Supplier Spotlight: Talking fabric with Serge Ferrari

Serge Ferrari is one of Rubb’s oldest suppliers, with a relationship spanning over 25 years—and for good reason. Serge Ferrari’s values perfectly mesh with Rubb’s: a focus on innovation, an emphasis on sustainability, and a consistency in high quality. Rubb sat down with Michael Darby, the UK sales manager for Serge Ferrari, to talk about some of the aspects that make the relationship and fabric important to both companies.

What type of fabric do you usually provide for Rubb structures?

Serge Ferrari provide a product called Flexlight Perform 832. This polyester-based fabric is coated with PVC and further coated with an acrylic which helps protect the fabric from dirt, etc.. We incorporate certain treatments such as anti-wicking, which stops stains and so forth going into the fabric so that on a sunny day, for example, you don’t see any mildew or any of those kinds of things.

To give you some idea of the strength of the fabric, it’s about 8 tonnes per square metre. So, it’s a pretty strong fabric. In terms of the safety of the fabric, it conforms with all known standards worldwide.

Why is the fabric so suitable for Rubb?

The fabric behaves well in all sorts of climatic extremes, which is the reason it is so suitable for structures. We have fabric that deals with hot or cold, and withstand temperatures of -30° to 70°.

The other thing that Serge Ferrari brings to this fabric is the precontraint technology, which is a form of pretensioning the fabric in both warp and weft as it’s coated. That does a number of things. It gives the fabric excellent dimensional stability in both the warp and the weft direction. From a customer’s point of view, that means that the fabric is thinner, it’s more even, and when the fabric’s coated, the PVC—which is there to protect the yarns—is more evenly coated. That has a big impact on the life expectation and performance of the fabric once the structure is made.

To give an example: if you’ve got fabric that will sag, you’ll get snow loading and water settlement. Over time that will degrade the fabric. It will also make it look unattractive. You get this sagging into the structure, and it causes flapping which gives acoustic problems inside the building. Structures and fabrics don’t like movement, so if we keep things stable, they behave much better for much longer.

What are the capabilities of Serge Ferrari?

There’s a lot of aspects to Serge Ferrari’s capabilities.

R&D would be certainly one area. We do a lot of development. We’re increasingly looking at how we can best suit our customers’ needs in terms of colours, in terms of environment, and in terms of helping to allow the products to behave better for longer.

We’ve also got a network of companies across the world. Certainly, in regard to Rubb, we’re represented in all the Rubb locations: Poland, USA, UK, Norway. This helps a lot with coordination in terms of cooperation logistically, and in terms of future developments.

What unique benefits does the fabric offer Rubb’s clients?

The benefit to Rubb’s clients and their users, is due to our precontraint technology—which gives the consistency of product every time—you get an aesthetically pleasing and durable structure. I think the length of time we’ve been doing these together would give Rubb’s clients the confidence in going with us time and time again, because they know that around the world in all sorts of different environments there’s lots of structures out there that have been around for years. It’s that, I think, that’s the unique point.

Are there any environmental advantages?

There are many environmental advantages to using this kind of fabric. We’ve already had a long relationship with Rubb, and Flexlight Perform 832 has been the platform for many years. The coatings are changing, however. We have a software now called Texfirm, which can look at how using different products and fabrics together in combination will help things like insulation, acoustic comfort, and reducing the amount of energy to keep these buildings going.

The other thing that’s becoming more and more important is the maximisation of natural light. Certainly in the northern hemisphere where we don’t get great light all year round—UK particularly—we’re looking at ways and fabrics which can utilise natural light as much as possible. It makes people more productive, and they’re more productive because they feel better. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to try and create environments for people to operate in where they feel comfortable and natural light is one of the biggest contributors to that.


Are there any legal codes relevant to Serge Ferrari’s fabric?

 I think these days one of the main concerns is how it relates to fire retardancy. I think the events at Grenfell in London have meant that people are really quite concerned about what would happen should a fabric building have a fire problem, and I think that that’s an area we’re quite well developed in already. We do whole structure testing. The other codes relating to sustainability and conforming to most other issues which we’ve probably already discussed are ongoing, they’re always moving forward. I think that most of Rubb’s clients would be aware of those, and we’re always looking to stay ahead of the game.

But the fire question is the one that people ask the most about now. Our buildings, and all the fabric we supply to Rubb, are fire retardant. In a total structure situation—if the fire should touch the roof, for example—the roof would open up, creating a hole where smoke and so forth could exhaust through the top of the building. So actually, it’s probably a safer place to be than a conventional building.

The other thing people worry about is the polyester PVC coating. If you look at the Euroclass specifications for our products, you will see that it’s broken down into BS2D0: the ‘S’ is the smoke that develops, and the ‘D’ would be the droplets of debris. In nearly every case it’s zero. That’s an assurance for Rubb’s clients.

What new developments are Serge Ferrari working on?

The new product developments on fabrics for the future are the lifeblood of Serge Ferrari. We are a company that lives and breathes innovation. Particularly with heat and light issues, which are an area of particular interest at the moment in which we’re doing lots and lots of development work.

The Serge Ferrari long term strategy is to provide long term solutions that answer the environmental challenges of tomorrow.

There are three areas which I think are going to come to fruition for Rubb in the next year or so. We have an air tension system which works in conjunction with an inflated keder system, which means that the fabrics on the outside always remain flat and look better. The flapping that fabrics don’t like is eradicated because the air keeps the fabrics under tension permanently.

There’s a lot about increasing the amount of light that’s getting into buildings, so clear PVC is another area of development. We should be bringing those for Rubb to evaluate very shortly. And the other thing that’s really changing the fabric expectation in terms of life is a product we have called TX30. TX30 is a PVDF acrylic coating, that is cross-linked. Buildings that would attract a 15-20 year life span could be looking at a 30+ year life span, and that would change the life expectancy of Rubb’s buildings going forward. We know they perform well already, but the likelihood going forward is that they will get even better. Right now, the Olympic Leon Football Club in France have just had their new stadium roof done with this technology and their specification was that the life of the fabric be 30 years. So that’s going to be a game changer for us.

With everything that I can see with Thermohall® and Rubb, and the way we’re moving our developments, I can see a good and long-lasting relationship between Rubb and Serge Ferrari for many years to come.

To find out more about Serge Ferrari’s fabric, please see our our page or visit Serge Ferrari’s site. A video version of the interview is available here.