Interview – Putting the home in motion16 April 2010
With the stated aim of "bridging the technology gap between systems integrators, interior designers and blind fabricators," French motorisation company has recently set up a division devoted to custom installation. Ty Saville (pictured), Commercial Building Solutions manager, spoke to IE Residential about the plans for this new business unit, and how automation brings the wow factor into residential installs.
Q: Could you give us some background on Somfy’s roots and how the company has evolved?
A: Somfy was founded in 1960, but its roots go much further back – as far as the 1750s when Savoyard peasant craftsmen tended their herds in the summer and made parts for the Genevan watchmakers in winter. At the end of the 18th century the Arve Valley was both a crossroads and a melting pot; a natural corridor between Geneva and Italy and a channel for trade and commerce, where a combination of work, ingenuity and natural riches led to more rapid industrial development.
It was no mere coincidence that Somfy was established in Cluses. The first finished product was an awning with a tubular motor, designed for the still virgin solar protection and closure market. In the 1970s Somfy decided to pursue two main lines of development; international expansion and product development. By 1979 Somfy had a broad, reliable range. This success was really the starting point to today’s Somfy.
There was acceleration in technological developments at the beginning of the 1980s with the first automatic controls appearing in 1981, and a new business, complementary to Somfy’s original activity was created.
Q: You’ve recently set up a division devoted to the custom install market. Why is that?
A: Like any company, we are constantly exploring new and emerging technologies, investing in product development and responding to the demands of our existing markets. The concept of the smart or intelligent home is not a new one, however traditionally it has only been available to a minority, those with a high disposable income, able to afford the fully integrated home.
Today, the concept of home automation is well understood by an increasingly wide audience. As more manufacturers and suppliers enter the market, systems and services have become more affordable, which in turn has organically made custom installations more affordable to the mainstream. Consumers are now more aware of the systems and solutions available to them and have a better understanding of the wider benefits that can be delivered through the integration of systems and services in and around their working or living environments.
From peace of mind, privacy, comfort and convenience to safety, security, simplicity and the appeal of an easy lifestyle; whether we like it or not, technology is now an integral part of our everyday living – it’s no longer just an indulgence.
Consumers are now more demanding about the way they wish to live – from wanting to preserve energy and monitor energy consumption, to downloading the latest applications whilst sitting in front of a flat screen with a laptop at their side. We have set up a new team at Somfy to concentrate on the growing number of enquiries we are receiving from end-users, designers and systems installers about how to integrate blinds, curtains and other applications around the home, such as awnings, garage doors, projection screens and so on.
As markets evolve, so do company offerings. In order to keep up with the demands of this market, we have created this new team. Our primary aim is to bridge the technology gap between systems integrators, interior designers and blind fabricators. This is not only so that clients receive a higher level of service, but also to educate interior designers and systems integrators about the possibilities of what we call "Home Motion" and to ensure they consult one another regarding this aspect of an installation.
Q: How easy is it for installers more used to audiovisual products to bring motorised products within their scope?
A: It’s something that has been happening for years. However, often integration of blinds, for instance is left as an afterthought – if not excluded completely! We would like designers and installers to think about blind automation during the design and specification stage. This is because when consideration is given at this early stage, it makes incorporating motorisation into the wider scheme so much easier.
In the custom install market the overall knowledge of motorisation for blinds and curtains is limited; however there are many functionalities with different controls and motors that Somfy can offer that broadens the scope and appeal of the project such as energy saving, sun tracking, perfect alignment, speed control and so on.
Q: Why is motorisation so important?
A: Motorisation of many applications around the home brings the wow factor; you just wouldn’t see a complete home cinema room without a blackout screen or at least some kind of curtain. Motorisation completes that package. If you’re integrating AV systems, lighting and heating, why not also include the blinds to optimise the building performance as well as your client’s comfort and convenience?
Q: What specific applications are suitable for motorisation?
A: Motorisation does not just apply to interior roller blinds, it’s so much more. It’s about bringing all of the openings in your home to life. Our ‘Home Motion’ makes life easier, increases security, comfort and energy saving. It puts the user in control of everything from gates to garage doors and sun awnings, through to all types of interior window treatments such as venetian and pleated blinds, and curtains.
Q: Can Somfy equipment be integrated with third party control systems?
A: Yes, we have a range of different solutions that enable other third party controls to be integrated with our motors. Recently we launched the RS485 RTS transmitter, a motor controller that converts RS485 inputs to Somfy radio (RTS). With 16 channels of RTS you can control up to 16 groups of Somfy motorised products such as roller blinds, venetian blinds, curtains, awnings and so on. We also have a product range called Animeo which includes KNX and Lon certified products that can be fully integrated with other building controls.
Q: What does the future hold for Somfy – and for motorisation?
A: In homes and buildings, automation will be necessary to achieve the low-carbon objectives set by the EU. Without automation, we believe it will be difficult to achieve some of these objectives. Motorisation and automation is the future for a whole new class of Home Motion devices and products, with new functions, new technologies coming on stream, along with the demands of environmental legislation, this is driving the industry.