Andy Holland, technical marketing manager at Rapierstar, explains how product innovation, combined with valuable customer service lessons from the PVC-U sector, have been at the heart of aluminium’s transformation from a material that looked unlikely to cope with the demands of the modern world, to one that’s at the pinnacle of the market.
"The hardware suite for aluminium differs to that for PVC-U, particularly in respect of the fasteners, but that needn’t restrict fabricators should they wish to source their own components."
Advances such as the use of polyamide to provide a thermal break within aluminium profile systems has enabled fabricators to offer homeowners and commercial customers solutions that match or exceed the performance of other frame materials, with the aesthetic edge. But fastener innovation has been instrumental too, without which excellent build quality and long-term durability would have been much more difficult to achieve.
Aluminium windows and doors are, of course, much more of an engineered product in comparison with PVC-U. This is why forward-thinking fabricators have invested in the right machinery and training to upskill and understand the intricacies of what it takes to make a high-quality product that looks fantastic. A vital part of this has been to take on board – and stick with – the recommendations for hardware components for specific aluminium systems.
In addition to supplying their own recommended locking systems, handles and fasteners, systems manufacturers have played an important role in providing the training and technical support needed to achieve superb build quality and reliable performance over a long service life. This was the same model that worked very well for the PVC-U sector up until around a decade ago. But is it now time to evolve again and innovate the supply chain next?
The hardware suite for aluminium differs to that for PVC-U, particularly in respect of the fasteners, but that needn’t restrict fabricators should they wish to source their own components. In fact, it may well enable fabricators to be more profitable and improve the efficiency of their supply chain, as some are already seeing.
Fastener selection centres around understanding which type of metals are suitable for aluminium and aligning with the right supplier. Fundamentally, fasteners for attaching friction stays in aluminium windows and doors must be manufactured from austenitic stainless steel – no exceptions. The reason for this lies in the science of metallurgy and specifically the process of ‘galvanic corrosion’. This is the principle that underpins batteries, with two metals reacting with each other in the presence of an electrolyte to create an electric current. The metals will eventually corrode away as the battery runs flat.
This is why carbon steel screws used to fix friction stays to aluminium profiles corrode quickly – with the electrolyte being moisture (water). It may be a tiny component but the galvanic corrosion process on the fastener ultimately causes premature failure of the window or door. This could be damaging to a fabricator’s reputation and undermine customer confidence in aluminium windows, which will have been sold at a premium. Fabricators who manufacture both aluminium and PVC-U, in particular, need to take extreme care to use different screws.
To aid understanding and provide clarity on this issue, Rapierstar has invested in developing a unique range of fasteners specifically for aluminium, which – applied correctly – will help maintain the leadership position that aluminium has established. We continue to work directly with many aluminium systems manufacturers, but also want to ensure fabricators can source their own fasteners with confidence should they wish. This is an inevitable evolution of the aluminium supply chain, and one that we believe will benefit fabricators long-term. We only have to look to the PVC-U market to see how a less constrained hardware choice enables fabricators to differentiate, thrive and gain a competitive edge.