Turning to Hardware For Differentiation

Suppliers see new emphasis on enhanced functionality
John G. Swanson
February 1, 2012
FEATURE ARTICLE | Materials & Components

In looking at hardware these days, window and door manufacturers’ top priority are features and benefits that can help differentiate their products, suppliers report. Other recent trends in the market include continued growth in demand for wide-opening patio door systems, the emergence of window opening control devices, and more electronic options.

“In a tight market, product differentiation is key,” says Axel Husen, president and CEO of Interlock USA. “Manufacturers are asking for technically-superior hardware solutions that improve the operation of their windows and doors.” Examples he points to are automatic sash lock double hung windows and high-quality rollers for a smoother operation of patio doors.


Suppliers see increased demand for components that provide unique functionality, such as Roto's automatic sash lock, above, and Interlock's patio door handle that also operates the locking mechanism.

 

Dan Gray, director of business development and product marketing for Roto Frank of America, also points to growing demand for newer styles of positive action sash locks. “The aesthetic differentiation and unique functionality, as compared to traditional cam locks, is a tremendous appeal to capture a value-added audience,” he states.

“With the downturn in the economy, we have seen an increase in demand for customized products that will help our customers differentiate themselves from their competition in style, function, and performance,” states Aaron Mundt, manager of casement products for Truth Hardware. Updated styling and improvements in performance have long been a requirement among manufacturers, he continues. What he sees on the rise now is demand for uniqueness of functionality.

“We are being requested more often to find new and creative ways for the hardware to function,” Mundt states. To help sell on value and not price, manufacturers are “thinking outside the box to find the ‘wow’ factor that will capture the consumer’s attention.”

Function is one way hardware can differentiate a product, but Husen also points to aesthetics. More manufacturers are asking for better looking hardware, as well as more design options.

 
 Interest in electronic systems, such as Truth's motorized skylight operator, is increasing to both meet the demands of an aging population and integrate with smart home technologies.

Flexibility
One challenge in meeting these needs is that manufacturers also want flexibility, Mundt notes, driving demand to modular hardware products, such as operators with different covers. “Having the ability to fit all sizes versus having one size fits ‘most’ will give you the edge over your competition,” he states. “The key is keeping it simple. Modular systems increase flexibility in style, function, and performance. Like the auto industry, the ability to serve our customers with late-stage customization has its benefits for both of us.”

Roto's Gray points to growth in the company’s patio door hardware, pointing to its versatility as key. Its new hinged door platform, he says, provides a platform that allows various types of locking points, and a range of trim sets in both premium architectural finishes and powder coats.

New Market Demands
Beyond the desire to differentiate, a number of market developments are influencing door and window hardware. One notable growth trend in the window and door market in recent years has been increasing demand for folding and sliding door systems that allow for wide openings and the creation of indoor/outdoor living spaces.

“We see a growing number of large, wide-span openings so manufacturers are looking for hardware that can operate large panels securely and without effort,” Husen states, noting that lift-and-slide, folding door and tilt/turn hardware continue to generate sales growth for Interlock. He sees the strong trend toward large-opening systems as key to increased interest in European hardware in general.

Another development in the hardware market is the result of changing building codes designed to prevent child falls from windows. The new codes allow the use of window opening control devices, which limit a window opening to less than 4 inches to keep a child from falling out of a window, but are also operable to allow for egress in an emergency. Roto sees a keen interest marketwide in new hardware products that meet the ASTM-F2090 referenced in the codes to provide enhanced child safety, Gray notes.

With the baby-boomer population growing older, an increasingly important topic in home building and remodeling is design for aging in place. Window and door manufacturers are responding, looking to provide new options that meet the needs of the elderly and the handicapped, suppliers agree. “We are seeing a trend toward hardware that addresses an aging population with an emphasis on ADA-compliant products." Truth's Mundt states. One response to that trend are hardware operator and locking systems that are easier to grasp and operate by the elderly, he notes. Another option his firm sees is motorized systems that allow the homeowner to open/close and secure their windows and skylights by the simple touch of a button.

Electronics are also coming into hardware with the emergence of smart or connected homes (see related article on page XX), although suppliers see such developments in the very early stage. There’s not much demand from most North American window and door manufacturers, Interlock's Husen reports. What requests he sees for smart home-capable products are coming from high-end, custom window and door shops. These firms on occasion are looking for “intelligent” products, he notes, and generally will turn to options available with European hardware.

Interest is out there, but demand is limited now, agrees Dave Johnson, Truth's business unit manager for patio door products. “We believe that we will see a growing demand by the end user to be able to control the locking hardware from a remote location in the home or outside the home.”

Today consumers are able to control numerous applications in their home including lighting, temperature, appliances, etc., and the list goes on, Johnson continues. “I believe we have all had situations where we have left home only to question whether we remembered to lock a door, turn off an appliance, closed the garage door, or get a call that a family member is locked out of the home. Being able to control these functions remotely provides the peace of mind and flexibility consumers are looking for.”

Jim Lajeneusse, vice president of engineering for Bronze Craft Corp., sees opportunities for such systems in commercial buildings. His company has been involved in several window automation projects that included the use of sensors on windows for monitoring indoor and outdoor environmental conditions. The data measurements are wirelessly transmitted to a modem which will communicate by Ethernet connection to the a building automation system or to a dedicated website which can in turn direct changes in lighting, cooling and heating systems for optimum energy efficiency, he explains. "We believe that the use of electronics will provide window designers real world performance data that will spur new product developments that encourage more use of windows in commercial buildings," he states.

Manufacturers want “unique functionality combined with convenience and performance,” suggests Truth's Mundt. The industry trend, he concludes, is “to find new and creative ways to operate a window or door.”