Why Are Fabricators Turning to Aluminium

With forecasts for the construction industry remaining gloomy the trend to diversify into other market sectors for fabricators continues at quite a pace.

The Market:

The recent market reports from the Construction Products Association show that the housing sector is the worst hit with house starts down to an all time low. Excluding the war years, housing starts in 2009 expect to be only 70,000, this the lowest figure since 1924. With much of current empty stock now being sold for public housing and indications that lower house prices will remain at best static for 2009, there has never been a better time to buy or move up for some. Reports that mortgage applications are back on the increase confirms that this sector could be over the worst.

Office and commercial construction also continue to be hit hard as some businesses close and some downsize, this sector will continue to show a decrease for some time to come with unemployment expected to be over three million by the end of 2009. The positive news is that the Government continues to fund new schools and other public building projects. The Olympics will also continue to have an impact, particularly for the South East, over the next couple of years. Indeed not all businesses are in recession so there will be certain new build projects beginning and possibly more importantly an increase in refurbishment of existing stock.

Opportunities:

Refurbishment of both commercial and housing stock is a huge area of concern at the moment if the government is to achieve its targets of cutting carbon emissions. Currently nearly 50% of all the energy consumed in the UK is consumed in our homes. Improving efficiency of products and systems will play their part but of vital importance is the use of renewable energy and the need to vastly improve insulation.

Windows are said to have the worst insulation properties of any product placed in the envelope of a building, this is understandable as light cannot penetrate high insulation panels and the use of daylight is so important in order to reduce the need for artificial light. An old single glazed window can lose energy within a building, but facing south on a good day can also cause an unacceptable solar gain.

Companies supplying this sector need to look at both the improvement in insulation properties of the windows such as the move to high performance triple glazing and also the control and harnessing of solar energy. Some systems companies are already well ahead in this field. The opportunity is that new buildings could carry considerably more glazed areas which, if controlled correctly, could reduce the need for artificial lighting whilst offering much needed renewable solar energy.

Materials:

At Industry level The Council for Aluminium in Building (CAB) works together with other material bodies for the overall good of the sector. Indeed many of CAB's actual members supply aluminium products alongside PVC and aluminium timber composites All manufacturers should be pulling together to tackle the biggest issue we have at the moment - that of global warming and the need to improve insulation and add renewable energy sources to the current building stock in order to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.

CAB will continue to promote aluminium's credentials across the supply chain and offer its membership a forum where the needs of the industry can be discussed and legislation influenced for the better of the whole fenestration industry. To this end CAB is now more directly involved with Brussels and several of the European bodies who influence policy.

The 'Move' to Aluminium:

Over the last ten years there has been a noticeable change in the industry. At one time a PVC-U window company would have actively sold against aluminium, providing the information to the specifier that PVC-U was superior. This was in part borne out by the high cost of installing expensive fabrication plant which needed to be recovered. As more installers move to trade suppliers they now have the choice without the investment to recover.

Automated aluminium fabrication machinery is now widely available, noticeably the computer linked CNC machines. The growing interest here indicates that aluminium is catching up in fabrication automation thus as a result costs of manufacture are falling making the product more competitive.

In recent years there have been showrooms that promoted products of a single material, today it is not uncommon to see all materials sitting side by side as they should be with the benefits of each laid out for the specifier or customer to decide. It is worth noting that hardware companies now provide systems for most materials.

One unmistakable marketing trend has been that 'Aluminium' has increasingly been highlighted in advertising as both a headline feature and benefit for products from conservatory roofs to bi-folding doors. It is expected that this will continue as the material's environmental benefits, physical characteristics and aesthetics become more widely appreciated and understood.

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