Are stretchmarks showing in an overstretched industry?

By Jess Brunette May 12, 2018 Glues, Sealants & Fillers

Business for this category is steady but with a shortage of skilled LBPs are the right products being used the right way in our new homes?

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

This March, several media outlets published stories asking if corners were being cut in New Zealand’s increasingly stretched building industry.

The basis of these concerns was the release of an almost undercover, “sting”-like Government enquiry from late 2016 named “Operation Landing”.

This has sparked more calls for greater integration in all areas of the build process.

I asked several major players for their take on this, other major trends in the category and any concerns the market has thrown their way in the past year.

 

WHAT THE SUPPLIERS THINK

Holdfast COO, Melanie Reid, reports a good year for the company but adds that this upswing may not reflect an industry-wide trend.

As for the crowded and competitive category we reported in these pages this time last year, she confirms that this is still the case with plenty of competitors both established and new all “hungry for business”.

Regarding reports that substandard practices – and products – are being found across Auckland building projects, Melanie Reid feels that, while the glues & sealants category is not immune to misuse, this is an industry-wide problem and needs to be dealt with as such.

“I think the way for us, and the protection that our customers have, is in our proven track record for quality and that a number of our products are BRANZ appraised.

“That’s a key thing for people to look out for, CodeMark, BRANZ Appraisals or certification where they can be sure that they’re getting a good product,” she says.

Over at Sika, Tony Smith has found the market in the last year to be buoyant but generally “more of the same”.

Sika continues to push the benefits of solvent-free products but Tony Smith will admit he has come to realise that this may be a “long game”.

“We do a lot of work at trade shows talking to builders about it. What we find is that the older licensed building practitioners (LBPs) guys will keep using solvent and you’ll probably never be able to change them.

“But we’re definitely noticing the younger LBPs are less inclined to want to breathe solvent all day so we make sure they are always up to date with that technology.”

I ask Tony Smith what he thinks about the growing calls for greater integration across all aspects of a build to prevent poor on-site practices.

Smith acknowledges that he of course also hears about sub-par practices on building sites but argues that Sika’s contribution to a more integrated industry is to get involved at the conceptual stages of a building project.

“We have a team of staff that are dealing with architects and engineers and specifiers right from the plan drawing stage, making sure that the right product gets selected right at the start.” he says.

Unfortunately, like many players in the industry, Tony Smith acknowledges that sometimes during the build process specified products can be substituted to save a few dollars.

However he adds, even with the best intentions, people can simply get the wrong advice when using an otherwise fit for purpose product leading to failure further down the track.

Also bearing in mind that the industry is already stretched, I ask for his thoughts on the government’s recent purchase of 30 hectares of land from the Mt Albert Unitec campus, the first major step in its Kiwibuild programme.

“Any time there’s any construction obviously we’re going to be busy but you hear a lot of noise in the industry that we are currently at capacity. And if we were going to build a lot more homes, who’s going to build them?”

With not enough LBPs actually on-site an explicit key concern of the “Operation Landing” report’s findings, is there potential for more corners to be cut when making the 3,000-4,000 planned homes on the Unitec grounds?

Tony Smith won’t say, but time will tell…

 

GLASS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY?

Bostik’s Paul O’Reilly says that 2017 was a very good year for Bostik but that things have flattened somewhat in the last few months.

O’Reilly acknowledges that a project like the Unitec development could mean good business but equally maintains a healthy scepticism about construction projects in the coming year.

Part of his wariness comes from the April announcement that a $300 million dollar scheme for a development in north west Auckland’s Whenuapai and Redhill areas may not proceed thanks to rising infrastructure costs leaving the developers unable to meet their portion of the financing.

I move next to Simpson Strong-Tie’s Rob Lawson, who reports massive growth for the company’s adhesives in the last year, albeit on a smaller base than some players in this area.

Asked for his thoughts on the Kiwibuild projects and the potential for corner cutting, Lawson admits that the Unitec site probably won’t generate a lot of business for Simpson’s anchor adhesives.

High density projects like the ones proposed at the site will have smaller footprints, meaning fewer holes in the slab and less adhesive per dwelling.

Looking industry wide, however, Rob Lawson acknowledges that while it isn’t just an adhesives problem, he does worry about reports of inferior products being used.

What does he make of the call for greater industry wide integration along all stages of a build?

“The answer isn’t simple because, when you’re talking about sticky stuff behind the wall or under the slab, it doesn’t matter how diligent the inspectors are, they’re never going to know,” he says matter of factly.

