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Selecting the Correct Over Centre Latch for Your Application

With so many different sizes, materials, designs, and styles, how do you choose the right over centre latch (or known as toggle latch) for your requirements?

1. Stationary vs Moving Applications

The first consideration should be to ascertain if the application for the over centre latch is ‘stationary’ or ‘moving’. If the item is stationary then safety is probably not a major factor with regard to which latch is right and other factors such as the size, style and finish (zinc coated, painted and stainless steel) will determine which over centre latch you should buy.

If, however, it is important or imperative that the latch CANNOT decouple when in use, such as on a moving vehicle, then a ‘SELF-CLOSING’ latch, such as the Snap-Flat latch should always be used.

Snap-Flat latch for Trailer - camper over centre latch
A Self-Closing over centre latch – Snap-Flat latch (model SFM8-304)

2. Load Rating / Ultimate Tensile Strength

The next most important requirement is ensuring that the over centre latch has sufficient strength for your application. Again, for stationary application this is usually not particularly important however for moving applications where safety is often critical, you do not want your latch breaking.

As a rule of thumb, the ultimate tensile strength (UTS) or load rating of your latch should be twice the maximum load expected. Well made over centre latches will state the UTS or load rating in their specifications.

 It they are not available then the latch has not been tested and you are buying an unknown quantity that could result in you latch failing with potentially disastrous consequences. Don’t be fooled by a latch’s appearance. A poorly designed latch can appear strong on initial inspection but have a fatal weak point

Similarly, the catch plates (hooks) must be of an equivalent strength to the latch as also the method of securing or fastening the latch and catch plates. No point having a strong latch for the catch plate or fasteners to fail.

Based on their strength, industrial over centre latches can be divided into 4 broad categories:

Light duty: Designed for applications where there is little force or load, typically less than 125kg. They are mainly used for stationary objects like cabinets and boxes that are not subject to vibration or regular movement. They are typically small, easy to use and very affordable.

Medium duty: Designed for applications with a maximum load between 125 to 750kg. The extra strength can ensure they do not accidentally open or fail due to vibrations. Common applications include transport boxes or cases, toolboxes and industrial cabinets. For ‘moving’ applications, if the latch accidently dis-engaging is of a concern, a ‘self-closing’ latch such as the Snap-Flat latch should be considered.

Heavy duty: Designed for applications with a maximum load between 1,000 kg to 2,500 kg. Common applications include large transport containers or crates, industrial machinery covers, vehicle & engine bodies. For these applications, safety is paramount, and the failure of a latch could have catastrophic results and a ‘self-closing’ latch such as the Snap-Flat latch should be used.

Super heavy-duty: Designed for applications with a maximum loads exceeding 2,500kg. Applications include some heavy duty trailers and motor vehicles, such as trucks and rail carriages.  For these applications, safety is also paramount, and the failure of a latch could have catastrophic results and a ‘self-closing’ latch such as the Snap-Flat latch should be used.

3. Available Space

The type of latch you choose may be dictated by the available space or ‘real estate’ you have for installing the latch and its catch plate. For example, some boxes or toolboxes have limited space and hence only a small sized latch can be used. Make sure you have measured the space available and that this will be adequate to accommodate you latch in it shortest and longest configurations.

4. Lockability

Some Over Centre latches include provision to be locked using either a padlock or a safety catch. Both options will prevent the latch accidently opening. The padlock option, while less convenient, also enables you to protect your items.

 As well as including a padlock able feature, the Snap-flat latch also prevents the latch accidently dis-engaging when the over centre position has been lost. Latches with the safety catch feature are not always reliable due to manufacturing tolerances, resulting in the catch feature not working.

5. Reducing Latch Damage

Some applications can result in the latches being frequently damaged. This can occur because the latch handle and arm are loose and flap around when not engaged. Consequently, they can catch on other objects, including humans, or get crushed when collapsing a container or crate. A ‘self-closing’ latch such as the Snap-Flat latch prevents this by securing the latch handle and arm when they are not engaged.

6. Corrosive Environments

Over Centre Latches are commonly available in mild steel, zinc coated steel and stainless steel (304 and 316). The material used will affect the latches strength and durability. For corrosive environments stainless steel over centre latches should be considered.

