Value-Added Products to Play Crucial Role in Market Recovery
During the recent economic downturn, many glassmakers stayed the course with their investments in value-added products, particularly those that boost energy efficiency. And as the markets improve, those investments will prove critical, they say.
“Guardian sees its strongest growth in value-added products,” says Scott Thomsen, former president of Guardian Industries Global Flat Glass Group. “Sales of undifferentiated products are increasingly challenging, so our focus is creating demand at the critical points in the value chain where we have competitive advantage.”
“[Energy efficiency] has been the driving force behind innovation in our industry over the past five years, and even longer than that,” says Richard Beuke, vice president, Flat Glass, PPG Industries. “Although a lot of that innovation is driven by building codes, I think the leading glass manufacturers have gotten very good at staying ahead of the curve through our work with architects, designers and building owners. They want energy efficiency, but they are still demanding that we expand the array of aesthetic options available to them. I think we’ve gotten better as an industry at anticipating and answering those demands.”
Consistent supply of value-added products like low-E, solar control and laminated glass will be a factor in business rebound and growth, Thomsen says. “By investing in multiple, large-area vacuum coaters during the downturn, we are ready to satisfy our loyal customers as their volume and needs increase in the coming years,” he explains.
One emerging trend for companies is the push for triple glazing, particularly in parts of Europe. “Why are the markets in Germany and Switzerland doing well? The architectural market [has] moved from double glazing to triple glazing,” says Jürgen Servais, a member of the executive board of Glas Trösch, parent company of glassmaker Euroglas, which operates four float plants in Europe. “That is a lot more glass for us.”
Cardinal has targeted low-Es, says Bowie Neumayer, vice president, sales and marketing, for Cardinal Glass Industries. “We invested heavily to be able to produce our triple silver LoĒ – 366 at all of our coating locations,” he says. “We are now approaching 1 billion square feet in sales. We have also invested heavily in the development of a non-pyrolytic 4th surface coating. I89 was launched earlier this year and is an excellent product for cold climates.” The company is also investing in warm-edge insulating glass solutions.
And, energy-efficient products are “leading the charge for exterior applications” at AGC, says Serge Martin, vice president of marketing for AGC Glass Company North America. “This is a direct result of the evolution of codes and energy conservation programs, but also of the legitimate aspiration of the end user for environmentally friendly and energy-saving products.”
Manufacturers have also invested in dynamic glass products. “From a technology standpoint, I think the next big thing in our industry will be improving the performance and economics of dynamic and building-integrated glazings, along with continued incremental improvements in solar control performance,” says PPG’s Beuke. PPG has a co-marketing agreement with Pleotint, a producer of thermochromic glass.
Value on the interior
The interior glass market also offers value-added product potential for manufacturers. “We are seeing increased demand for interior applications of glass,” AGC’s Martin says. “No longer are we looking at a finite number of window openings to fill. Now, we are seeing greater opportunity for interior applications, where glass could replace, or complement,other materials. … The trends in interior glazing applications provide opportunity for the industry to get more creative and to focus more on value-added capabilities.”