A player who shares these views but is positive about the direction the industry is taking is Mapei’s Andi Padrutt, whose business has continued in a steady vein since the previous year.

Padrutt has seen a shift in this category in the building industry with more accountability being taken from specifying all the way through to developers and contractors.

“We find more and more questions are being asked about the accountability even in the company behind the products.

“So the sales pipeline is actually happening at the architect’s or engineer’s desk where they are specifying the product rather than just the walk-in customer that is an installer who just decides on the spot which product to be used.”

Andi Padrutt has also seen a more system-based approach being taken with specifiers choosing a single manufacturer or brand for a range of products in the house based on a wider view of their performance, backup and stability.

“It’s no longer a case of I’ll have this primer, this membrane, this adhesion and this grout and then mix and match,” he says.

If projects are indeed going for a more systems based approach, is the overcrowded market reported on in these pages last year still an issue or are the shelves becoming more streamlined?

 

STILL A CROWDED CATEGORY?

SelleysNeil Watkins reports strong growth from all his major customers but admits that a walk down the aisles for this category can still be overwhelming.

He feels however that this has led brands to move away from generalised solutions to more specialised products to stand out from the crowd.

“It can be confusing and that’s why consumers look for something on the packaging that calls out to their particular job whereas tradies know exactly what they want.

“But there is a lot of duplication and I think over the next two to three years you will see retailers start to reduce that amount to make the category easier for the consumer to shop.”

Confirming this is Ardex’s Steven Irvine who has heard directly from some retailers that a process of core ranging and simplification is already well underway.

Does he think this will become a phenomenon with say a big player like Bunnings?

Well, yes and no.

“It’s like anything really. One person makes the decision to go ahead and it starts rolling for six months and then, depending on if that person is still there or not, the priorities may change.”

Either way Steven Irvine feels that the big name brands will remain, whatever happens.

And he has reason to be confident with Ardex seeing significant rises in the past year especially in flexible rubber modified options and some of its cheaper alternatives also in “hot demand”.

 

A WORD FROM THE MERCHANTS

Moving now to the retail floor I ask Liam Pawson, General Manager of Mitre 10 MEGA Hornby, on the performance of this category for the last year.

His response is that sales were up in 2017 on the previous 12 months with glues and tapes particularly strong.

So how about the opinion that there are too many players and products on the shelves?

Liam Pawson responds with an emphatic “no” to this suggestion.

“We’ve got to remain competitive and, while the range of glues is huge, so too is the range of different applications,” he explains.

As for reports of cheaper imported products that aren’t fit for purpose hitting the shelves, Liam Pawson hasn’t been tempted to the dark side.

“Reputations aren’t built on a quick buck!” he says firmly.

A similar story is told by PlaceMakers Category Manager Blair Holland, who reports that although a very mature category, glues & sealants have shown a solid upward trend in the past year.

As for tales of overcrowding and duplication in the category, he maintains that, for his brand-loyal trade customers, some duplication is necessary.

Regarding imported “brand x” type products, Blair Holland does see these coming in but makes sure to stay well away from them.

“The thing with those products is that you can’t often track the expiry dates as they only have manufactured symbols so don’t know if they are fit for purpose.

“With a merchant like us people are guaranteed the product is up to date and on the shelf and able to do the job they want,” Holland says.

 

A BUILDER’S PERSPECTIVE

Moving to the coalface, I spoke to builder Mike Bell of award-winning Belco Homes for his thoughts on the category.

Belco Homes took home of the Carters New Home $1-2 million category at the 2017 Registered Master Builders 2017 House of the Year Awards.

When choosing a product in the aisle, Mike Bell says that he tends to prioritise BRANZ Approval, followed by product specifications, then a trusted brand name.

When I mention that some suppliers had been feeling the market was overcrowded with brands and products, he agreed but felt this couldn’t be helped and suggested that “sour grapes” could be at play.

Regarding substandard imported products, Mike Bell himself hadn’t come across any but certainly wasn’t surprised to hear that they were in play.

How about solvent-free? Is it fair to say that some solvent free options aren’t being used by some builders based on traditional preferences, rather than their fitness for purpose?

“Yes that is fair. I am one.” he admits.

“The solvent-free ones need to be tested for 10 years or more to prove they are going to go the distance and, like all products in New Zealand, nothing is tested long enough so we continue to have failures again and again.

“When will we learn?” he asks.

 


The roof on Sir Ed’s Antarctic hut … conquered

Scott Base is New Zealand’s Antarctic research station. It sits at the southern end of Ross Island, 3500kms south of Dunedin and 1350kms from the South Pole.

