SOLAROLA® AND SOLASAFE® 30th ANNIVERSARIES
Wed, 18 January 2017
As South Shields based Solar Solve Marine enters the new year of 2017 it is a very significant one for them. In 1987 business owner John Lightfoot was developing an idea in conjunction with Sunderland Shipbuilders, to design a roller blind that could replace solid Perspex anti-glare screens that were hung or placed in front of a vessel’s wheelhouse windows to help protect the crew from solar glare. They were very cumbersome to handle, usually difficult to store and took up a lot of valuable space one way or another.
The solid screens were also useful, to a degree, in making the wheelhouse cooler, although after a while the heat that they absorbed was re-radiated into the room and they lost part of that additional benefit. The anti- glare capability was the primary benefit solid screens offered.
Solar film roller screens would be instantly retractable, revealing clear windows within a few seconds, which was an IMO (International Maritime Organization) requirement for night time navigation and they would reject glare, heat and uv light. As well as the safety aspects concerning the health of the crew, a cooler environment would be an advantage in preventing some equipment in the wheelhouse from overheating and the lack of uv light would prevent paper charts that were still in use, from fading.
Metallised and dyed window films had only been invented a decade earlier and it was extensively applied to the windows of buildings in hot countries, mainly to reject the heat but also the glare and the ultra violet light. Occasionally there were situations where window film could not be applied or was not the answer. For this reason, 3 of the window film companies also manufactured solar shade films for use at windows where the application of permanent window film was not possible. There was little demand for the product in comparison to window film and so shade film was never really promoted. When John became aware of the problems with solid screens and found out about solar shade film the answer was obvious. Because the products were for ships and similar sea-going vessels the yards and owners expected them to meet various standards relating to corrosion, reliability and the safety provisions of the Safety Of Life At Sea SOLAS Convention.
It was in November 1986 when John began working on the first solar roller screens, later to be identified by the Trade Mark SOLAROLA®, for installation at the wheelhouse windows of the dry cargo new-builds ‘Dietrich Oldendorff’ and ‘Johanna Oldendorff’. The screens were very successful but the shipyard wanted a more sophisticated product for the navigation bridge windows of the series of 24 Superflex-2000 ferries that Danish entrepreneur Peter Zaachi had ordered. They wanted them to be enclosed in an aluminium protective cassette that would be easier to install, protect them from damage and keep them clean when not in use.
As a result, the first upgraded product was created that would be known as the SOLASAFE® and in July and September of 1987, six of these new, much improved and more superior anti-glare roller blinds were installed at the wheelhouse windows of each of the first two ferries, SUPERFLEX ALPHA and SUPERFLEX BRAVO. However, the first design had a maximum width of only 6 feet and was superseded a year later by a re-designed version. The Mk.2 was manufactured from 6-meter lengths of aluminium profile which increased the maximum width for all of the company’s roller blind products to well over 3 metres.
During 1987 the trading names of SOLAR SOLVE, SOLASOLV, SOLAROLA and SOLASAFE were all created, launched and used but they were not all Registered as Trade Marks until John Lightfoot was advised to do so, some years later.
In the early days domestic windowblind manufacturers did not have to comply with the strictly implemented, detailed specifications the maritime industry demanded and saw them as a lot of hassle. Consequently, few if any, were motivated enough to get involved with marine products, which was good for John. The main attraction for him was the route back into the Marine Industry, where he began his working life as a Marine Engineer Cadet with Shell Tankers and gained his First Class Steam Certificate of Competency before leaving the sea at the end of 1968. The marine market was global, which meant he would have to export and there would be opportunities to travel on sales missions.
It also gave him the opportunity to re-organise his windowblind company and to re-invent himself and the way he was doing business. It took about 6 years to transform the business from a domestic and commercial manufacturer and supplier of window blinds to a 100% supplier of specialist Type Approved roller blinds and roller sunscreens to the global marine industry. Twelve times longer than the 6 months John had envisaged but it was worth the struggle.
He is very proud of the fact that not only did SOLAROLA and SOLASAFE quickly become the global marine industry’s Brand Leaders for that type of product, they have maintained the No.1 position throughout the 30 years since the first ones were sold.
Along the way John, who is now chairman of Solar Solve Marine and his Managing Director, daughter Julie Lightfoot, have both been to Buckingham Palace to be presented with Member of the British Empire awards from Her Majesty The Queen, for Services to International Trade.