential for the acceptance of the overall process by small and medium-sized manufacturers.
The transition from the current RPC to a revised RPC also needs to be carefully managed. The transition from CPD to CPR is now less than 10 years old and has taken years to implement, with some elements of the CPD era not yet fully transferred. Therefore, the implementation of a revised RPC should bear in mind that a meaningful and reasonably short transition period is important. This aspect should be developed under the direction of cost minimization.
The legal framework of construction products is discussed and analyzed with regard to the identification of the performance of the products in the respective application. Future work on revising the current CPP should take into account the strengths and successes of the current system and eliminate obvious weaknesses. The efforts, efficiency and costs associated with the development of harmonized European documents must be maintained at the current level, otherwise there is a great risk that European harmonization will not develop further and that manufacturers will return to national as far as possible.