Global glass update

Earnest Thompson
November 17, 2009

A year and a half in an industry as developed as glass shouldn’t make that much of a dent in the long range forecast. It was just a short time ago, however, that quiet rumblings were first heard at glasstec 2008, the biannual global industry gathering. The cloudy economic weather quickly blew into a global tsunami that swept the globe, from down your block to around the world. The winds of change, of course, already had been blowing for quite some time, and there were companies that had positioned themselves for stormy weather. Many battened down the hatches; some continued with business as usual. Others just got caught in the rain. But as skies clear in years ahead, we’ll see that the landscape has changed in many ways.

“Only the strong survive” is a chestnut from the '60s, but it took on new meaning in 2009. You can add nimble, opportunistic, strategic and long suffering and you might have all the words to the survival song. The tune might sound a bit different in certain parts of the world, so let’s check them out.

MENA (Middle East-North Africa) was primarily served by imports into the region until Guardian Industries, Auburn Hills, Mich., invested in Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 1998. But rapid growth of Dubai and other Gulf cities, as well as local residential and commercial developments, attracted additional investment in glass manufacturing capacities. Guardian, for example, added another float line in Ras al Khaimah, UAE in 2008, equipped recently with an advanced coater. Today, the region has an overcapacity of glass and it’s a marketplace where only companies with value-added coatings and excellent customer service will thrive. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Dubai, opened at the end of 2009,  which includes Guardian’s SunGuard advanced architectural glass.

Eastern Europe/Russia is another region where glass pioneers are now competing with newcomers. Guardian was the first to enter the region even before the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago when it established a float line in Hungary in 1988. Poland, (eastern) Germany and more recently, Russia, have subsequently seen investments by the company in additional float lines and coating machines. Today, most of the major global players and some local companies engage in lively competition for glass customers. Opportunities exist primarily for those who provide products that meet increasingly higher demands for energy-efficient glass solutions as evident in the requirements of governments and homeowners alike.

Brazil continues to be the engine of growth in South America and is leading the region in its economic recovery. Guardian, for example, built its first plant there a decade ago and added another, with an advanced coater, in the town of Tatui during 2009. Increasingly, demand is for coated glass for commercial projects, although Guardian’s scratch-resistant DiamondGuard coated glass is well accepted by interior designers working with furniture and interior spaces.

Two other trends are occurring throughout the global glass industry: the increase in solar projects, which require large amounts of glass products, and the increasing use of the Internet even in the more remote corners of the globe. Economic stimulus funding in the U.S. has given new life to many nascent solar projects, including concentrating solar power  projects that require large amounts of highly reflective glass mirrors. Guardian equipped an automotive glass plant for laminating and bending mirrors for such products and was one of many companies that released varied glass products for CSP and photovoltaic applications. As for the Web, Guardian’s award-winning Web site is now available in eight languages and versions focusing on different sections of the world.

Earnest Thompson is the director of corporate marketing and brand strategy, Guardian Industries Corp., Auburn Hills, Mich.