7. Appearance

Cosmetic appearances can be important for some users and applications. For example if you have an expensive pop top caravan you may not like having a cheap, zinc coated over centre latch that is prone to corrode.

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Japan Patent Granted for Snap-Flat Latch

Patent applications for the Snap-Flat latch, PCT Publication Number WO2016/070235, have been granted in Japan (Patent Number 6982124). The Patent Certificate was issued on 22nd November 2021.

Patents have been previously granted for the Snap-Flat latch in Australia, China, France, Germany ,South Africa, UK, USA with applications in progress for Canada and India.

The latch was invented by Uniseg Products to address the problem of conventional over centre latches used on their collapsible, plastic bulk container, being damaged when disengaged. The “Snap Flat” feature eliminated this problem. The Snap-Flat latch also prevents the latch from accidently de-coupling, even when not properly secured in the over-centre position. This is a common problem with conventional over centre latches that can have catastrophic outcomes in some applications, such as when securing the roof of a pop top caravan.

How to Maintain Pop-top Caravans
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All About Pop-top Caravans: What They Are And How You Should Maintain Them

If you are familiar with the traditional caravan, you may already know what a pop-top caravan is. While they are both similar, there is one main difference between the two: the roof. A pop-top caravan’s roof opens up to improve headroom. This feature also makes the caravan simpler to move.

Pop-top caravans can be found all across Australia. This may mostly be because they are perfect for travelling. In addition to that, they offer many size and configuration possibilities, off-road variants, and more. 

Benefits of owning a pop-top caravan 

Now that we have properly defined what a pop-top caravan is, we can now better understand the benefits they provide. 

#1 Convenience 

Pop-top caravans are known to be small and portable. The lower the weight is, the easier it is to move around and use. These vehicles are also simpler to pull on the road since there is less wind resistance and drag. On top of that, when a caravan is not in use, one of the issues owners have is where to keep it. However, when you have a pop-top caravan, storage is easier due to its reduced height. Some pop-top versions may be folded down to half their original size, allowing them to fit into any garage. 

#2 Brings the outside inside

We all need to take some time to appreciate the outdoors, inhale some fresh air, and feel the cool wind on our face. In comparison to an RV, pop-top caravans provide you with more access to nature. To add to that, when compared to tents, they offer more protection and durability. 

Canvas siding is used on all sides of pop-top caravans. Each canvas panel includes a screen and a separate solid canvas flap. All of the solid flaps may be opened to provide a 360-degree view of nature. 

#3 Low cost 

Due to the size of pop-top caravans, you get to save money on petrol. Also, a pop-top caravan retains its value well and may be sold for a reasonable price  years later.

How to properly maintain your pop-top caravan

Considering all the great benefits the pop top caravans offer, you would certainly want to keep them in good condition. With that said, here are the best ways you can maintain your pop-top caravan: 

#1 Adequate cleaning

You will need the right cleaning equipment if you want to properly keep your pop-top caravan in good condition. For starters, you need to thoroughly clean your canvas with a solution of 1/4 cup mild detergent to five litres of water. It’s also a good idea to use a silicon-based cleaning agent as long as you don’t spray it on the struts and springs. However, before you start doing any cleaning, you first need to read the manual of your vehicle to know the most fitting product for the best results. 

#2 Regular inspection

You will benefit from performing your own inspection in a variety of ways. Before and after each journey, inspect for any buckles, cracks, or damage. In addition to that, you also need to check the alignments of the parts. Your caravan repairs should also never be put off. If you discover anything isn’t quite right or isn’t working, you should have it fixed right away. 

#3 Examine struts 

Even if you take exceptional care of your caravan, a couple of the components may break down. If you thoroughly check your vehicle, you will find that gas struts may be found in a variety of locations. Life on the road and at the campground would be considerably more difficult without them. Therefore, you should make it a priority to check that all of the struts are in good working order. Make sure these parts are rust-free and moving freely. 

#4 Check lights

You should follow a regular maintenance plan that includes monitoring the brake lights to ensure your car is in good operating order. Furthermore, highly consider checking if the indicator, brake, tail, and running lights are all working and not faded. 

