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20 Years In and Still Going Strong

by APS in News Comments: 0 tags: aluminium, news

Gary McNeill, APS

Aluminium & Plastics Systems (APS) is celebrating 20 years in business and during those two decades we’ve survived a global recession and are now meeting the uncertainties of Brexit head on.

 CEO Gary McNeill is one of the founding directors and we sat down with Gary to go over some of the highlights and biggest challenges.


Clearly, the focus for the last 12 months has been adapting to the unprecedented change in customer needs. What that’s meant is providing a product range unlike anything we’ve offered in the past.

“Since the pandemic hit, we’ve sold a lot more home improvement products like aluminium lift and slide doors, decking, PVC showers and flooring; many of which we haven’t sold before,” he said.

Listening to our customers

It’s this kind of adaptability in the market that has allowed APS to navigate its way through a challenging couple of decades in the construction industry.

The key has been keeping up with the latest trends in the industry,” McNeill said.

“New products or new colours become popular at any given time and it’s a matter of recognising those, keeping on top of them and working closely with (or sometimes finding new) suppliers to make sure we have what our customers want.”


Not only is the business pivoting as a result of the pandemic, but Brexit has also brought about further need for change. We’re viewing the changing political landscape as an opportunity to grow.

“We’re currently recruiting senior logistics staff to help us break further into the UK market with our aluminium systems range. With Brexit now too, we need to be more switched on with what we’re doing.

“We have products that are developed for the Irish market and we’ll need to adapt to the different trends in the UK market. That might mean making some tweaks to our existing offering, which is likely to be the focus over the next few years.

“With the planned new staff, we’re trying to improve our efficiency and delivery. That will allow us to focus on UK sales, which is when we’ll kick into gear with further product research and development.”


It’s the process of research and development and the desire to constantly move with the times that has allowed us to stay afloat during such turbulent times.

From day one we’ve stocked a fairly basic range of products and, while a lot of our suppliers do their own research and development of their products, we’ve also done our own and it’s that development as a business that has allowed us to do bigger and bigger projects over the years.”

The beginning

McNeill admits that few of the founding staff could have predicted just how many economic, political and health challenges they would have to endure along the way. However, as events transpired in 2001, they felt the time was right to start something new.

 “Fifteen of us worked for Reynolds Metal Company* which was taken over by global aluminium giant Alcoa – currently the world’s eighth largest producer of aluminium.  During that merger we all thought there were too many aluminium companies in Ireland, and some would surely have to close. So jumped ship before we were pushed.”

“We’d all been working together for 10 years at that time and we had a good customer base. We were a very small company compared to Alcoa and we didn’t think that they would want our existing business or even value it because we were tiny in comparison.

“We felt we had a good business, and it was a good fit for Northern Ireland but that it wasn’t a good fit for a multi-national.”

Our first 12 months in business was to prove a telling sign of things to come.

When we opened APS, Alcoa tried to compete against us for 12 months, which meant trading against some of our old colleagues who used to work with us. They then decided to close the business down after a year and we then got all of their customers.

“Within 12 months, we were doing the same turnover as when we were part of Reynolds and within three years, we were doing substantially more than we ever did in the 10 years previously.


“Then, along came the recession in 2007-08 and being in the building industry obviously hit us hard for two or three years.

“In that time, like everyone in the construction industry, we struggled. Slowly, we have emerged out of that and we’re now at sales levels well above those pre-recession. The business is running as well as it has ever done – that is before COVID came along of course.”

We’d grown to 45 staff leading into the Global Financial Crisis and it would eventually take a serious toll on the business.

“After it hit, we shrank back down to about 30 staff. We were basically in survival mode for two or three years just to find a way to get through.

“We were carrying a lot of stock and we had a lot of business across Ireland that was badly affected by it. We had a lot of bad debt at that stage, so it was a matter of building back up from there.”

Looking ahead

The many lessons learned throughout our journey has the business in a stable position and the view through the window into future is bright.

