Rolling Through Tradition

Bert Brown Comments
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It's a basic, critical component of storage facilities across the globe. Few people pay it much heed. But without it, our industry would lose its trademark image: clean rows of buildings, perfectly lined with colorful quadrangles in symmetrical pride.

The self-storage roll-up door is not an American invention, but an evolution of products influenced by many cultures. By some accounts, the earliest roll-up, curtain-style doors were founded in the Middle East, probably a creation of Greece, Israel or Southern Italy. The first curtain doors were simple corrugated sheets of steel, cold-riveted together to form the door curtain. The dead-axle assembly was counterbalanced with clock-type wound springs.

Australian Ingenuity

In 1946, Arthur Byrne and Paul Davidson founded a steel-fabrication and boiler-making business in Australia, which they named B&D. A door design from the Middle East is believed to have inspired them to revolutionize a modern and more marketable roll-up curtain door. In 1956, the company launched its new product and coined the Roll-A-Door name.

The door was manufactured from a press-braked curtain sheet and featured several patented ideas, such as a curtain-wear strip known as Nylofelt, still used by many manufacturers. In 1968, Byrne & Davidson Industries Ltd. became a public company, and the Roll-A-Door name was licensed to Porcelain Veneer Inc. for production in the United States. By 1977, Roll-A-Door was sold and licensed in 17 countries.

Porcelain Veneer originally manufactured porcelain enamel panels for the service-station industry. The company later added facings to its product line by manufacturing sun and shade screens. With the addition and success of the roll-up door, the company formed a new business, Porvene Roll-A-Door.

Which Came First?

Timing could not have been better for Porvene, as self-storage—which would fuel the popularity of the roll-up door—was about to take off. But some speculate the revolutionary door was actually responsible for the industry’s success. If not for the roll-up door, what alternatives would have been available to developers? Metal swing doors are not only costly, they aren’t very marketable. And while sectional garage doors are economical, they’re still more expensive than roll-ups. Their use becomes even more impractical when you consider the high installation labor.

The roll-up door seems to have added financial feasibility to the storage industry. At the very least, the two have been mutually beneficial. The first-generation roll-up doors manufactured in North America provided the self-storage market a cost-effective product. It offered easy operation afforded by its dead-axle design; Nylofelt curtain-wear stripping provided durability; and the strong corrugated sheet provided the necessary security.

Changing Market

In the mid-1970s, Harry Finch and Gaza Sayer introduced the first live-axle design, which made use of a glued-on curtain-wear strip, under the name Roll-Right. This second-generation door provided significant cost savings in manufacturing, material and labor. Arguably, the door did not operate as well or provide the same durability as its forerunner, but it found a home in the price-conscious storage industry.

As acceptance and awareness of the industry grew, the self-storage service boomed across the country. With increased use came new demands for all facets of the product, including doors. The second-generation model began to thrive—just like the industry in which it was used—and competing companies emerged to serve an expanding customer base and its needs.

Mother of Invention

The second-generation doors did not hold up well to increased use. Original live-axle designs allowed the steel axle to rotate within a steel collar on the bracket. With heavier wear and tear, doors began to experience a shearing of the axle at the bracket. While applying grease at the point of metal-to-metal contact helped prolong the life of the door, manufacturers found a long-term solution by using radial ball-bearings. In an effort to maintain production efficiency, most removed the wear strips from the curtain and incorporated them into the guide design. Because the doors remained in the down position virtually all the time, the springs would slowly relax, making the door difficult to open.

David Curtis introduced the first tension device for the second-generation door in 1998. It allowed facility-maintenance personnel to make easy and more accurate adjustments to the door tension, providing better operation. Other advancements were made by increasing the door’s resistance to cosmetic aging through the use of siliconized polyester paints and stainless-steel latches. The installation process was also simplified to increase productivity of field labor while reducing costs. With time, most product innovations became standard to the industry.

Theory of Evolution

Today, the self-storage industry is being influenced by a third generation of roll-up door, which incorporates the best features of the first and second generation. The first generation provided superior operation through the dead-axle design—so much so that the design is still incorporated into almost every door company’s high-end commercial and industrial door lines. From the second-generation door, the new product has adopted other design innovations, such as radial ball bearings, tension devices and stainless-steel locks.

Because of its manufacturing and design efficiencies, the third-generation door has claimed wide-scale desirability in the self-storage industry. More and more door companies are likely to adopt its features and advance the market through new design innovations. The good news is better door products will continue to emerge, providing storage developers with more marketable facilities.

Bert Brown is director of marketing for Janus International Corp., which manufactures a complete line of storage-facility components, ranging from roll-up sheet doors to self-supporting hallway systems. For more information, call 770.562.2850; visit www.janusintl.com.

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