The return of the Celtic Tiger
Ten years since the Celtic Tiger came to a screaming halt, the Irish economy – and with it, construction – is once again roaring. Glass Times reports.
Economic forecasts predict Irish GDP will record 4.1% growth this year, while construction growth will hit more than 20%. The economy is resurgent, confident and focused on sustained and sustainable growth.
If the impact of the 2008 economic collapse was global, it was felt most acutely in Ireland, with a punishing seven quarters of economic contraction during 2008 and 2009, giving rise to insolvencies and a legacy of ghost estates, abandoned and part-build as their backers collapsed.
Recovery has also been spluttering. The country dipped back into recession in 2012 as the eurozone teetered on the brink of collapse. The extent of the fall meant the economy didn’t return to growth until 2015.
Today, Ireland is looking forward, and with a booming commercial construction sector, IGU specialists and glass process are reporting growth.
Ronnie Greaney, managing director of Greaney Glass Products, said his company is perhaps more conservative than it might have been had it not gone through the crash.
“We’d only just put in our toughening plant in May 2007 and then we lost 60% of our business almost overnight,” he said. “We know how quickly things can change and we’re not taking anything for granted.
“But things do now look pretty good. The growth and demand are definitely there. The issue for construction in Ireland in general is having the capacity, the machinery, the skills to meet it.”
He, and brother Kevin, took over the running of the Galway IGU manufacturer and glass processor from their late father and company founder, Martin, in 1998. This put them only a decade inwhen the banking crisis hit home.
Despite these less than favourable market conditions, the two brothers have steered the business from its beginnings in general glazing, to become a specialist IGU manufacturer and glass processor, manufacturing more the 4,000 units each week plus processed glass, from a 70,000ft2 operation.
The purchase of a new Forel Art EM vertical edger and accompanying Art VW vertical washing machine, supplied by Promac Group in May this year, forms a key element of Greaney Glass Products’ own strategy for growth.
“The vertical edger is there to give us increased capacity, but also better quality across IGU and processed glass lines, and particularly to meet increasing demand for laminates,” Kevin, the company’s operations director, said.
“We’re seeing growing demand for laminate from domestic and commercial sectors. The vertical edger allows us to do a lot of things more effectively but specifically to meet that demand.”
The Art EM was designed by Forel for edge processing of float and laminate glass including edge arrissing, rough edge grinding and edge polishing.
“It gives us a lot of flexibility,” Kevin said. “We can grind and square laminate glass, which minimises the risk of venting once installed.
“We’re also using it as part of our toughening lines.”
Installation by Promac also included supply of the Forel Art VW vertical washing machine, which offers a high degree of flexibility and is suitable for use with all glass types and coatings.
Automatically measuring and adjusting for glass thickness and coating type, it guarantees the perfect contact between up to eight brushes and the glass, Promac said. This includes automatic detection of soft-coats.
Again, Forel’s vertical design pays dividends with the main mechanical elements of the platform housed to the top of the washer, making damage from water contamination less likely.
The investment made by Greaney Glass Products in its new Forel line underpin a dual strategy aimed at driving continual improvement in product quality and growing the company’s glass processing business, which currently accounts for between 10% and 15% of its current turnover.
“We’re seeing phenomenal demand for processed glass, particularly from the commercial sector in and around Dublin, where we’re seeing investment from businesses including growth in the office fit out and shop fit-out sectors,” Kevin said.“Leisure and hotel sectors are also busy.
“That’s driving demand for processed glass including balustrades, stair cases, glass flooring and also mirrored products.”
Analysts suggest the high levels of activity and competition in Dublin are also driving a resurgent market in regional markets including Galway, Cork, Limerick and the south east of the country. This includes investment from business but also through public spending programmes.
“We see processed glass products as increasingly important to us alongside larger and specialist IGUs,” Ronnie said. “It’s about added value product. Work which is sustainable, and which delivers a sustainable level of margin. Commercial partners want stability. They’re prepared to pay sensible prices. It’s not simply about how little you’ll do it for.”
This is without taking into the equation forecast demand for IGUs. Delivering to domestic and house building markets through its trade customer base, Greaney Building Products also supplies the commercial sector direct, with a specialism in larger and over-sized units 2,000mm x 2,000mm and up.
“The IGU split between domestic and commercial is roughly 40%-60%,” Ronnie said. “We see greater growth again coming the commercial market, where the demand for specialism is more important and margins are better.
“This includes the demand generated for solar control and acoustic glass, which is bringing high performance soft-coats and laminates together in a single sheet of glass and unit.
“This makes edge quality key. You don’t want glass on this scale breaking in the furnace because your edge quality isn’t good enough, or laminate to vent because the sheet is slightly out of step.
“We’re also seeing sector-specific demand for edge-ground products. That’s something that was initially driven by facade engineers who want to avoid laminate venting but has since become almost a standard specification on larger commercial windows.
“The Forel Vertical Edger is key in allowing us to grow what we’re doing in more specialised commercial markets, while maintaining quality and efficiency and ultimately service levels to our customers.”
The Forel Art EM automatic vertical edger at a glance
- X3 processes: arris, grind and polish – different processes can be performed in alternating sequences across four sides.
- Use with IGU, toughening or grinding/processing lines.
- Reduced manual handling – glass is handled by carriageway and suction cups with capacity of up to 200kg/m firmly in place. Automatic suction cup drying system.
- Vertical alignment reduces mess and risk of scratching or roller damage to glass.
- High quality mono block build and patented operating head system, which allows the glass to be fixed and supported close to the grinding tools minimising vibration, guaranteeing accuracy.
- Self-learning, using on-board editor and CAD files. Glass automatically checked for correct alignment allowing processing to ultra-fine tolerances.
- Constant monitoring and automatic adjustment of grinding tool speed to optimise process.
- Reduces reliance on labour and skill of operative.
- Lower cost. High degree of flexibility.