“While COVID has certainly hampered our progress, our outlook is pretty positive. Not being able to go and visit some new customers has made things difficult but hopefully after June that changes and COVID will largely be behind us.”

* Reynolds Metals Company, which was the second-largest aluminium company in the United States, and the third-largest in the world. Reynolds Metals was acquired by Alcoa in June 2000.

UU architecture students get the APS seal of approval

APS Contracts Manager Kenny Faulkner was recently part of a panel of industry and academical experts judging final year students on the Belfast School of Architecture and Built Environment’s Architectural Technology and Management Program at an event which took place at Belfast’s MAC.

Students had to present their design of a hypothetical development for an iconic brownfield site in the Dublin docklands.  All schemes modelled used BIM authoring software and incorporated industry standard BIM information management processes.

David Comiskey, event organiser and Senior Lecturer from Ulster University’s Belfast School of Architecture & Built Environment, said, “The site presented to the students was extremely complex. It was situated adjacent to Grand Canal Dock, was very narrow and incorporated two graving docks which were to be retained. However, the students rose to the challenge and presented schemes which were innovative yet functional and most importantly buildable.”

Kenny said “The standard of work on show was exceptional and the students presented their schemes in a highly professional manner. The future of the Architectural Technology profession in Northern Ireland is safe with this calibre of students graduating from Ulster University and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of both aesthetic and technical design.”

Declan Loane, Quinn Building Products, panel member, said, “I was particular impressed by how the student designs were performance based. They used the latest BIM authoring and analysis software to model their schemes and predict the performance in terms of energy use, amending the schemes when necessary to ensure optimum performance.

Ulster University alumni Gary McCausland, CEO of Richland Group and well known for his media and television work, was also in attendance and inspired the students with a guest talk

Seven reasons to use Aluminium

Aluminium is the third most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and at the present rate of usage (not taking into account the fact that more than 96% of aluminium is recycled at the end of product life), the supplies of aluminium currently known will last for several hundred years. Discovered in 1808 by Sir Humphrey Davy, aluminium is a comparatively young metal compared to other “classic” materials. In 1855 the first aluminium bar was displayed at the Paris Exhibition and it wasn’t until 1886 when the patents for its industrial extraction were issued. The Statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus in London dates back to 1893 and is an early example of how aluminium could be processed. A further example is the San Giacchino Church in Rome which was built in 1897. The aluminium sheets used to cover the roof are still in excellent condition today – proving that aluminium has exceptional weathering properties and durability.

Aluminium as a building material – functional, durable and aesthetically appealing
In the building industry aluminium is often used for facade claddings and roof coverings. The decision to use aluminium is based on economical, functional and aesthetical considerations. From airports, railway stations, sports complexes to stylish residential properties – many of these buildings have only been able to reveal their true “personality” through the use of aluminium.

Material characteristics which are important in the building industry – seven good reasons for choosing aluminium:

1. Lightweight: this means lightweight substructures and a high level of component prefabrication. It can be handled on-site without the need for large lifting equipment.

2. Corrosion resistance: bespoke alloys improve the outstanding resistance to corrosion even further. This makes it possible to use aluminium profiled sheets on a long-term basis without expensive servicing and maintenance work, even in extreme conditions.

3. Robust: the incredible strength of the material makes it possible to create light yet exceptionally stable structures.

4. Excellent processibility: its flexibility and ease of formability guarantee virtually unlimited design potential. It can be shaped, welded, screwed and cut into dynamic 3-D geometries.

5. Simple connection technology: in addition to the most common joining methods used in the building industry, such as welding, screwing and riveting, snap-on connections can also be used. These simple methods ensure that building components can be quickly and safely connected.

6. Recyclable: aluminium roof and facade components can usually be recycled in a single process and 95% of energy can be saved when recycling aluminium compared to primary production.

7. Stunning aesthetics: the wide variety of surface finishes and colours available, such as anodizing or coating, ensures that the high aesthetic demands made by architects can be fulfilled and the application potential of aluminium can be extended even further.