The rise of aluminium

John Park-Davies, managing director of Ikon Aluminium Systems, believes that aluminium more than deserves its new hero status.

Aluminium is one of the most durable and sustainable building materials available. There are many reasons for specifying and installing aluminium, not least the environmental benefits. The Council for Aluminium Building (CAB) states that the recycling rates for architectural aluminium is 92%-98%, with only 5% of the original energy taken to recycle it. Most remarkable is that 75% of aluminium produced since 1880s is still in use.

In Q4 2017, 79% of CAB members expected sales growth in 2018, compared with 56% in Q3. With such a resilient UK industry, those specifying and installing architectural aluminium products, such as louvres, can benefit from capital investment and product R&D.

Aluminium can be extremely versatile; lightweight and with integral strength, extruded aluminium is the perfect material choice for products in exposed and elevated locations. Many building materials, including timber, steel and PVCU are vulnerable to weathering, rot, decay and corrosion; aluminium has a natural ability to resist these. The metal offers unrivalled suitability for certain applications. For example, screening louvres offer an ideal solution for concealing rooftop plant, lift motor rooms, air-conditioning units etc, where strength, cost and visual appearance are all a critical consideration.

Manufactured using either prime or recycled aluminium billets, aluminium louvres are an enduring option balancing performance and aesthetics, something that architects, installers and end-users are increasingly appreciative of. Symmetry, bold lines and colour options are just some of the aesthetic benefits of aluminium louvres. As a result, decorative louvres are rising in popularity, to balance architectural designs. While demand for continuous louvres has risen as designers look for cost effective methods to obscure unappealing structural features.

Boosting the aesthetic appeal of aluminium is the availability of colours and finishes. Through leading powder coating suppliers such as AkzoNobel, customers can choose from hundreds of RAL and BS colours. With Pantone colours becoming an increasingly frequent request, there appears to be no limit to the cascade of colour options available. And for those wanting to make the ultimate statement, metallic and stone-effect finishes are enjoying a rise in use.

The two most popular aluminium finishes in architectural applications are powder coating and anodising. Designers need to consider the differences in terms of durability, colour, commerciality and ease of installation when choosing the best coating option for a specific project. In a recent statement, Russell Deane, global architectural manager AkzoNobel Powder Coatings, said: “Understanding the differences and relative advantages of powder coating and anodising is extremely useful… A wrong choice of coating, can have a disastrous effect on the colour of the building in the long term. And colour is just one of the key considerations.”

Painted aluminium will last longer than the renovation cycle of an average building, if not the entire product life cycle. And even after all that, it can still be recycled. Ikon can offer a 40-year warranty on some painted product, a testament to the proven performance of its powder coated aluminium products.

Whether its windows, doors or louvres, aluminium cannot be overlooked. I have worked in the built environment sector for over 30 years and it’s very exciting to see aluminium take its rightful place in product portfolios the length and breadth of the UK.