Technical Journalist and Editor of Modern Methods of Construction, Bruce Meechan, talks to the Managing Director of Crittall Windows.
During my 25 years as a construction journalist I have witnessed steel window manufacturer, Crittall, battling inertia to modernise its manufacturing processes, before going through a rocky period under American ownership. It was heartening therefore, in 2010, to see the company revitalised by MD John Pyatt and be given the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, International Trade, as business grew here and abroad.
The product too is unrecognisable from the steel fenestration I grew up with in RAF family quarters. For galvanising and galvanising and factory applied paint systems now protect the basic strength of the material, while top performing sealed units, draught stripping and improved ironmongery have transformed the energy performance.
Despite this, however, steel cannot match the U-values of plastic or thermally broken aluminium, prompting the question of where Crittall’s core business lies. “Steel is still favoured for its strength, in security and places like prisons, though we are mainly involved with like-for-like replacement where heritage and slim sight-lines are key. On some projects, though we might supply our Corporate W20 ranges for the retained building, and our composite windows for the new build element.”
Given the very high quality of Crittall’s systems these days, I wondered whether John believed the building industry would ever reach its goal of achieving ‘zero defects’. His response was that of a realist. “No matter how well we make our product, and protect it in transit, they end up installed on building sites. Other trades view a window or door opening as something to pass tools and materials through. Collateral damage is inevitable: knocks with scaffold poles, plaster or mortar snots; they all have to be put right, and generally the damage to our frames happens near the end of a job.
“That is why we use Plastic Surgeon to repair damage to the powder paint finish, or pressed metal surrounds. Our installers just aren’t equipped for, or skilled, in doing this sort of snagging. Replacing a window is costly and causes damage to the reveals, but Plastic Surgeon has the skills to return it to its original beauty. Importantly, the repairs the Fine Finishers undertake do not detract from the long term life of steel windows, which is over 60 years.”
Six decades is of course a long time to look ahead when most forecasters are focused on the next 12-24 months.
When I enquired how he saw the next couple of years panning out, his reply was measured. Despite his company having largely defied the downturn, John Pyatt remains cautious about the pace of the recovery saying: “The market remains fragile, with people ‘down-specking’ to save money, though refurbishment remains much more buoyant than new-build or commercial work. We are seeing some school projects coming through again, and I think there will be more emphasis on improving the existing stock. They still have £15.8 billion to spend on education over the next four years. We have been given the go ahead on several projects, such as the Grade I listed Falmer Building – designed by Sir Basil Spence – at the University of Sussex.”
Interestingly, it has been Crittall’s continuing involvement with refurbishing famous Ivy League universities in the US, such as Yale, which led to the export award. Perhaps other British businesses could learn from its example.
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