Our Commercial Director, Kieran McGrath, took time out to speak to Karl Fitzpatrick of South East Radio’s Business Matters – here is a transcript of their enlightening conversation:
KF: Arc Engineering have developed a new balcony product which they hope will take the Irish market by storm and Kieran McGrath from Arc Engineering joins me now to discuss their latest innovation. Kieran, before we discuss the new swift fit balcony, I want to get an insight into your own career.
KM: OK Karl. I went to college in WIT and studied Civil Engineering and when I qualified I went into a draughtsman position with a steel company and moved to Cork where I got a position with the Siac Roofing and Cladding. Then the downturn came in 2009 OR 2010 and like a lot of people I had to try and find my feet again. Luckily I landed a position with Arc Engineering in 2009 and I’ve been there ever since.
KF: So talk to us about Arc Engineering service offering and the type of projects which you typically work on?
KM: Arc Engineering are predominantly an architectural metalworks company and that’s what they have been since they started which would cover stairs, balustrades, grab rails – be it glass or stainless steel or mild steel powder coated. In the last few years we have started to branch out into balconies. We have started to specialise in those which would be manufactured off-site. We are finding that there are great benefits in off-site manufacture considering the labour resource issue that we are having at the minute and that it is a more controlled environment in our facility down in Wexford.
KF: So provide us with an insight into that particular division within the business that off-site manufacturing and the real benefits that it delivers for the company.
KM: Off-site manufacturing delivers many benefits. It allows us to make the balcony in a controlled environment in our facility so you have no issues with the weather you can have a better control on your materials coming in and going out. Sites can be such a volatile area in terms of getting materials in and out. (..There are..) downtimes and delays between scaffolding and lifts of the crane. When you do stuff in the factory you just have more control over it in terms of quality. As well, it is a clean environment. It just goes in on an assembly line at the start of the workshop and works all the way through where it comes out as a finished product, there are definitely benefits in that.
KF: In terms of securing work with some very notable clients I have to say particularly in Dublin have these contracts been secured through tendering or have they been awarded based on the reputation and the relationships that you have developed within the industry.
KM: Most of our jobs would be built on relationships that we have developed over the years – we do tend to keep winning work with previous customers and clients but we also generate new ones as well so it is a combination of both.
KF: Kieran what impact did the pandemic have on your own business.
KM: Like most companies we had to close temporarily for a while in the first lockdown we had no essential jobs back then. The second time we had a few essential jobs we were able to keep a small number of people going but it wasn’t many and it did have a big impact. Your projects can’t progress because you don’t have labour. (Other) projects were allowed to stay going and we actually lost some of our labour to those ..when we temporarily let them off. They obviously had bills to pay. They decided to move so it made it harder for us then when we were allowed to reopen. We had to source new labour.
KF: There is lots of talk about the staff shortage crisis which is happening within the construction sector, how much of this do you put down to lockdowns.
KM: It’s hard to know. I would say that it is just the volume of the work that is out there at the minute is the reason for the shortage. Maybe some people have gone home in the meantime but I think everyone is just trying to catch up on the amount of work that has fallen behind.(….) I don’t think there is enough labour there to keep up with it so hopefully that will level off because it can’t keep going the way it is. (….)We all want this industry to keep going to keep us all in jobs (…..) but we wouldn’t mind if it did calm down a little bit and it was done in a bit more of a controlled fashion. It would be better for everyone I think.
KF: The Government announced plans for the Housing For All Strategy in recent weeks will Arc Engineering get a benefit from that.
KM: Hopefully we will. Housing is a big thing on the agenda at the minute (…….)our system could be used on those projects to deliver homes to the many people that are awaiting them.
KF: I do want to want to speak to you about that Perch SwiftFit Balcony what provided Arc Engineering with the inspiration for this new product.
KM: I suppose we just saw an opening when we were doing some balcony jobs. You end up going in talking to the design team or the builder and you are talking about the same issues every time. So we thought to ourselves, is there any way we can simplify this? So we sat down and came up with this new concept. We offer the full solution from design through to manufacture through to install. If we are brought on board early we can go through all the details with the design team and the client so that nothing slips through the net. The details are agreed in the beginning and they can flow through the rest of the contractors on site so there are no clashes.
KF: So what exactly is this the Perch SwiftFit Balcony System and how does it work?
KM: The Perch SwiftFit balcony system works with a cast and anchor that is cast into the concrete slab as the building is being built. We provide templates to the builder (….) so they can be set out correctly. So (……) the rest of the building onsite can be progressing while we are making the balcony. Then when the scaffolding is about to come down on site, we come (…) and fit two arms onto those stubs, the cast-in anchors. And when those arms are fitted, the scaffolding comes down and we deliver our finished balconies to site on the back of a lorry. They are simply craned off the lorry and lifted up and they slide in on to the arms that are sticking out from the building. Then they are just secured into position. They are very fast to install you could install up to 15-20 per day depending on the weather and if everything is organised well. So they are very efficient.
KF: What reaction are you getting to this product from Architects and Developers in the market.?
KM: We are getting great reactions over the last year we have secured a couple of jobs off the back of this new system it is definitely getting traction and we are getting lots of enquiries as well.
KF: What’s Arc Engineering’s plan to be able to maximise the potential of the SwiftFit Balcony.
KM: Our main aim is to secure product and just to build on that and hopefully get sufficient sales to expand. So it’s just a case of getting the word ouy, securing some of these projects and delivering them and just keep repeating that which is what we have done with our Architectural Metalworks business up until now. Now we are going to push our energy into (…)the Perch SwiftFit Balconies to make that work the same way our Architectural Metalworks has worked for us up until now.
KF: So how are you going to go about hitting that market hard.
KM: We are going to gain leads. (….) We have a sample balcony in our facility in Wexford which we have invited previous, future and current clients down to see. We give them a tour of the facility they can see how it works. We have an on-line video demonstration with clients where we run through the process from start to finish. There is also our quotations which we feel are competitive. We deliver a quality product, we tick a lot of boxes.
KF: Has Arc Engineering any other new projects in the pipeline?
KM: Yes, we do have we have another product. I can’t go into much detail. We are always looking at developing new products, to be the first to market. We have a research and development area where we can see what we can future proof. Like the balcony system, even though we have the system right now we are still always be looking at ways we can tweak it. After every job we have a lessons learned discussion with the team to go through (to find) any things that there was an issue with or if there is anything we can improve on because you can always improve no matter how good you think you are. There are always improvements that can be made.
KF: Kieran, have you ever looked at the whole area of import substitution in terms of looking at the products that are imported into this country especially from a steel perspective to see if there are any products within that particular catalogue that Arc Engineering could manufacture and supply?
KM: ……We have been focused on the Perch SwiftFit Balcony. We want to maximise it as we think that we have a good product here and we want to give it the (attention) that it deserves.
KF: If you have just tuned in that was Kieran McGrath from Arc Engineering and I am delighted to hear that a local engineering company is to the forefront of innovation in the industry.
Thank you to Karl Fitzpatrick – if you would like to listen to the audio recording of this interview on Spotify, please use this link –