NEW YORK Some wire mesh producers
are fraudulently labeling welded wire reinforcement that does
not meet industry standards as compliant, a practice that has
come under increased scrutiny recently, market participants
The practice of
labeling material as compliant with American Society for
Testing and Materials (ASTM) specification when it is not has
been deflating wire prices for years but it has gained
increasing attention since August, when an industry association
The Wire Reinforcement
Institute (WRI), an association of wire mesh producers that
promotes the use of mesh in construction, told its members in
August that undersized product is being distributed.
"It has come to the
attention of the WRI that undersized, improperly or untagged
welded wire reinforcement, which does not meet ASTM
International and/or applicable building code specifications or
standards, has appeared in various locations within the North
American marketplace," the WRI said in an Aug. 1 letter.
Producers who choose
to abide by widely accepted ASTM specifications may label their
product with an ASTM tag, giving it credibility when it is sold
to brokers, building contractors and big box stores.
But certain producers
that tag their wire mesh as ASTM-compliant actually produce
wire with a smaller diameter and mesh sheets with a
larger-spaced cross grid than permitted by ASTM standards,
cutting costs and gaining an edge over competitors who label
their products accurately, market participants told
Wire mesh producers
said the fraud is widespread, and many customers regularly buy
wire mesh that they know is undersized and mislabeled due to
the lower cost and requirements from their end consumers to
have ASTM labeled product.
Major retailers of
home improvement supplies could be selling improperly labeled
product as a result, "and it doesnt seem like they care,
and certainly the distributors are concerned with remaining
competitive in the market so that to many of them, compliance
with specifications is of secondary importance," H.O. Woltz
III, president and chief executive officer of Mount Airy,
N.C.-based Insteel Industries Inc., a major wire mesh producer,
"There are people who
knowingly sell underweight mesh, and it happens a lot. As a
matter of fact, weve gone into big box stores and
weve never found one coil that meets specs. Not one,"
said Greg Hall, vice president of strategic services at SSW
Holding Co. Inc., an Elizabethtown, Ky.-based wire mesh
producer. "Right now, everyone turns a blind eye."
reinforcement producers that fraudulently mislabel undersized
product save money and raw materials, market participants
For example, ASTM
International specifications require 10 gauge welded wire
reinforcement to have a diameter of 0.134 inches, plus or minus
0.003 inches. Sources said wire reinforcement producers sell 10
gauge wire with a diameter as small as 0.124 inches and label
the product ASTM compliant.
Skimping on wire
diameter, along with expanding the spacing of the wire in the
grill, allows producers to sell wire mesh that can be 10
percent underweight, saving $60 to $80 per ton, sources
"The money is big.
Theres documented evidence of producers undercutting the
specifications to the extent that they reduce the weight of the
product by 10 to 12 percent, and thats big bucks.
Youre talking about 60 to 80 dollars per ton of advantage
that non-compliers gain over complying companies," Woltz told
"Its rampant. A
coil has to weigh between 144.3 pounds and 157.8 pounds to meet
specification. Weve found coils as light as 128 pounds,"
said Hall. "Its like you go to the store, and you buy a
pound of hamburger and you only get 13 ounces."
product lighter than ASTM specifications permit can charge
lower prices than those who meet specifications, effectively
lowering overall market prices, sources said.
Sources said there are
several producers responsible for producing undersized wire
mesh in Mexico and the United States.
"We have a formal
data-gathering process under way with the objective of
quantifying the impact of noncompliance with specifications,"
said Woltz. "There is certainly more than one company involved
in this scheme. We suspect that there are at least three or
four regular non-compliers, including imports from Mexico and
domestic producers. ... It is a frustrating situation and
were determined to ramp up pressure and end the
cheating," he added.
One wire mesh producer
in Texas blamed cost-cutting schemes on cutthroat competition
in the U.S. market. He said it is common practice for companies
to produce wire mesh rolls that are several feet short, and his
company does so as well in order to stay competitive. The
producer said, however, that he does not produce non-ASTM
compliant wire mesh.
"In order to compete,
we have to do our own short mesh," said the producer. "But we
dont do wire too thin, because if someone picks up your
rolls from the job site and tests it, its got to be up to
spec. We cant screw around with that."
Bob Weil, legal counsel for the WRI, said that the WRI does
not have any regulatory authority to stop producers from
mislabeling wire mesh, though a condition of membership in the
WRI is that companies comply with ASTM specifications.