#5 Proper parking

Proper caravan maintenance calls for better parking placements. This will include you choosing to park inside underground garages instead of exposed areas on the side of the road. When you keep it inside protected areas, you avoid environmental wear and strain. On top of that, you will not need to constantly clean your vehicle. 

Why you should use Snap-Flat Latches when maintaining the safety of their caravan

At times when a caravan is not being driven, over-centre latches or pop top roof clamps are used to secure the collapsed pop-top roof to the caravan. However, there are a number of disadvantages with the conventional latches that are supplied with pop top caravans, including the following: 

  1. Injury as a result of a protruding latch: Some Pop-top caravans have over centre latches that are positioned at eye level. A snap-flat latch, will not protrude and hence eliminate potential injuries. 
  1. The latch’s decoupling: The conventional pop roof latches are cheaply made and poor quality. Many pop top owners have experienced the latches decoupling while towing their van. This has resulted in the incredibly dangerous situation where  the roof blows off while driving. 
  1. Corrosion & latch failure: Corrosion, deformation, and damage to the latch, will make your latch difficult to use. There appear to be numerous reasons for such failure, including knocking protruding latches and over-tightening.

With all that being said, Snap-Flat Latches should be preferred over other brands. The innovative Snap-Flat latch from Uniseg Products overcomes these issues through clever design and the use of appropriate materials.

Patents Granted in USA (uspto) - exceptionally outstanding service
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Patents Granted in USA & China for Snap-Flat Latch

Patent applications for the Snap-Flat latch, PCT Publication Number WO2016/070235, have been granted in the USA (Patent Number 10,940,976) and China (Patent ZL 2015 8 0060162.7)

Patents have been previously granted for the Snap-Flat latch in Australia, France, Germany ,South Africa and UK, with applications in progress for Canada, India and Japan.

The latch was invented by Uniseg Products to address the problem of conventional over centre latches used on their Uniseg Container, being damaged while disengaged. The “Snap Flat” feature eliminated this problem. See www.unisegproducts.com for further information regarding the Uniseg Container.

The Snap-Flat latch also prevents the latch from accidently de-coupling, even when not properly secured in the over-centre position. This is a common problem with conventional over centre latches that can have catastrophic outcomes in some applications, such as when securing the roof of a pop top caravan.

stainless steel over centre latches to safe Pop Top Caravan Latches-
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How Safe Are Your Pop Top Caravan Latches?

Most Pop top and Hybrid caravans use 4 over centre latches to secure the pop top roof to the caravan, when the van is not being used or being towed. There are however several problems and  safety issues that can occur with the style of pop top roof latches / pop top catches that are used on almost all Australian pop top / hybrid caravans. These include:

1. De-Coupling of the Pop Top Latch

If the pop top caravan latches (also referred to as pop top caravan side latches) aren’t correctly secured into the over centre position or due to subsidence of the pop top’s canvas sides during towing, the latches may de-couple from the catches.  This represents a potentially deadly accident if the roof lifts-up and blows away during towing. That is exactly what happened to this poor driver who’s pop top blew off while travelling along the Hume Highway in Campbellfield, Sydney. Fortunately, the drivers travelling behind were able to avoid colliding with the flying pop top.

Photo illustrating the problems with pop top caravan latches

2. Pop Top Latch Failure & Corrosion

Pictured above is the style of pop top latch used on the vast majority of Pop Top Caravans.  Their poor design &  construction leads to several problems, including:

  • The thin pop rivets used as the pivot pins fail because of their diameter size and wall thickness (too small and too thin/ not ‘Construction Grade’),
  • The use of Pop Rivets also causes the latch to be stiff in operation from new and creates a potential for personal injury when the latch handle is left protruding at a 90 degree angle to the the body of the vehicle
  • The pop top latch becomes difficult to use or inoperable due to corrosion or distortion and damage to the latch. There appears to be several causes including protruding latches being knocked, latches being over tightened and when collapsing the pop top.

The galvanised steel construction can result in corrosion quickly setting in. Given Australian’s love of the ocean and the coast, this seems like a poor choice of material when for a few dollars more stainless-steel fittings could be used.

