A fresh approach to controls

When it was established in 1959 with a product used for heating glasshouses, who would have thought that nearly 50 years later Priva would become one of the leading names in the building controls industry? I spoke to Meiny Prins who has taken over the running of the company from her father to find out more about what they have to offer.

A global offering
Priva is a truly global company with business interests in more than 80 countries. Their headquarters are in De Lier in the Netherlands and they have six wholly owned subsidiaries in North America, China, UK, Germany, Scandinavia and Belgium. This may sound like any other global operation but what struck me most about Priva is their company philosophy which states that they want to do business on the basis that clients, suppliers and employees are treated fairly and relations are based on mutual respect.
This became apparent upon speaking to Meiny who is the first to admit that working together is the key to achieving the best results: “My father, who started the company, was a pioneer which meant that he was the one who decided what the company would invest in and the staff within the company would follow his lead.
“Nearly 50 years later we are still very focussed on investment in new technology but in order to progress into the next generation we have to ensure that we involve everyone within the company from the beginning. My mission is to ensure that everyone is thinking of new innovations, not just the people at the top, and that everyone has the opportunity to share those ideas.”
Market leader
Priva is already a global market leader in automation for the horticulture industry and it was the success of this side of the business which led to the introduction of building management systems in 1982. Meiny says: “We have been very successful in the horticultural market and there are a number of synergy’s which we were able to apply to the building controls industry.”
The real breakthrough came in 2002 when Priva Building Intelligence first came to the UK market with a suite of products which have since proved to be market leading technology and which won the Building Controls Industry Award for Technical Innovation in May 2008.
The range of products on offer provides something for every application and their user friendly, simple and intuitive controls have won them favour throughout the industry. But possibly the best selling point for their products is the new headquarters building in De Lier which is a showcase for everything that Priva has to offer.
A CO2 neutral building, the new headquarters has a climate controlled ceiling which houses no less than 952 Comforte CX controllers for ultimate flexibility. Long term energy storage is provided in the ground with both hot and cold sources and with natural ventilation in the atrium and HF lighting with level and presence control this is truly a building to take Priva into the next century.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you would expect nothing less from a company who operates in the building controls industry but with this building Priva have gone one step further in ensuring the ultimate comfort for everyone who works there. Meiny says: “This building is without doubt a flagship for the company and that was the intention right from the start. Controlling a building is all about the feeling you get when you enter it – a feeling of comfort. Nobody really notices if the building is perfect but they will notice if it is too hot or too cold and our aim with this building was to achieve perfection.
“There was a huge amount of planning which went into it and we called upon the expertise of a lot of people because we wanted it to be right. By building on the knowledge which we have and bringing the knowledge of others into the mix we were able to build exactly what we wanted while at the same time saving a great deal of money.
“Building controls used to be the box which was added at the end of the chain which is why some early systems can’t do exactly what the client wants. With this building we have proved that by planning in the controls products at the design stage you are able to achieve much more and end up with the building that you want.”
Controlling the future
Sadly there has been a tendency for people to only consider the controls at the end of the build but Meiny thinks that this is changing and that more and more building control systems are being considered at the design stage in order to achieve the optimum results.
“I think that people are incorporating building controls from an earlier stage but it still depends on who owns the building. With our building we had a vested interest in ensuring that everything was built to the highest standards but at the same time we knew that our investment would pay for itself in five to seven years.
“Unfortunately if you are only the builder and not the occupier then it is difficult to convince people that they should consider the investment at the very beginning. That said more and more people are taking into account the full life costs of a building and in particular the energy savings which are needed to meet Government legislation.
“What we are seeing more and more is that businesses are looking at climate control as a way to make savings and therefore by integrating a building controls system at the very beginning they are able to realise these savings. In this respect the new legislation is having a positive impact on the industry – we just need more people to sit up and realise this.”
The future
For a company who have only been active in the building controls market for a relatively short period of time, Priva has come a long way and one of their main strengths is the ability to adapt and grow with their customers. Their research and development strategy is also proof that they are still looking for new ways to make a difference in this market.
Meiny admits that there are similarities between her and her father in that they both want people within the business to grow and they want to allow them the space to develop themselves. But at the same time there are differences, the main one being in the way they bring new innovations to market. Meiny says: “We are very busy with new product development but the difference in the way we do business now is that I need to know if there is a requirement for a product before we launch it.
“My father was very much a pioneer and his way was to develop a product and then send the sales team out into the field to sell it. The nature of the market today means that we have to develop a concept and gauge the response so that when we send our sales team out we know how the product will be received and we know that it will be a success because we have already done the research.”
And finally
A company like Priva is one that will always be welcome in this market because they are quite simply someone that you would want to do business with. The fact that they have recently won many contracts in Dubai for building management systems including the Millennium Towers Hotel, the first Premier Travel Inn and the Oasis Shopping Centre also proves that they mean business.
The products which they manufacture are based on years of experience in the horticulture market and a number of people within the company who are dedicated to ensuring that only the best products make it to market. But at the same time and probably more important is their company ethos which states that they treat each other, and their customers with respect – something which counts for a lot today.

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