The Celtic tiger

Ireland is gearing up for economic growth, with leading fabricators embracing new system technologies as they access higher margin opportunities. Glass Times reports.

The UK market is defined by uncertainty. It’s fortunes heading towards Brexit about as clear as the waters of the Irish Sea on a grey winter’s day but across it, the mood is altogether different.

“We’ve had 10-years of recession,” Jim Dempsey, chairman of Weatherglaze said. “We saw the housing market almost disappear in 2007 and the economic crash but we’ve come through that. The Irish economy is now far stronger – there’s a housing shortage and going into 2018, we expect to see sizeable growth for the first time in a very long-time.”

This reflects a wider buoyancy in the Irish economy and its construction sector. According to the Construction Industry Federation, 19 billion euros of projects were awarded or started in 2017 alone, with an average of 9% annual growth forecast through to 2020.

Meanwhile, in October, the International Monetary Fund upgraded forecasts for the Irish economy to growth of 4.1% this year and 3.4% next year, compared to previous estimates of 3.5% and 3.2%  – and the 1.5% forecast for the UK.

“The fortunes of the UK and the Irish markets tend to be closely tied so Brexit and issues around the border are a concern but that aside, we feel very positive,” Jim said.

Taken over by Jim in 1987, and about to go into its 50th year in business, the Gorey-based fabricator works across trade and retail markets, putting in place a new supply agreement with Aluplast in October. This includes a new deal for the Ideal 4000 and aluskin, the systems company’s energy efficient PVCU/aluminium casement crossover.

Defined by a contemporary squareline detailing, Ideal 4000 forms a competitive PVCU window offering in its own right, lending itself to the residential, new build and commercial sectors.

Tested to Part Q, PAS24 and Secured by Design Specifications in the UK, with five thermally efficient chambers, the Ideal 4000 achieves a WER A+ and U-values as low as 0.76W/m2K. It also boasts green credentials with Aluplast’s ecotech offer.

John Cummins, operations manager at Weatherglaze, said that aluskin in particular offers an area of opportunity.

“We have been approached by customers for aluminium and timber hybrid-products but we believe PVCU delivers a number of advantages,” he said.

“The first is that its warmer. Building Energy Ratings are going to get a lot tougher from 2019 and aluminium-clad PVCU is warmer. There is an already high level of demand for lower U-values, and Ideal 4000 allows us to offer a very efficient window.

“It also gives us scope to offer Aluplast’s other ultra-energy efficient products like the Ideal 8000, which will get us down to 0.65W/m2K and Passivhaus standards.”

Jim added: “The other thing is through-life performance. Atmospheric moisture is around 14%. The dampness of the climate means that timber doesn’t last long, so PVCU clad aluminium is a much stronger proposition.”

This focus on finish has been a key driver in the Irish market, with colour and foiled options now accounting for 45% of all products manufactured. Of this anthracite grey, in common with the other side of the Irish Sea, is the dominant foil option.

This rapidly increasing demand has driven Aluplast’s development of its foil offer ­– special foils in 15 days or less with no minimum order, no surcharge and no setting up charge on special orders – but also the launch in autumn of its new grey substrate.

“You get price and performance,” Shéa Dempsey, Weatherglaze’s managing director, said. “Architects have created demand for aluminium but price point is factor, particularly in the home improvement market. Ideal 4000 has a contemporary commercial-look, so if you bring in anthracite grey foils or aluskin on a grey substrate, you have a very strong match but one that’s lower cost and more affordable.”

Ease of manufacture was another key point for Weatherglaze. This has also influenced its decision to also bring Aluplast’s new Lift-and-Slide door on board. With U-values as low as 0.65W/m2K – a Passivehaus Standard – and capable of spanning openings of 6.5m x 2.8m with just two sashes, it delivers design flexibility, including aluskin options.

“Ideal 4000 and the Lift-and-Slide, fit with our manufacturing processes; at their core they’re PVCU products, so it’s familiar and fits,” John said.

“The begin for us is that it gives us something different,” says Jim. “We can go out to the market and offer our customers access to an energy efficient aluminium-clad window or Lift-and-Slide door, there’s no requirement to buy anything in – and it’s different.”