The price of raw metal is rocketing, says Geraint Jones of Alumasc. But its aluminium and cast-iron rainwater systems will last you a good 50 years.
Alumasc Exterior Building Products has a turnover of more than £25m and five product ranges: rainwater, drainage, waterproofing, facades and metal roofing. The company, set up 30 years ago, is based in St Helen’s in Merseyside and employs 120 people. Geraint Jones, development engineer in the rainwater division, discusses the business.
Q. Describe your position in the UK market
A. We are probably the UK’s leading maker of aluminium rainwater systems. We have two ranges – contemporary and traditional – aimed at commercial and residential buildings. Both ranges include gutter profiles and downpipes.
We also have cast-iron products to meet the demand for restoration and historic projects. On the cast-iron side, our main competitor is Saint-Gobain.
As well as the standard cast-iron range, which is available from stock, we offer a made-to-order service where we manufacture products to match an original. Lead times on these are eight to 10 weeks.
Q. Who do you sell your products to?
A. Most of our products are sold through independent distributors, but we sell some directly to specialist contractors.
Q. What is the state of the market in the UK?
A. It is competitive. The manufacturers of plastic rainwater products try to compete with us, but our strength is life expectancy. Aluminium will typically last 50-plus years. Cast iron, if properly maintained, can last 50-100 years. So, although there is a premium on the initial cost, the life-cycle cost should be lower.
Q. Tell us about a particularly challenging job you have worked on
A. We have recently supplied cast-iron hopper heads and pipework for the refurbishment of the grade I-listed St Pancras station in London. We had to work very closely with English Heritage and come up with a match for the originals.
The hopper heads were particularly ornate. We created a wooden replica, which we used to make a sand mould to cast the new ones. These were supplied to site with a primer finish ready for painting.
Q. Which products are most popular?
A. The most popular gutter profiles are probably the half-round and the moulded, but it depends where you are in the UK. In Scotland, the beaded half-round profile is the most sought-after. This is because, historically, gutters would have come from a local foundry that had its own style. Although the foundries might have closed down 50 or 60 years ago, there is still a demand for the traditional styles. Elsewhere, more ornamental gutters are in demand.
Q. Which sectors are buoyant?
A. We are supplying a lot of PFI hospital projects and the commercial sector is particularly buoyant in the South-east.
Q. Are there any product developments?
A. It’s quite a mature market so innovation is limited. However, we have recently introduced a pre-finished range of cast-iron products. These are delivered to site already painted in a satin black finish. It’s a natural progression from the powder-coating offered on our aluminium products.
We are also developing our products to meet the growing demand for rainwater harvesting. Sustainability is an issue in terms of the materials we use, too. Aluminium is 100% recyclable and, although our products aren’t made from 100% recycled material, we are looking into this. There are technical barriers and there is also a shortage in supply of scrap aluminium.
Q. What has had the biggest effect on your business recently?
A. Without doubt, it’s rising prices for aluminium and cast iron. Over the past 12 months, the cost of raw materials has risen by 25-30%. Getting hold of scrap metal is a challenge.
Specifier 05 October 2007
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