March 3rd, 2020 - Beth

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Steel yourself for a fuss over nothing

 I must be completely honest that a small part of me has been slightly worried that Brexit has entered what we all hope and pray will be its last leg. Why? Well, quite simply it has given me so much ranting fodder that I was seriously concerned about what I would continue to fill this space with.

I need not have worried, at least for this issue however, for it’s been replaced by our own localised cauldron of discontent and outrage: the window industry furore over steel reinforcement.

If all of this has passed you by during the past few weeks since the first instalment hit the press in November, Paul Sullivan of reinforcement supplier Anglo European has stoked the fire by insisting that his customers save as much as £200,000 a year by buying steels from him, instead of the official stuff from the PVC-U systems companies. Even small fabricators can save £10,000 a year says Paul, for steel that is certified to the standards insisted upon by the syscos for their official product.

Hell hath no mercy like a sysco scorned and young Paul has unleashed a tidal wave of indignation, with comments so far from three major PVC-U profile suppliers insisting that as their product has been tested as part of the window for which they provide full certification and warranty, the use of anything else will invalidate any claims made in the event of failure of their product, whatever the reason for that failure.

In other words, use steel or aluminium reinforcement from any source other than the systems company itself, and you’re on your own should the product fail, even if the failure has nothing to do with the reinforcement.

This is a classic case of handbags at dawn and to be honest, the systems companies ‘Outraged of Surbiton’-style huffy responses have only served to draw attention to something that would have otherwise passed with a shrug of the shoulders, should anyone have read Paul Sullivan’s piece in the first place. I certainly would not have wasted time and type on the subject. But here we are…

I use a mixture of steel reinforcement supplied by my systems suppliers and also from alternative suppliers. We will always use ‘official’ sysco-supplied reinforcement for specification work. The ‘non-official’ steel I use is always to the specification laid down by the systems companies. We do so because the non-sysco reinforcement is around 30% cheaper, a figure that makes a very substantial difference to our bottom line at the end of the year. One, in fact, that enables us to improve our offer and support to our installer customers whilst also allowing us to sustain a business in what has hardly been the easiest of trading conditions for any of us.

However, we also use alternative reinforcement for reasons of best practice, for example when the style of a frame is causing screw deflection during fabrication. We use what is best for any particular job.

We do this in the full knowledge that the sysco’s official warranty may be invalidated by using non-official steel, although we haven’t given this any thought for years now, an issue that has never really raised its head.

We need a reality check: Any sort of quality issues relating to PVC-U profiles will concern tolerances in the profile, including warping, damage to the profile, surface, foil or similar. Some of these will be detected after delivery when we check everything that comes off the wagon, as much is possible with the profile on a stillage. The point at which we are most likely to detect defects however, will be when we start using profile to make a window. Having detected a problem we will of course check everything with a fine-toothed comb and any defective material will be thrown back at the sysco. Once they have checked for themselves – a process that can take days or even weeks –we will receive a credit for the profile. Not for any other costs however…nothing for the time taken to remake the window for example, or move the bad profile out of the way, prepare it for return and so forth. Just a credit for the faulty profile.

At Pioneer we run exhaustive quality control checks to ensure that everything that leaves us is perfect to install. Once a window has been manufactured and sent to our customer, any defects will therefore be the result of damage in transit. If an issue is noticed once the window is installed, a whole new scenario is faced.

As a trade fabricator our contract is with our installer customer. If they have a problem with a window that they deem is sub standard upon receipt or after it has been installed, then we will jump all over it, just as I would expect the majority of half decent trade fabricators everywhere would. We will visit the site, look at the issue and if we agree that there is one, even if we do not believe the problem is of our making, we will remake the window quickly, double checking our double checks at every stage. We will work with the installer to make sure it is then installed quickly and cleanly, doing everything to ensure that their customer is happy at the end of it. They get paid, we get paid.

Then we will look at the offending window and, if it’s our fault then lots of apologies and perhaps a bit of an extra discount to sooth our customer’s pain. If it’s an installation problem, or something that they have caused, then we will sort things out like grown ups.

I reiterate that by this stage it is highly unlikely that it is a failure caused by anything the systems company has sent. And actually, even if it was, for the average claim the time spent chasing it through would hardly be worth the effort; I haven’t dealt with a systems company yet that will entertain anything other than the cost of the profile as recompense.

Let me be clear: I understand the position of the systems companies, that any component used in the manufacture of windows and doors using their system that has not been tested by them, will fail compliance with any of their certification and will void warranties. But the savings that even small fabricators make from using non-system steel far outweigh any practical considerations of certification or warranty claims made to the systems company; they’re not really worth the paper they’re printed on. The way I see it is that only in the event of large scale product failure – discolouration or foil delamination for example – might  we have a major need for recourse to the systems supplier for products that have been installed. And even then, are they really going to dismantle every window and fight every claim?

Although a handful of systems companies have thrown their toys out of their prams and drawn real attention to the availability of cheap steel reinforcement for what must be a handful of fabricators that don’t already use it, in a few weeks everyone will have forgotten about it and we will carry on as usual.

And I will have to find something else to crow about; I’ll think of something.



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