In 1957, four years after Mt Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary was down at Scott Base, leading the team placing food and fuel depots in support of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by English explorer Dr Vivian Fuchs.

Never one to stand on ceremony, and against instructions, Sir Ed continued past the last supply dump in a “dash to the pole”. On 4 January 1958 he and two companions became the first to reach the South Pole overland since Sir Robert Falcon Scott in 1912.

Sixty years of brutal winters later, the only one of the original Scott Base buildings still standing was “Hillary’s Hut”.

It was in a sad state when in November 2016 the Antarctic Heritage Trust began a total restoration of this historic piece of New Zealand’s Antarctic history.

Sika became a Sponsor of the Trust and supplied Sika PEF Backing rod and MultiSeal Tape for interior restoration work.

Then in November last year, Mike Burgess from New Zealand sheet metal experts Architectural Metalformers approached Sika to see if it had a high performance sealant he could use in a clever plan to finally stop the roof leaking.

When Mike arrived at Scott Base a few weeks later he was armed with not just his serious sheet metal skills but also amongst his roofing kit, two cartons of SikaHyflex-250 Facade and a Sika Sealant Gun.

Mike’s plan was to use traditional standing seam roofing, enclosed edges and Sika Hyflex-250 to create completely new flat roof panels.

Once installed, these panels were then sealed with Sika Hyflex-250 and layered with wooden battens to replicate the Hut’s original appearance.

It was a very smart looking job, but would it do the job?

The big test came just a few days later when a “warm storm” swept across the Bay.

All the other roofs at Scott Base leaked – except one.

Hillary’s Hut stayed dry, which just goes to show that if you’ve got a serious problem with leaks, get the right skills, tools and high performance sealant on the job and “knock the bastard off”.

To see a time-lapse of Mike’s work on Hillary’s Hut, and learn more about the great work the Antarctic Heritage Trust is doing, visit

www.sika.co.nz


What was “Operation Landing”

Carried out in November 2016, as reported by Newsroom.co.nz, “Operation Landing” was a 12 day “sting”-style operation involving surprise visits to over 150 building sites in South Auckland and the North Shore of Auckland.

A broad arrange of agencies involved apparently included MBIE, Immigration NZ, Auckland Council, Inland Revenue and WorkSafe.

As reported by Newsroom.co.nz in March, lack of licensed supervision and documentation were the big misses.

Key findings from the operation found that, of the sites visited, over 81% had no LBPs present, 75-80% had no building consent plans available and that over 28% had some form of sub-standard quality gasfitting, drainlaying and plumbing.

The “sting” also found 41% of building sites visited had issues with employment records or agreements and employed illegal contractors.


Dunlop Fibrecrete

Dunlop Fibrecrete bagged concrete uses synthetic reinforcing fibres that provide great impact resistance, improved freeze-thaw capability and significantly reduced cracking from drying shrinkage. It also removes the need for reinforcing steel in non-structural applications.

Dunlop Fibre-crete mix consists of a uniformly blended, properly proportioned mixture of stone, gravel, sand, cement, air entraining admixtures and synthetic reinforcing fibres, all approved for use in concrete to improve workability and performance of the product.

This 28 MPa construction-grade concrete can be mixed with water in a mixer or wheelbarrow and is a high quality, longer term solution for all types of general & DIY concrete applications.

www.ardex.co.nz


AT-HP Blue gets the BRANZ tick

Simpson Strong-Tie’s AT-HP Blue colour changing anchoring adhesive is now BRANZ Appraised as a bottom plate anchor solution.

AT-HP Blue is a fast cure methacrylate anchoring adhesive that changes colour from blue to grey when it cures.

The colour change process gives a visual representation that the chemical anchor has cured so there is no longer the need to wait longer than you need to before you load the anchor.

Nor is there a need to check to see if it is set by wiggling the stud, only to find that you have broken the bond to the concrete or the stud.

Available in a 280ml cartridge that can easily be installed with a conventional caulking gun.

www.strongtie.co.nz

 

 

 


Glue tech – Adhesives join the solar revolution

German producer of solar cell manufacturing equipment Teamtechnik has developed an electricity conducting adhesive.

This innovation is said to reduce thermal and mechanical stress in the manufacture of the latest and most efficient solar cells.

The adhesive is used with one of Teamtechnik’s own stringing machines for manufacturing solar cells and uses no lead, significantly less silver and lower processing temperatures when producing connected solar cells.

www.teamtechnik.com/en/

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