On the Right Track? The New Safety Track

© 2004 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Summer 2004
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 60-62

On the Right Track?
The New Safety Track

"I like all you Navy boys. Every time we gotta go someplace to fight, you fellas always give us a ride." - Marine Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland) to Navy Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), "A Few Good Men," Columbia Pictures, 1992

That same backhanded compliment could be made by garage door sections to garage door track. Sections get all the glory, but every time they go somewhere, the track faithfully gives them a ride.

Over the past 75 years, the glamorous garage door section has enjoyed innumerable face lifts and design changes, but the dutiful garage door track is about the same as it was in 1930.

Until now. In recent months, certain manufacturers have introduced significant changes to this essential garage door component handled daily by every garage door installer throughout the world.

"Arrow Tru-Line honestly feels that it has come up with a substantial improvement to overhead door track," says Dave Shaffer, president, "perhaps the most revolutionary improvement in 75 years."

What's New?

The latest development is primarily a safety feature, continuing a healthy industry trend toward safer garage door operation. The new track features blunted edges that reduce the likelihood of getting cut by the sharp edges of steel track.

Two different approaches are being used to blunt the edge: hemmed edges or curled edges (more on that later). Three companies appear to be leading this trend for safer track: Martin Door, Arrow Tru-Line, and Helton Industries.

Martin may have been the first to promote safer edges; they began offering hemmed track in 1998. Then, however, Martin Door placed the hem only on the leading edge of its vertical track.

But in early 2004, Martin added a hem to the inside edge of vertical track and extended the double hem to the horizontal track as well. Now, all Martin vertical, horizontal, residential, and commercial 2-inch track includes double-hemmed edges.

2003: Tru-Trak

In January 2003, Arrow Tru-Line (ATL) announced its Tru-Trak system, "a patented, revolutionary track design" with curled safety edges. ATL developed the new design after teaming with Dr. Carl Ochoa, an independent engineer and inventor who has developed new approaches for a variety of roll-formed sheet metal products.

Dave Shaffer, ATL president, says that extensive testing reveals that Tru-Trak can be made with reduced steel gauges and still achieve high strength. ATL's Tru-Trak features a curl on both track edges and on both vertical and horizontal track.

2003: Dura-Hem

In October 2003, Helton Industries announced its Dura-Hem track with hemmed edges. Mike Rauch, vice president and general manager, then prophesied, "Conventional garage door track will be a thing of the past."

In May 2004, Helton announced that it had converted all of their 2-inch track lines to the new Dura-Hem profile with double-hemmed edges on vertical and horizontal track. Rauch says Dura-Hem track also uses thinner steel, but is "safer and stronger than conventional track of the same gauge."

Arrow Tru-Line, Martin, and Helton all offer their new track at the same price as conventional track. The lesser-gauge steel provides enough cost savings to compensate for the added manufacturing cost of the hemmed or curled edge. At the same time, these companies report that testing reveals that the "doubled" edge results in stronger track performance.

Real Injuries

The danger of injuries caused by the sharp edges of track is apparently real. Martin's efforts toward safer track were actually prompted by a phone call from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to Dave Martin, CEO of Martin Door.

Martin says he got the call in the summer of 1996, about two weeks after a general meeting on garage door safety between U.S. garage door manufacturers and the CPSC. He says the CPSC official was concerned about injuries to children playing around the track and moving rollers.

Since then, Martin Door has compiled an extensive file of scores of people who have been injured by garage door track.

"If you think it's a problem with homeowners," adds Ken Martin, president of Martin Door, "talk to installers who get injured. They're handling it every day. I imagine installer injuries are ten times that of homeowners."

"Track is one of the heaviest and most handled parts of the door during installations," adds Helton's Mike Rauch. "Long sharp edges on conventional track can cut installers, causing unwanted injury claims and lost time."

Hem vs. Curl

To a novice observer, the hemmed (Helton, Martin) and curled (ATL) approaches might seem to be equivalent. Yet, each approach enjoys unique qualities, and each is staunchly defended by the parent that birthed the design. The curled edge is a tubular or rounded rolled edge, while the hemmed edge is a doubled-over edge that is rolled flat.

Dave Shaffer is convinced that the curled edge is a safer design that looks better and is superior at handling track loads.

Mike Rauch, a registered professional engineer, says Helton's testing reveals that "the hemmed edges provide significant strength and stiffness advantages over conventional track of the same gauge."

He says the hemmed design particularly provides strength against "track rollout," a condition in which the track opens up under heavy loads and allows the roller to escape from the track.

Inside vs. Outside

A closer examination of the two designs reveals that the curled edge is curled to the inside, where the roller passes through the track. The hemmed edge, however, is rolled to the outside, away from the roller's path.

Dave Martin says he decided against an inside hem. "Rolling the edge inside the track was not considered because it reduced the side-to-side movement of the roller in the track." The outside hem, he says, "maintains the full inside space of the original track."

Dave Shaffer, however, sees benefits to the inward curl of Tru-Trak. In addition to tucking the edge further from reach, the inward curl "can actually serve as a barrier (like a guardrail) against the roller escaping from the track under extreme conditions such as track rollout."

An apparent disadvantage to the outside hem is that it leaves the track edges exposed and accessible. However, Mike Rauch explains, "The hemmed edge on the Dura-Hem track is created early in the roll-forming process. Subsequent roll-forming stations polish the outside edges, resulting in a very smooth feel on the outside of the track."

Other Progress

Besides the more recent advancements in blunting the track edge, Martin, Helton, and Arrow Tru-Line have made progress in eliminating the large punched holes in track. The large holes, used as optional locations for locks, allow the possibility of someone putting their fingers through the hole while the door/roller is moving.

Martin Door began eliminating the holes several years ago and added their Finger Shield plastic roller in 1996. In 1999, Martin closed another hole, the big one between the track and the jamb, when they introduced their Reverse Angle Shield System as a standard feature on all residential and commercial garage doors.

In November 2002, Arrow Tru-Line announced their Lockhole knockout. The Lockhole slug covers the large hole, but when the hole is needed, it is knocked out easily with a hammer tap on a screw driver. Helton has offered a similar feature for about five years.

ATL also offers Lockhole plastic covers for their 2-inch vertical track. The Lockhole plastic cover attaches to existing bolt holes in ATL track.

Sweating the Details

Dave Shaffer puts the matter in perspective when he says, "What we are really talking about here is how to make a relatively safe product even safer."

It must be "relatively safe" if virtually no one has demanded changes for 75 years. Yet, this often-forgotten component that "gives a ride" to the glorified sections is nonetheless an essential part of every upward-acting garage door.

It's said that "God is in the details." These companies are paying attention to details, and they demonstrate that further improvements to track are possible. Better still, their efforts support the industry's ongoing concern for safety.

Mike Rauch may be right when he says, "We think conventional track will become obsolete." He then adds, "Think 8-track cassettes."

The improvements may seem small, but given the millions of feet of track produced for all sectional doors throughout the world, these small improvements could be viewed as enormous.

And when these improvements are offered at no additional cost, you have to ask, "Why not?"

To respond to this story, send an e-mail to daseditor@dasma.com.