‘We have increased our manufacturing capacity by 300 per cent’
The 2015 ‘Irish Times’ Innovation Award winner has had a year of strong growth
PanelDuct won the overall ‘Innovation of the Year’ award at The Irish Times InterTradeIreland Innovation Awards 2015. From left: Barry Cryan, Pat Walsh, Conal O’Neill and Anthony Killeen from PanelDuct.
The 2015 Irish Times Innovation Award winner, PanelDuct, is experiencing growing demand on the home and international markets for its ingenious ventilation ducting system, which offers significant cost and energy efficiency advantages over traditional systems.
The company has recently moved into a 40,000sq ft purpose-built facility in Castlebar and has announced the creation of 20 new jobs as a result of strong growth over the past year.
Standard ducting systems are usually made of galvanised steel which is quite bulky, costs a lot to deliver and requires significant storage space on-site. In addition, it has to be insulated on-site following installation and, if it is an exterior location such as the roof of a building, it then has to be weatherproofed at a further stage of the process.
This adds up to a very costly and labour-intensive process involving three sets of on-site tasks and three separate work crews.
Two of these sets of task are eliminated by the PanelDuct solution, a modular product which is easily assembled on-site. The system comprises prefabricated and pre-insulated galvanised steel panels which are clipped together on-site to form the ducting systems. This means there is no post-installation insulation or weatherproofing work required. It also means the system comes in flat-pack form, making it far easier and cheaper to transport.
In common with many successful inventions, the innovation came about as a result of frustration with existing options. Walsh Mechanical Engineering, PanelDuct’s parent company, had experienced numerous problems with existing systems.
“The company had become frustrated with the problems presented by traditional ductwork,” explains PanelDuct sales director Brian Mulhare. “For example, on one occasion the ducting wouldn’t fit through a narrow doorway in a building and a crane had to be hired to hoist it onto the roof. There were no pre-insulated flat-pack systems available on the market and having found this unmet need, it was decided to establish PanelDuct.”
The system possesses other considerable advantages over and above time and cost savings. Among these is energy efficiency. The PanelDuct system uses a patented compression sealing system which gives the ducting very high standards of air-tightness. This brings natural advantages in terms of noise containment but also in terms of energy and other savings.
“If air in a system is leaking, you need more power to push the air through it and that uses more energy and requires a larger and more expensive unit,” Mulhare explains. “With our system, the panels fit together in a push-clip system which automatically creates a compression seal. This means that the system offers savings to a user over time when compared to traditional systems.”
According to Mulhare, the past year has been one of strong progress for the firm, with the most significant development probably being the establishment of a sales infrastructure in the UK.
“We decided to appoint a network of independent sales agents who already have relationships with consulting engineers, architects and other specifiers,” he explains.
“These agents are in regular contact with the engineers and can introduce them to new and innovative products like ours. If you want to sell anything new into the market you really need to go through this channel.”
The agents leverage their relationships with the engineers to introduce them to new products which might interest them.
“We are using people who work specifically in the ventilation sector,” says Mulhare. “It’s a nice bolt-on product for them. Their impact in terms of the doors they have opened for us has been just phenomenal. We did a few presentations in one English city a few weeks ago and that would not have been possible without the sales agents having opened the doors for us first. We are now in a situation where the consulting engineering community in the UK is being exposed to PanelDuct on a daily basis.”
Another significant development for the company has come from its ongoing R&D work.
Another niche area being targeted is data centre development. “We have already won a data centre contract in Ireland.
“Data centres are highly energy intensive and there is a very strong focus on energy efficiency and emissions minimisation. We are able to help them achieve a reduction of between 6 per cent and 8 per cent in energy usage due to the air-tightness of our system. This also has a knock-on effect on their carbon footprint.”
A major milestone for the company was reached in February with the announcement of 20 new jobs at its manufacturing plant.
“The key aspect of this is that we were getting a lot of our metalwork done in the UK and we are now getting it all done under one roof in our 40,000sq ft facility here in Castlebar. This is the result of growth in the Irish market and our success on export markets. We have increased our manufacturing capacity by 300 per cent and this will support growing sales in the UK and other markets.”