Colt International’s Dave Ferrol explains why its smoke control and HVAC products are popular on everything from underground car parks to stately homes.

As its name suggests, Colt International is a global business. It started life as a family firm in 1931, and now employs 850 staff and has a turnover of more than £105m. Colt makes and supplies smoke control systems and heating ventilation and air-conditioning equipment, as well as providing servicing and maintenance. Dave Ferrol, Colt managing director for the UK, talks about the growing demand for climate control.

Describe your market

In the UK our biggest market is in smoke control. We make and supply a range of natural ventilators, mechanical ventilators and smoke curtains for smoke containment. We also provide a consultancy and technical advisory service – what happens in the event of a fire, what equipment do you need to meet the Building Regulations and so on.

Traditionally our products have mainly been used in shopping centres and manufacturing buildings, but now we’re doing a lot of work in car parks and apartment buildings. We’re in the process of completing the UK’s first smoke control system for an underground car park at Paradise Street in Liverpool. It’s a £1.2m project for us.

Generally the fans for underground car parks are used to move the fumes around or to blow the smoke from the fire away. But at Liverpool we’re using a smoke control system that would allow people to escape.

What makes your firm stand out from the competition?

The fact that we will do the scheme design, make the equipment, install the equipment, commission the equipment and, with our servicing and maintenance division, we will maintain that system throughout the life of the building to make sure it’s still ready to do what it was designed to do.

We see that as a very important differentiator. We don’t just make it and run away; we wish to maintain your building for life.

Also, in the context of smoke control, we have a good track record and a lot of experience. We have funded a lot of the research and design guides that are in the public domain and we’ve established good relations with the key consulting practices in the UK.

Which of your products are the most popular?

The product that we produce in bulk is the EN-Seefire, a natural louvred ventilator.

There are thousands of Seefires installed in the UK. It’s a variant of the first product we installed for the first smoke control system in the UK to Vauxhall Motors in Luton in 1953. We have developed it so that it now has full electronic control. In general, the controls of our products have become much more sophisticated over time. We use electronic control systems to interface with building management systems and make sure we control what we need to.

Where do you see your business developing in the future?

The key product that Colt has developed in recent years is the Caloris heat pump, which is enabling us to re-enter the climate control market for all buildings.

When we worked in climate control before, our products were used mainly in factories. This year we’ve got an installation of Caloris at Luton Hoo, a five-star hotel in Hertfordshire that was formerly a listed stately home. Rather than using an air-conditioning unit where you have refrigerant pipework flowing around the building, Caloris uses an ordinary water loop. It allows you to have a unit in one room where you might want to be cold and in the next room you can be hot. It’s a product that we’re now seeing enormous interest in.

Are your products bespoke or made in advance?

Caloris is the most difficult product we make. But because it’s not a variable product – it comes in specific sizes – we are trying to get ourselves in the position where, without overstocking, we have a buffer so we can ensure we can meet building programmes, or turn it around really quickly if necessary.

Natural ventilators are different because they are bespoke for each project. Out of the 3,500 units we make each year there may be some sizes we make more than once, but we couldn’t make them and stock them.