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Getting to know you

11 December 2017

FSM spoke to newly-appointed Apollo Fire Detectors managing director EMEA Charles Lombard to learn more about his career and plans for the future of Apollo.

Could you tell us a little bit about your career and your first impressions of working at Apollo?

I have spent more than 20 years working for companies that manufacture products for the construction industry. A large part of my career was spent working for Illinois Tool Works (ITW), an industrial multinational group specialising in industrial tools and consumables for the building industry. 

Although originally from France, I have been lucky to live and work not only in France, but also Italy, Australia, Denmark and now the UK. In my first few weeks in the business, I have been impressed by the great people working for Apollo at all levels of the company, and in particular by their loyalty and dedication to making our business even stronger. This gives me the confidence and belief that we have a bright future ahead of us.

What is your vision for the future of the business?

In the last 40 years Apollo Fire Detectors has grown beyond all recognition, today we have world-class manufacturing and research and development facilities. We are still growing after 40 years in business, with a steady growth over the last few years and we’d like to build on this trend. A significant proportion of our sales is coming from outside the UK, any future growth will include a geographical expansion of our international markets. Key to our growth strategy is having a strong effective local presence and we now have commercial offices in Germany, China, the US, India and Dubai. In fact, you can come and see us on stand 4-F09 at Intesec, Dubai on 21-23 January 2018.

We also work closely with our panel partners and want to strengthen those relationships going forward. By working together, we can develop new products that enable our system partners to expand and refine their offering to the market. 

On a more local level, we will continue to strengthen our manufacturing and testing capabilities through on-going improvements and investments. This doesn’t just mean buying the latest machines on the market – we will invest in people as well. 

The trend worldwide is moving towards more and more digital technology and smart systems in every aspect of our lives and businesses. This trend presents many opportunities but it is not without its challenges. We need to enable our partners, who design and build panels and systems, to take advantage of these trends by providing the latest detection technology they need.

In your opinion, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the fire safety sector today?

One of the biggest challenges is to remember that we work in a serious sector - the main purpose of our products is to save lives. We can easily get carried away talking about new technologies and how all the systems communicate and interact. In the end, the only thing that counts is that our products alert people when a fire starts. Any integration of systems within ‘Smart Buildings’, must give the fire system priority in terms of security and survivability.

Do you foresee any major changes in the fire sector over the next five years?

It is clear to me that there is a need for our sector to maintain its professionalism and enhance the skill levels. Currently, our products are highly regulated and we have more than 3000 international approvals, but other parts of the sector are really only covered by voluntary arrangements. I can see a time when this changes, with greater skills required for system fitters, perhaps even with an accreditation register similar to the Gas Safe Register.

What is Apollo Fire Detectors doing to maximise production and supply chain capabilities?

We continuously invest into our business to stay competitive on the global market. In the past two years we have invested millions of pounds in our manufacturing capability. Our reputation rests on the reliability of our products, which means investing in training as well as technology. In order to get the best performance from our factory, we have to make sure that the conditions are right. This includes extensive training and support to enhance the knowledge and expertise of our colleagues on the shop floor. 

On a more basic level, we regularly review our supply chain and adjust orders to fit the production stream and avoid downtime.

Is there any new technology in the pipeline?

We are constantly working on improving our product portfolio. A couple of years ago, we launched the first detectors of our SOTERIA® range and have been adding to this new product family ever since. 

The latest product is the SOTERIA® Dimension, which is a unique low-profile fire detector, that is chamberless and flush-fitting – combining style and functionality.  This is the first fully approved and patented chamberless optical smoke detector on the market and yet is also backwards companionable with existing systems.

Apart from being a well-designed (in looks and technology) detector, SOTERIA® Dimension also comes in a specialist version with an anti-ligature metal faceplate and tamper-resistant screws. It has been tested and approved for anti-ligature certification to TS001, making it suitable for use in high-risk areas, such as prisons, custodial suites and healthcare establishments.

Do you have a favourite project?

I personally find our work with the royal palaces fascinating. It is a very satisfying feeling to use the latest fire protection technology to protect historic buildings that are centuries old. We have held the Royal Warrant for a number of years and I was delighted to recently welcome His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent for a factory tour – we are very proud of this recognition. 

There are so many projects to choose from, but one that immediately impressed me when I first heard about it was the work we did at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  Not only a Grade One listed building that is world famous for the ‘Last night of the Proms’, but it also hosts more than 350 events per year. So, this job was challenging, both technically and logistically.  

Working with our partners Leader Systems an intelligent fire detection system based on the Apollo open digital protocol was installed using Apollo’s Discovery and XPander fire detectors. Xpander wireless fire detectors were specified for areas where hard-wired devices could not be installed, such as the ceiling of the auditorium – both challenging and highly successful.

What do you think sets Apollo apart from its competitors?

I’d have to say one of Apollo’s unique strengths is our solid research and development and manufacturing base in the UK. Although we develop and build our products in the UK, we achieve certifications to EN and UL standards. As a result, our devices can be installed in projects all over the world. Not many of our competitors can match that. 

In addition, we have a specialist detector range for marine and offshore applications. They require yet another set of certifications and approvals that are not easily obtained.

I believe it’s the combination of our strong research and development department and continuous focus on product quality and manufacturing excellence, along with our partnership working with customers that sets Apollo apart from the rest of the industry.

Charles Lombard is managing director EMEA at Apollo Fire Detectors. For more information, visit www.apollo-fire.co.uk