Form, Function and Fabrication

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-By Robert Hoshowsky

Readily acknowledged worldwide for its rugged, natural beauty, Australia is also well-known for its temperamental, oftentimes fierce weather. Powerful storms like last year’s Cyclone Yasi – packing powerful winds of up to 300km an hour near its core – caused considerable damage to much of North Queensland, and remains one of the largest tropical storms to hit Australia in decades, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes and other buildings without electricity, ripping off roofs, and causing billions of dollars in damage.

While nothing can be done to prevent cyclones, floods and other natural disasters, it is possible to protect buildings through the use of high-performance windows and doors that are not only exceptionally durable against cyclones and rainstorms, but highly functional and attractive.

With a history that goes back over 100 years, The FMI Group remains one of Australia and New Zealand’s largest and most respected leaders in the building products industry. Encompassing a number of specialist companies and supported by a vast network of partner fabricators, The FMI Group has been structured over the decades to support superior quality design and production standards, exceptional customer service, and an ongoing dedication to leading-edge research, development and testing for all products. With the parent company in New Zealand, a number of subsidiary companies operate under FMI, including FMI Research, which is responsible for product development, product design, testing, and software development for all companies in the group. In addition to glass companies, a fabrication company and other businesses, one of the best known is Aluminium Systems Australia Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of FMI Group.

“Aluminium Systems in Australia sources its product from Australia and New Zealand, warehousing it in Brisbane and distributing nationally to our network of fabricators. We manage the local customer relationships, and provide all of the support the Australian fabrication businesses need from within Australia, with FMI in New Zealand providing our product design and technology solutions,” says Hudson Dahlberg, General Manager for Aluminium Systems Australia, which is behind a wide range of high-performance windows and doors.

With operations in Australia and New Zealand, Aluminium Systems Ltd (ASL) distributes aluminium window and door profiles and accessories throughout New Zealand and Australia, and parts of the South Pacific and Asia. As a complete solution supplier of window and door systems to FMI Group fabricators, ASL offers excellent ongoing technical, Information Technology, factory, and marketing support, and ensures architects and specifiers, builders and consumers are equally supported. Utilising highly sophisticated and fully integrated business systems, ASL provides fast and accurate distribution of quality products to its nationwide network of Fairview fabricators throughout Australasia.

Along with offering a range of awning, sliding, bifold, casement, and double hung doors and windows, Aluminium Systems has developed and created new high-performance windows and doors that have up to C4 ratings (225 to 280 km per hour) for cyclone regions, where winds are capable of shearing off roofs and wrecking windows and doors.

“The product is going very well, and it is our fastest-growing category,” says Mr Dahlberg. “Fundamentally, the structural parts of a high-performance product tend to be larger and stronger, so that they can handle higher wind loads. The water management systems – including the sills and the seals – tend to be far more robust and of higher quality, so that they can manage the water under high pressure and high wind loads, and allow more protection.” Instead of a big, bulky, commercial-looking product, the company is focusing on doors and windows which combine strength with beauty. “We’ve created products that have the strength of a large door, but have a more architecturally focused aesthetic, so that they can be both high-performance and appealing in a normal residential environment.”

To ensure all products meet the requirements for a C4 cyclone region, the company recently upgraded its own extensive R&D facilities in Auckland so they are capable of achieving pressures over 9,000 pascal (Pa), a unit of pressure, internal pressure, stress, Young’s modulus, and tensile strength. “We have our own wind and water pressure testing station that is National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) certified, so we can do the vast majority of our testing internally.” Hundreds of hours are spent researching, developing, and testing window and door systems to ensure optimal performance in the most challenging wind, rain and temperature conditions to ensure all relevant New Zealand and Australian building standards are met.

To ensure all products are of the highest quality and consistency across Australia and New Zealand, the company’s commitment to innovation goes far beyond doors and windows themselves. Unlike many other window and door manufacturing groups in Australasia, Aluminium Systems is one of the very few to write its own fabrication ERP software, called X1, a quotation, ordering and manufacturing system that ensures all fabricators receive the necessary specifications and information. The company undertakes the warehousing and powder coating of the aluminium profiles, which are then sent out to fabricators across the country to make the final product. It is a system that works very well, and ensures customers receive the best quality windows and doors on the market.

“We distribute product and our software system to about 40 window and door fabricators around the country,” says Mr Dahlberg. “They make contact with the architect, builder or end user, and provide quotes and technical support using our software, and then when the specification is confirmed, they send an order to us for the raw materials, and we supply those. So fundamentally, we design the systems and all the technology to make the product work, including punching sets and manufacturing specifications. We test the product and make sure it complies, and we write software so that it can be quoted, sold and manufactured. Our network of fabricators uses those tools to sell the product, and then manufacture and install it.”

With a focus primarily on capital cities and regional centres, Aluminium Systems is committed to supporting its fabricating network. “Our fabricators invest a lot of time and money into setting up their businesses,” says Mr Dahlberg. “They tend to be family-owned or small partnerships. They spend a lot of money investing into their businesses, putting in showrooms, purchasing specialised tooling and equipment and training their staff, and we are very committed to sustaining that network, supporting the investment that they have made in our brand. They have the geographical reach through the various areas they operate in so they can provide the local contact and communication that’s needed to execute complex projects in their region. Even though we have a great network of fabricators, we’re always looking for new partners to join the network, and we’re always introducing new products, as well, that cater to new categories and allow our fabricators to get to more parts of the market and continue to present innovative and unique products.”

Depending on the marketplace and the geographic area, performance requirements for the company’s many windows and doors will be different, but the specifications for the manufacturer of any given combination of the same remain consistent.

Although the company primarily sells aluminium profile windows and doors, it has expanded to offer a range that is now thermally broken in the higher-performance categories. Instead of using one piece of aluminium – which has a high thermal conductivity that conducts heat or cold readily – two profiles are extruded, and joined together with a polyamide strip. Combined with double glazing, this technology produces a very energy-efficient product with reduced conductivity that insulates both the inside and outside surfaces.

According to Aluminium Systems’ Hudson Dahlberg, there are a number of reasons why the company has set itself apart from the competition. The first is the firm’s in-house software systems, which are superior to generic ones for estimating, quoting, and manufacturing. “Since the systems our fabricators use are tailored to our product, we can optimise them to get the best out of our systems. By avoiding the use of generic software, we don’t need to compromise the specification process, allowing our fabricators to engineer the best solution at the best cost.”

Another Aluminium Systems advantage is the company’s broad product range, which covers entry-level, low-cost windows all the way to the latest, high-performance windows in the marketplace, namely the cyclone-rated architectural range. Perhaps the biggest reason for the company’s ongoing success is its innovation, and its never-ending pursuit to create products that are more durable, more weather-resistant, and energy-efficient.

“While we aspire to lead the market with new product initiatives, our biggest drive is to produce the best in class performance product in every range that we enter,” says Mr Dahlberg. “We’re not just satisfied to have a “˜me too’ product; we’re finding ways to differentiate the product and make it aesthetically pleasing and high performance.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 14, 2020, 10:45 AM AEST