3. Injury Caused by Protruding Latch

When the pop top roof latches are dis-engaged the latch T Bar can protrude and accidently gouge or snag the user. Some Pop Tops have latches installed at eye level that have resulted in significant injuries.

Photo showing protruding over centre latch on pop top caravan
Damage, corrosion or poor construction can cause over centre latches to protrude and cause injuries

4. Damage to the Lifting Cable Mechanism

If all 4 x over centre latches aren’t correctly disconnected before trying to wind up the Pop-Top, damage can be caused to the Pop-Top lifting cable mechanism.  This can typically cost anywhere from $200 – $500 to repair.

The Solution for Pop Top Roof Latches

Frankly, we are surprised that $40 – 120K Pop Tops come installed with such poor quality pop top roof latches / pop top catches, that can lead to such dangerous outcomes.

Uniseg Product’s patented Snap-Flat latch resolves these problems through intelligent design and use of appropriate materials.

The Snap-Flat Over Centre Latch prevents the accidental de-coupling of the latch and the catch plate due to the spring tension between them.  The latch also reduces the likely hood of the latch not being disconnected properly as it visibly and audibly disconnects. That is, because one can see and hear the Latch disconnect from the catch plate, it is difficult to make the mistake of leaving a latch connected and thus damage the lifting mechanism.

The Snap-Flat latch’s design and use of 304 stainless steel ensures strength and long-term durability. For full details including the Snap-Flat Caravan style latch’s measurements and installation instructions, download the brochure below;

Snap Flat Latch with Caravan T-bar Style Brochure

The image below shows the Caravan version of the Snap-Flat latch, which can easily be retrofitted to most pop top caravans and hybrid caravans.

Photo showing Caravan style Snap-Flat latch retrofitted to a Pop Top Caravan
Caravan style Snap-Flat latch retrofitted to a Pop Top Caravan
Photo of Caravan style Snap-Flat latch retrofitted to an Pop Top Caravan
Caravan style Snap-Flat latch retrofitted to an Pop Top Caravan

Buy Online the Snap-Flat Pop Top Latch

Buy Now Button - Buy Over Centre Latch
Over centre latch Inquiries Button

For additional examples of Snap-Flat latch applications including Pop Top Caravans.

European Patent Granted: patented locking device- over centre latch hook
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European Patent Granted

The European Patent Office has granted a patent for Uniseg’s Snap-Flat latch for France, Germany & the UK. The certificate was issued for European Patent No. 3215430 in the name of UNISEG Products Pty Ltd entitled “LATCH MECHANISM”.

Patents have been previously granted for the Snap-Flat latch in Australia and South Africa and applications in progress for USA, Canada, China, India, Malaysia and Japan.

Australian Patent Granted, Europe Accepted - patented locking device
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Australian Patent Granted, Europe Accepted

The Australian Patent Office has issued on 17th October 2019, a Certificate of Grant for Uniseg Products’ Snap-Flat latch. The certificate was issued for Australian Patent No. 2015342730 in the name of UNISEG Products Pty Ltd entitled A CONTAINER (Currently being renamed A LATCH MECHANISM).

In further positive developments the European Patent Office has allowed our patent application for the latch. The allowance of the application completes the examination phase of the procedure for obtaining a European patent.  The grant procedure has now been filed for a European patent to be issued on this application with validation of the patent in the European member countries to follow shortly.

Uniseg Products have patent applications for the latch in progress in USA, Canada, China, India, Malaysia, Japan & South Africa.

new snap flat latch design - stainless over centre latch
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New Snap-Flat latch design V4.2

Uniseg Products have released a new version of its self closing, over-centre, Snap-Flat latch.

The main improvements for version 4.2 of the latch, include;

  • Increased pin dimension by 50% from 4 to 6mm, to considerably strengthen the latch.
  • Adjust inner & outer spring tensions to achieve a better balance the tensions between the handle and the latch.
  • Added extra lockable eyelet (from 1 to 2)

A yield and destruction test of the latch confirmed that the latch deformed at 13.4 kN or 1.365 Tonne. Uniseg would expect the latch to easily handle forces up to 1 Tonne, which would make it one of the strongest and lockable over-centre latches, of this size, available.

A copy of the yield & destruction test report, carried our by Proofload, can be found below;