Published On: Tue, Mar 12th, 2019

Frenemies join hands to tackle the future

Editor John Cowie investigates how alliances and partnerships could offer the opportunity to economically bring to market futuristic products that will enhance the longevity of the sector

The recent announcement that Ford and Volkswagen will pair up to tackle the technological revolution affecting the car industry could be a sign of things to come in other industries. The motor industry is flush with such alliances that have seen some of the leading brand names working together on projects which have led to collaborations on new technologies. The reasoning is logical, as the sheer cost and technological burden of developing is too much for a single entity. What is interesting is that firms that historically have been competitors are now forming joint ventures and alliances to help develop and build new technologies that may take years to get to market and even longer before returning a profit. These so-called ‘frenemies’ are also fighting against competition from global tech giants such as Google, Uber and Tesla who are all focused on their missions to redefine the motor industry. The collective reaction from the traditional manufacturers to form alliances to tackle the technological revolution therefore makes perfect sense.

Creating strange bedfellows is not something we are accustomed to in the fenestration industry, especially between natural competitors. But should we be rethinking this? At the recent CES 2019 consumer technology event in Las Vegas there was an obvious increasing appetite for smart products designed for the home. Many focused on entrance and monitoring systems that had direct links to windows, doors and roofs. Global heavyweights such as Tesla and Samsung are already well advanced with innovations in this field, with locking systems and solar energy roofing systems. Door entry and security systems are all the rage now. The Ring Door Bell has really captured the public’s imagination and the scene is set for further development. However, when I discuss the situation with manufacturers here in the UK, they always refer to the sheer costs of developing such technologies. In an ideal world all windows and conservatory roofs would help power people’s houses and central locking would come as standard on all houses. For individual companies to invest in product innovation at this level would be a massive financial risk and probably a step too far for many. Without naming names, I do remember a company that developed a conservatory roofing product that promised so much – it was basically a conservatory roof with solar panels. The concept was fantastic, but it really didn’t deliver on many of the areas that were expected of such as product, the key ones being aesthetics and the potential for a part-translucent appearance. There were probably a number of other reasons, but it just needed massive amounts of investment and this wasn’t possible.

As the potential for smart technologies becomes more commonplace in the fenestration sector, is it time to start looking for working alliances and partnerships to develop the full market potential of these technologies? While fully understanding the intensely competitive landscape of the market, working together might help inject impetus into a segment that with collective investment could push into the mainstream. Developing a new mainstream market is a win win for all those involved – 25% of a mainstream market is far more appealing and rewarding than 100% of a niche undeveloped market. It could be time for like-minded competitors to become ‘frenemies’ to investigate generic innovations that will help grow their particular sub-sector. Over the years we have seen alliances formed between fabricators and their suppliers, and on the rare occasions a group of fabricators have tried to work together to offer a national service. Further down the supply chain, the PVC Aware initiative was an attempt to bring PVC-U extruders together to champion the sustainable and recycling credentials of PVC-U. With innovation and technology such a driving force in the global manufacturing world, alliances could offer the opportunity to economically bring to market futuristic products that will enhance the longevity of the sector.