Polypipe won this award because of a performance that was so remarkable that it could be described as construction’s equivalent of Chariots of Fire
“Polypipe is truly passionate about its product, it has maintained its profit, and it has a great story to tell about a small British firm that landed some big contracts.” That was the gist of the judges’ explanation for why this firm took the top prize. That reference to “big contracts” is explained by the fact that this firm won the above-ground soil and waste plastic drainage packages on all five of the principal Olympic projects – even though it bid for each individually. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that this firm, with its £230m turnover, was competing against huge transnationals. Underlying this success were the factors that usually underlie success. For example, investment in product development. Polypipe has installed robotic manufacturing units in its moulding shop to improve speed and quality, and has improved the quality of the plastic itself so as to give it a four-hour fire rating. Then there is training. The firm has created a centre of excellence at its Kent site, complete with a fully functional hydraulic tower. It also puts a lot of effort into customer service, the traditional Achilles’ heel of British industry. So, its technical team provides extensive assistance to the project teams, including hosting workshops and providing help with drawings and specifications. All in all a truly remarkable company.
One of the problems that the construction has faced since we started building multistorey buildings 5,000 years ago has been preventing falls from height. Ambar Kelly has made its contribution to the struggle against these accidents with its RiserSafe system. This is aimed at the holes formed in floorslabs to allow the installation of M&E services. These are usually protected by temporary barrier, which result in inefficient and unsafe construction. RiserSafe eliminates the need for all this, while making the holes absolutely safe. How? By removing them. Or rather, replacing them with steel units that are cast into the floorslab. When the time comes to install the M&E kit, usually a couple of months after the frame is erected, the RiserSafe units can be fitted with new plates, complete with laser-cut holes. Simple, imaginative, highly effective …
This firm’s entry was based on its latest PVCu window frame. Why is that impressive? Well, because it’s the PVCu window with the best thermal performance in Britain. How was that achieved? The secret lies in the thermal inserts that Eurocell put inside the frame: these are made entirely from recycled plastic, and because over its lifetime a window admits more energy from the sun than it loses through conduction, convection and radiation, it is very low carbon indeed. This is obviously important in the context of tightening regulation, and even more obviously important in the context of an industry wading through recession, because the frames are so thermally efficient that they don’t need to be fitted with expensive low-iron glass. All in all, a product that is going to benefit everyone.
Last year’s winner of this award was in the running again, thanks in part to its production of insulation with ever more impressive insulating properties, which reduces the amount of raw materials needed, and partly because of its overall environmental performance, which extended from commissioning Arup to audit its sustainability performance to working with schools on a long-term plan to improve the biodiversity of its sites, and with its chemical suppliers to improve their ecological performance. The judges were particularly impressed by this embedding of good, and imaginative, practice in pretty much everything Kingspan does.
The judges said this firm had “gone from strength to strength”. This is saying something, given that they were talking about one of the largest firms in the industry. And one that punches its weight: To take just one point that the judges noted: it developed three important innovations over the year: a robust detail for masonry that helps homes achieve level six of the Code for Sustainable Homes, pre-insulated ductwork and a pioneering fire insulation material. As this level of research is going to continue, expect an even stronger challenge for the top prize next year.
Aluminium is plentiful, does not oxidise, is impervious to ultraviolet light, does not age and is a lightweight metal. Not a bad set of characteristics to base a business around, and this is what Schueco has done. One of the uses it puts the metal to is a range of solar products that are effective, innovative and also look good. One that caught the judges’ eyes was a photovoltaic system that can extract energy from daylight, as opposed to direct sunlight, which is certainly relevant to Britain’s housebuilders and homeowners. The judges also liked the firm’s willingness to share its information with the rest of the industry: its website is one of the most visited in the business, largely because is contains regularly updated, cutting-edge content.