Increasing popularity of chilled beams has been a key factor in driving demand for metal ceiling products in Australia, an executive of a leading British supplier of metal ceilings and architectural metalwork for the interior fitout market says.

Following his company’s purchase of the assets of Sydney-based ceiling distributor Mikor in April, SAS International Group marketing director Andrew Jackson said the Australian marketplace for metal ceiling systems had held up reasonably well in recent years even as markets elsewhere had been subdued following the global financial crisis.

Jackson said demand is largely being driven by the growing popularity of chilled beams, with work well which perforated metal pan ceilings due to the need for air-flow. He added that metal ceilings are in increased demand as clients seek energy efficient ways of cooling their space and use water based systems as a means of doing so.

“From our point of view, the Australian market (for metal ceiling interior fitout products) has traditionally been a mineral fibre market or an alternative finished products market,” he said. “But I think over the past five or 10 years, certainly chilled beams have driven the demand for specification of metal ceilings. That’s not the only reason to specify metal ceilings, but that’s certainly one of the key reasons.”

Jackson’s comments come as SAS looks to expand its presence in Australia. Its purchase of Mikor follows an existing relationship between the two companies which led to the securing of the contract to supply 200,000 square metres of product on Lend Lease’s massive Barangaroo development in Sydney. The company has also secured local supply contracts on developments such as Commonwealth Bank Place, the Darling Quarter Development and 1 Bligh Street.

Beyond the chilled beams effect, Jackson sees a number of other shifts impacting the general market for interior fit-out products. Softer markets for office space in recent years had restricted business associated with new builds but had underpinned demand for quality retro-fit products as property owners had been forced to work harder to attract tenants. Tight financing conditions, meanwhile, meant developers and commercial landlords had become more particular about quality and value in upgrade spending.

Transport buildings, too, where heavy usage and limited downtime opportunity mean the durability and relative ease of maintenance associated with metal systems are particularly advantageous.

Moreover, the way people use offices continues to change – a phenomenon Jackson said brings with it opportunities for suppliers, especially in markets such as Australia where architects and interior designers are highly innovative.

“I think the whole design in the interior of offices is beginning to evolve a little bit,” Jackson said. “The way people use office space now is very different to the way they did 10 or 15 years ago. There’s a lot of space flexibility, people are spending time for different reasons and for different jobs within an office now. People are considering more than just a suspended ceiling system. They are looking at linear systems, they are looking at open area systems and different kinds of aesthetic looks. That’s being driven from specifiers, developers and tenants.”

“That’s driving innovation within the design of office space and it has a knock-on effect upon fit-out.”

Despite his overall optimism about Australia, however, Jackson acknowledges there are challenges ahead, the most significant of which revolves around communicating benefits of the product in terms of durability and residual value as well as relative ease of maintenance and mechanical and electrical integration.

He said metal ceilings have often been perceived as an expensive ‘quality product’ which is about long-term value, and the task was to help the marketplace look beyond initial cost considerations.

“I guess the biggest challenge at the moment is to make sure that everybody understands the benefits of the product” he said. “That’s not only the performance of our product and the way it integrates with other services such as lighting and chilled beams but the aesthetic options and cost requirements too.”

“It’s getting people to understand that it’s not just about the capital cost of buying and installing the system in the first place. It’s about the reduced maintenance costs over the life of the building and the fact that you get residual cost back at the end of the life-cycle.”