The right time for aluminium

With mixed industry forecasts, Lee Marriott of the Promac Group explains why it’s the right time to move into aluminium and how to do it.

Forecast to reach a 17-year high, at a time when the whole industry is predicted to see contraction, putting on 24% growth in the last year alone – it appears our appetite for aluminium is greater than ever.

The new figures released in ‘The Window, Door and Conservatory Markets in Housing in Great Britain’, by Palmer, continue to track the revival seen in aluminium, with consumer demand for bifolds leading to a wider ‘pull-through’ of product including aluminium windows, entrance doors and inline sliding doors.
The report’s author, Robert Palmer, said that in 2016 the market ‘shot up’ 26% in volume terms and installed value by 28%, pointing to growth in not only residential demand for aluminium products but commercial and new build sectors.

“Since 2000 the volume market has grown by a third but in installed value terms it has tripled,” the report said.

The argument for adding an aluminium line if you’re not already manufacturing an aluminium system is clear. There are a number of things happening out there at once.
The economic climate, Brexit, and hesitancy in the housing market, are coming together to make things a little tough out there, with a similar impact on new build – it’s just that little bit slower.
But that’s not the big issue. It’s much more about where things are going in an increasingly mature and second time replacement market – and that’s higher-end PVCU, foils, flush casements and timber-type finishes and aluminium.
These are the real long term drivers, and that change is going to accelerate as more and more PVCU fabricators enter the aluminium sector and bring the principles of volume PVCU fabrication to aluminium.

This will have two distinct but related impacts. The first is that PVCU fabricators who fail to invest now run the risk of being left behind – and the same is true of existing aluminium manufacturers.

Entry to aluminium can be very low cost, you could just get a nodding donkey [double edge saw], separate routers and a crimper and be manufacturing aluminium for a cost of £25-30K, and there are lots of very large aluminium fabricators that are simply applying those principles on a big scale and with high labour costs.

The PVC-U model of manufacture is built around the de-skilling and process automation. It’s about lowering overheads and doing more volume but at lower margin, and aluminium manufacturers should be under no illusion: if they look over their shoulder, the PVCU guys are coming.

The FOM LMT65 from Promac delivers significant operational efficiencies, increasing outputs, improving product quality and reducing costs.

The flexible aluminium cutting and routing line features a multi-spindle preparation unit with 360⁰ variable angle access to all four sides of the profile.
This is automatically linked to the sawing unit which features a 650mm diameter blade with electronic tilt control.

A bar feeder and pick up system with adaptive rotating gripper, means that the LMT65 has the in-built flexibility to handle different profiles with ease. Equipped with the latest FST 3D software, it’s also user friendly and requires just a single operative.

The LMT65 has the capability to cut and machine a three-pane bifold in less than 12 minutes.

The PVCU model of manufacture is built around the de-skilling and automation of process; it’s about lowering overheads and doing more volume but at lower margin.

This means that aluminium manufacturers also need to consider investment in the face of what he suggests will be an inevitable onslaught on prices.
For a PVCU fabricator the cost of an LMT65 is almost negligible, they’ll see the return and apply a formula to manufacture. If you’re an aluminium fabricator working to a traditional labour intensive model, it’s going to be very difficult to match that production capability.”

The Dali 40/70 and the Axel 4/5, also in the FOM range, deliver stable platforms for high precision output.

The Dali is a four-axis CNC machining centre, designed for complex boring, milling and drilling operations on multiple sides of the profile. It’s available in either a 4m or 7m bed options and features 6.5Kw high torque four-axis electrospindle. It also features full 3D graphic simulation, 10 position automatic tool changer, four profile clamps with automatic positioning and full safety enclosure.

The FOM Axel 5 machining centre moves things on again and will handle profile of up to 18m making it ideal for curtain walling and manufacture of larger scale commercial applications.

This features FOM’s five-axis head. With standard bed lengths 7.5m and 10m and up to 18m, it has a Z capacity of over 300mm, with more than 550m available on the Y.

20 tools and on board tool change means that large tools can be changed with ease, while like the Dali and the LMT65, the bed is electro welded and stabilised after each manufacturing phase to remove internal tension and guarantee stability.

It also features fully automatic and independent clamp positioning, movable stop for multiple and flexible working areas, rotating support rolls to avoid scratches and automatic correction of extrusion tolerances.

We’re not here to say that one route is right or another. Entry to aluminium can be very low cost, but what you don’t get with that model are the economies and efficiencies that go with automation, and you’re always going to be looking over your shoulder as other fabricators apply those principles to the market.