Having a blast

Posted on 3 Feb 2010 by The Manufacturer

With an overflowing trophy cabinet in recognition of its full façade building solutions, Alumet Systems have recently introduced a walling product designed to withstand the effects of improvised explosive devices. Edward Machin reports.

Established in 1993, Warwickshire-based Alumet Systems design, manufacture and install award-winning solutions for the complete building envelope market — including curtain walling; cladding; windows; louvre systems; solar shading; permanent access facilities; aftercare; and maintenance.

Having developed strategic alliances with a who’s who of the UK construction industry, the company works in partnership with Taylor Woodrow / Vinci (GOLD Strategic Alliance), Kier Group (Key Partner), BAM Construction (Category 1 PEP Status), Willmott Dixon, Miller Construction and Lovell Partnerships, among others. Indeed, “That Alumet has historic relationships with the main contractors in our sector ensures a continuity of big-ticket work that we are delighted to enjoy,” says the company’s director of sales & marketing, Dean Walton.

“In many cases, once they have — or even prior to — secured a contract, the architect or construction company will work in conjunction with Alumet along each stage of the design process.

Whereas the majority of our competitors provide only the windows or curtain walling for any given project, we are additionally able to provide the cradle, gantries, solar shading and louvres; the complete façade of the building, in other words.”

And the winner is…
While an undoubtedly impressive USP, arguably the most striking aspect of Alumet’s business — for the casual reader, at any rate — relates to the sheer number of industry accolades the company has won in recent years.

2009 alone, for example, saw Alumet receive TM’s Aerospace and Defence Manufacturer of the Year; The Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of the company’s pioneering ABLE Façade System; the Innovation Through Construction Technology and Sub- Contractor of the Year Awards at the Builder & Engineer Awards; Installer of the Year at the Glazing Industry Awards; Regional Winner at the Coventry & Warwickshire Chambers of Commerce Awards; Midlands Excellence Award for Innovation; and New Product of the Year at the Growing Business Awards.

Ultimately, says Walton, “These accolades highlight the degree to which Alumet is driven by an ethos of innovation in all that we do. Given that as a company we look to offer a one stop shop, so to speak, we are continually diversifying our product ranges, services, manufacturing divisions and processes.” Regarding the latter, a 42,000 sq ft fabrication unit opened in 2008 by HRH the Duke of Kent represents the latest addition to Alumet’s state-ofthe- art production facilities — enabling all unitised glazing solutions (including the ABLE system) to be manufactured and assembled in factory conditions.

“The importance we place on our machinery is,” confirms Walton, “central to the company’s successes.

Alumet’s production facilities are largely automated, with CNC and Emmegi Comet machining centres ensuring industry-leading levels of production accuracy in all that we do.” In order to realise such continuity, Alumet operates an in-house training centre, with both staff and the extended supply chain integrated into each new system that the company manufactures. “I don’t think it would be incorrect to say that people genuinely enjoy working at Alumet, given that they see just how much time and money we invest in their continuous improvement,” says Walton. Indeed, the company is accredited for both Investors in People and Achilles — the latter which was required in order to work with clients such as Bovis, Mace and Shepherd.

“That being said, while we employ production, environmental and HR managers, because Alumet is a family-run business we never close our minds to suggestions from staff members, whoever they may be.” Accordingly, ‘suggestion boxes’ are placed throughout the company’s corporate and production facilities, with a recent recession-busting drive aimed at saving money through simple measures receiving record levels of participation.

Central to Alumet’s success is its continual willingness to diversify. Coupled with its traditional envelope solutions, therefore, the company rigorously pursues a strategy of diversification — Avon Solar Control, an external shading device to control thermal heat gain and direct levels of light within a building, being one such example. “With environmental considerations becoming ever more central to the construction industry, as well as vastly reducing energy costs, our award-winning Solar Control systems will undoubtedly represent a fundamental part of the company’s future,” says Walton.

“Similarly, we spotted an opportunity for our permanent access solutions to represent an equally forwardthinking feature of the Alumet portfolio.

If you consider that the gantries, window cleaning cradles and mansafe systems of older structures need to be maintained every six months, it is a market with considerable potential.

Given that we recognised its penetration before many of our competitors, the company has already gained a great deal of traction in providing access equipment to such buildings.” Closely associated with such a remit are Alumet’s maintenance and refurbishment services. During, and even prior to the recession, it became apparent that structures built in the 1960s — be they commercial or residential — we no longer being demolished. The installation of new windows, doors, rainscreen cladding and balconies was required instead, with tenants often remaining in their properties during the works.

Accordingly, it remains imperative that Alumet ensure both occupants’ safety and comfort. Says Walton, “A tenant liaison officer for each property ensures minimal disruption before, during and after work is carried out.

This is a particularly important aspect of the service, given that we are winning an increasing number of full building regeneration contracts — in West Bromwich, Sheffield, Birmingham and Winchester, to name but four.”

Bomb systems
Most impressively, and spearheading the company’s drive into groundbreaking, as yet untapped markets, is its division charged with manufacturing solutions for ‘at risk’ buildings. Entitled the ABLE Façade System (AFS), Alumet’s latest design is a lightweight walling solution, structurally enhanced to withstand the effects of an improvised explosive device — for use in airports, MoD installations, embassies, banks, police stations, corporate headquarters, law courts or any areas of mass congregation.

Moreover, as a counter terrorist measure the AFS provides an alternative method of construction to heavy weight reinforced concrete and enhanced traditional on-site construction methods which, says Walton, “turns buildings into ugly bunkers.”

Securing a £6.2m contract with the MoD to protect undisclosed sites in the Home Counties confirmed Alumet’s initial suspicions; namely that it had a unique, industrydefining product on its hands. “Because we transport the system to site in full units and simply fix it to prepared brackets on the superstructure,” says Walton, “overall construction programmes are significantly reduced, thus saving clients both time and money.”

In spite of a seemingly effortless installation process, the ABLE façade represents a deceptively robust walling solution — having been subjected to a 220lb bomb blast, 82ft away, the system outperformed MoD and Home Office requirements by 20%. Given that the AFS is believed to be the UK’s only pre-fabricated, blast resistant off-site constructed walling system, “these are greatly exciting times for all at Alumet”, says Walton. “Our ultimate aim is to be the primary name associated with such innovative, bomb resistant technology — the go-to manufacturer for architects, construction firms and security contractors, in other words.” With 2009 widely considered the construction industry’s annus horribilus, Walton is nonetheless “delighted to report that our orderbook for 2010 is looking very healthy indeed.” The company has already secured approximately 75% of production output for the year, including contracts for BAM Construction in Cambridge and the regeneration of six tower blocks in Callow Mount, Sheffield with Lovell Partnerships— worth £5.3m and £4.7m, respectively.

“Strange as it may sound,” he concludes, “in many ways building construction is similar to the fashion industry, in that design trends and architectural requirements are rarely static. Coupled with our traditional, best of breed product suite and the AFS, therefore, the company will continue to stay one step ahead of the curve — ensuring that Alumet’s building envelope offerings remain current, award-winning and, above all, a market leader in our sectors.”