Taking The Lead On Aluminium

What has uPVC window production ever done for aluminium? Well, let’s start with shorter lead times, argues Sternfenster’s MD Mike Parczuk.

The interest shown by uPVC fabricators in the aluminium sector over the last decade has been a positive force, driving sweeping changes to production. For homeowners, it’s opened up choice in high-end products. For traders, profits margins have improved right through the supply chain.

“uPVC window fabricators have always been windows first, uPVC second,” says Mike Parczuk, managing director of Sternfenster. “But they never understood the archaic practices associated with aluminium window production.”

Since aluminium window fenestration was primarily associated with the architectural sector, many of those defining features associated with uPVC window production were not present. Automated processes, modern thermally efficient products targeting homeowners, and – most significantly – short lead times were absent.

As a result, aluminium window production was machine-light, labour-intensive, and slow.

“Short lead times were key to the success of the uPVC window industry, because it turned a home improvement necessity into a selling opportunity,” Mike says. “This, in turn, needed automated processes for efficiency and, ultimately, volume.”

Some fabricators started asking if the same model could be applied to the aluminium sector, especially since it attracted higher margins. As a result, many uPVC fabricators now run an aluminium line because set-up costs have come down, machinery choice has gone up, and homeowners are demanding aluminium windows and doors.

Sternfenster’s aluminium offering includes the Smart Visofold bifold and Smart Visoglide inline slider and the Smart Alitherm 300, a system suitable for residential and light commercial applications. It features an extended polyamide thermal break and can achieve a WER A Rating or U-value as low as 1.5W/m2K.

Thanks to significant investment in a dedicated aluminium factory, Sternfenster offers the Smart Visofold aluminium bifold in standard RAL Grey, Black and White and Dual Grey on White, plus its Smart Alitherm 300 casement window in RAL White and Grey, with industry-beating lead times.

For orders on single colours, the Visofold bifold is available in 10 days, with other products delivered from just 15 days.

“We opened our aluminium production facility in 2017,” explains Mike. “At £3.6m it was a sizeable investment that included a 30,000 square-foot factory, 10,000 square-feet of office space, and an in-house powder coating line. We have made further improvements to machinery and production capacity since then.”

This includes a six-figure investment into a Schirmer ALU BAZ Composite Orbit-C machining and cutting centre and, more recently, a 4-head Ever Theta frame crimping machine from FOM.

Using profile scanning technology, the Ever Theta introduces exceptional accuracy during manufacture. It can flag out of tolerance profiles of as little as 0.4mm in length or 0.9mm on the diagonal, ensuring extremely high finish levels to 45º mitre and 90º joints.

And in addition to improving quality, it delivers significant manufacturing efficiencies by reducing full-cycle times to just two minutes and 31 seconds – around half the time it takes to use a conventional, single head crimper.

MikeP arczuk aluminium lead times

Mike believes lead times tell only half the story. Along with manufacturing efficiencies, Sternfenster has brought other benefits to aluminium supply, such as Sternfenster Plus, an online portal that gives installers access to production information. In addition to a regularly updated news feed, they can check the status of all their quotes, contracts, deliveries and access training and marketing materials. Installers can tap into a live production feed that provides real-time data on the capacity of its uPVC and aluminium factories.

“Lockdown has generated significant demand, but it has also created huge challenges in the supply chain,” Mike says. “Sternfenster Plus has enabled us to provide additional support to our customers, to improve our service, and a big part of that is because we are now better equipped to manage their expectations. We’ve gained a huge amount of traction with new and existing customers because of it.”

Shorter lead times are certainly the headline benefit passed on from the uPVC sector to aluminium production, according to Mike Parczuk, but that is the tip of the iceberg.

“All those elements in our business that we have built into our business for our uPVC customers are all available for our aluminium ones as well,” he says. “As a result, we have a very comprehensive offering across both materials, which is how it should be.”

For more information, visit www.sternfenster.com, email sales@sternfenster.co.uk or call 01522 512525.

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