Automatic Sash Locks Becoming an Industry Standard

The need for differentiation and higher profit opportunities for window manufacturers are driving demand
By Axel Husen and Steve Gledhill, Interlock USA
March 15, 2008
FEATURE ARTICLE | Materials & Components

Every year, more and more window manufacturers incorporate automatic sash locks into their designs. In fact, what was once thought of as an upgrade exclusive to high-end windows is quickly becoming an industry standard on a large variety of North American windows. Today, innovative designs and progressive window manufacturers have transformed the one-time specialty product into an industry mainstay. Window manufacturers have found that automatic sash locks are a key market differentiator that not only helps to sell more products, but also offers a higher profit opportunity for the company.

The first automatic sash lock for a vinyl window proved to be successful for the manufacturer, which rolled it out as a standard offering soon after its initial launch.

So, why are automatic sash locks becoming so popular? The short answer is innovation. An automatic sash lock differs from a traditional sliding window lock in that the lock automatically engages when you close the window. In this fashion, an automatic sash lock offers homeowners invaluable convenience over a traditional cam lock: ease of use and peace of mind. While performance levels between cam locks and automatic sash locks are equally high, many homeowners consider the indication feature on the automatic sash lock a valuable asset to home security. With this type of lock, a closed window is a locked window—and to the homeowner, this distinction makes a significant difference. It is also this feature that helps window manufacturers obtain a premium on products that carry this new technology.

In addition to home safety, most automatic sash locks are designed so that homeowners cannot inadvertently damage the window with the lock. If a traditional cam lock is accidentally operated while the window is open, the locking cam can damage the window, interior grilles and the lock itself. The engineering and design of automatic sash locks eliminate this problem.

The benefits of automatic sash locks don’t end there. Innovation has been a great driving force behind the market shift toward higher-end hardware, but aesthetics have played a critical role as well. From a homeowner’s point of view, many vinyl windows look very similar to one another. Why buy one over the other? Some manufacturers offer different options and features in the window designs, but aesthetic differentiation is limited, which can make highlighting the benefits a hard sell. So, in an effort to differentiate their products from the competition, window manufacturers have turned to new and innovative hardware.

TRACING THE HISTORY
Faced with a consumer population that is increasingly more aware of windows, both from an architectural and energy performance standpoint, as well as from an aesthetic standpoint, manufacturers have begun to see the benefit of providing hardware options—new, unique, better-looking hardware options. The shift to automatic sash locks began in 1997, when a marketing-oriented window manufacturer came to Interlock in search of a proprietary hardware design that would help its windows stand out from the competition. The solution that was developed became the first automatic sash lock for vinyl windows—it was called PAL, which is an acronym for positive action lock.

Launched in 1998, at a time when traditional cam locks were the standard offering, the innovative lock design set the window apart. It proved to be one of the more successful new products introduced into the American fenestration industry in the past decade. Following the initial product launch, what was first intended to only be an upgrade on the manufacturer’s premium window series was shortly rolled out to all its product lines. Many window manufacturers have recognized the opportunity since that time, and are incorporating automatic sash locks into all of their product lines—not just the top tier—which turned out to be an extremely successful move.

Automatic sash locks are becoming increasingly popular in the industry, geographically as well as functionally. They have proven to be highly adaptable to many different window applications across many regions and are available in various price ranges. Initially popular on the West Coast, where sliding/gliding and single-hung window applications dominated the market, automatic sash lock demand has been steadily on the rise in other parts of the country. There is a growing use on the East Coast, predominantly a classic double-hung market; and in Southeastern states such as Florida, where automatic sash lock designs have been successfully incorporated into several certified hurricane/impact resistant window systems.

CONTINUED EVOLUTION
While automatic sash locks were initially adopted by manufacturers in the vinyl window market, more wood window manufacturers now see an opportunity and are looking to incorporate these new hardware solutions into their product lines. Proprietary solutions have always been very attractive to window manufacturers that wanted to break away from the herd. Today, many have found that platform solutions are a cost-effective way to differentiate their products from the competition. Often, window manufacturers seek a proven mechanism or hardware solution that already exists on the market but desire product aesthetics designed to be new and proprietary to their business. This allows the window manufacturers to showcase their products with hardware that is attractive and unique to them, without enduring the cost of a completely proprietary mechanism. Automatic sash lock platform systems on the market today offer this kind of flexibility.

Even with the success of this type of hardware, the industry is constantly evolving, looking for smarter engineering, unique solutions and enhanced performance. One of the latest innovations to hit the market is the concealed magnetic lock. Its key feature is the magnetic trigger of the lock; avoiding the mechanical activation that causes some concerns in double-hung applications where the top sash may sag down over time. The lock features one-motion operation–the window is opened by pulling the lock handle in the sash opening direction. The handle of the lock serves as a window pull and latch indicator at the same time. During its locking and unlocking action, the lock emits a clear sound, again bringing the homeowner peace of mind. The lock mechanism is fully concealed inside the window extrusion, which provides structural support to the lock. A concealed sash lock is therefore profile dependent. Magnetic locks—truly original in their design—have the potential to change the landscape of the industry.

IS YOUR BUSINESS COMPATIBLE?
Window manufacturers are finding that the switch to offering automatic sash locks on their products does not entail a huge capital investment. Some automatic sash locks are designed to be a direct cam lock replacement, so investing in expensive new equipment is generally not necessary.

There are a number of issues for window manufacturers to consider in looking at this type of hardware. Automatic sash locks can be both direct cam lock replacements or extrusion specific. They require accurate alignment of the lock and striker which hardware engineers address by allowing tolerance in the lock design. A reasonably controlled manufacturing environment is required, as automatic sash locks are built to accommodate known variations, but overall performance is still dependent on quality of window assembly and installation. Thus, for the window manufacturer differentiation is not all about aesthetics—a controlled manufacturing environment is equally important to take advantage of any new technology.

In the end, automatic sash locks have proven invaluable to window manufacturers who have applied them to their product lines. For some manufacturers, they can be one of the most important features used to set their products apart from their competitors and bring added value to homeowners, allowing them to receive higher margins on their products.

In an industry that is constantly evolving, these new trends are no surprise. As the automatic sash locks of today have become highly differentiated—performing completely different functions, offered at a variety of price points and in a wide array of aesthetic looks and finishes—they are becoming a standard for successful window manufacturers across the nation. The question is: are you one of them?

Axel Husen is president and CEO of Interlock USA Inc., an Assa Abloy company based in Reno, Nev. With 20 years experience in the window hardware industry, Husen started his career in 1988 in his native Germany, and then transferred to the United States in 1994. Steve Gledhill is the business development engineer for Interlock USA. Originally from New Zealand, Steve has 12 years experience in the window hardware industry and is the second-generation of the Gledhill family to work for Interlock. He has worked both as a design and manufacturing engineer and has now spent more than six years living and working in the United States. Incorporated in January 2005, Interlock USA is a full-service window and door hardware supplier specializing in innovative design and customized hardware solutions. Interlock works closely with window and door manufacturers to create original, project-specific designs that differentiate products from the competition. Information is available by contacting steve.gledhill@interlockna.com, by phone at 877/852-8808 or by visiting the company’s Web site at www.interlockna.com.