The time is now for innovation

By Jenni Chase and Katy Devlin
October 3, 2011
FABRICATION : MEETINGS AND EVENTS

"We are in the worst economic market maybe of my lifetime ... [but] there is more change and innovation going on today than there ever has been in the history of the planet," said Quanex Building Products President and CEO David Petratis on the show floor at GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo, Sept. 12, in Atlanta.

Evidence of that innovation could be found almost everywhere you looked at the Georgia World Congress Center, Sept. 12-14, when 393 companies in 1,230 booths debuted new products and technologies at GlassBuild America 2011. Nearly 6,300 total registered attendees participated in the event.

"There is tremendous change coming to our industry," Petratis said. "I'm thinking about PV, BIPV [photovoltaics, building integrated photovoltaics] and energy efficiency. There has never been a better time; you just have to seize it.

"Quanex and its acquisition aspirations continue to [focus on] emerging technologies, especially in regards to integrated technologies within the glass," he said. "We're thinking in terms of energy efficient systems that will help our customers prosper."

According to Petratis, the company has invested in polymer technology for a tinting system in which the glass adjusts according to the ambient temperature. "Glass systems can be more dynamic, and we have invested in technologies that adjust to the thermal environment and investigated how they can be integrated into IG packages. I think this is important in the next phase of energy efficiency," he said.

GlassBuild America 2011

Exhibitors: 393 

Booths: 1,230 

International exhibitors: 118 companies from 17 non-U.S. countries

New exhibitors: 73

Innovative Product exhibitors: 37

Exhibit space: 123,000 net square feet

Attendees: 6,295 total registered

Sponsors: NGA, GANA, AAMA, IGMA, BEMA

GlassBuild America 2012: September 12-14, 2012, Las Vegas Convention Center

Energy efficiency and innovation also were top of mind for Kevin Surace, founder of Serious Energy, which is planning to launch its dynamic glass product—Serious Transitions—next year. The product will be based on liquid crystal technology.

During his presentation at the annual Glazing Executives Forum, held concurrently with GlassBuild America, Sept. 12, Surace reported that each year, $2 trillion is spent worldwide on energy to heat, cool and light buildings. Addressing energy improvements in buildings should be a major focus for the industry, he said. "The opportunity for commercial glazing is in the five million buildings that are already built. ... We need to work to make buildings better, improve energy performance, improve occupant comfort," he said.

The company has been developing several products that provide further efficiency improvements, including the iWindow interior commercial glass retrofit system. iWindow seals up against an existing window and screws into place with four screws. "It is a fifth of the cost of the replacement and improves R-value by 700 percent," Surace said.

Serious Energy also has developed a fiberglass framing system that provides thermal performance. "This is a system to use in high-rise applications. We're working with the codes to get it approved in North America," he reported.

And in 2013, the company will introduce AdaptivE, a thermally switchable glass product that will change seasonally, allowing light and heat in during the winter, and blocking more sun energy in the summer. "This product will save 10 percent to 30 percent more [energy] than low-E glass. However, we'll be targeting the same cost as low-E," Surace said.

Energy codes also are driving investment in innovation at Technoform North America, according to officials. The company showed spacers that provide color options, sustainability, durability, manufacturability and thermal performance, at the show.

Technoform is innovating alongside its fabricator partners to develop windows systems to meet future energy codes, said Mark Silverberg, president, on the show floor. "Customers are getting ready for the codes that aren't here yet. Technoform is bringing in innovations such as inserting foam [into spacer systems]. We're blowing away what the market thinks of thermal capabilities of aluminum systems," he said.

Talk turned to innovation as well at the Sage Electrochromics booth, where the company was promoting its electronically tintable glass. The first-time exhibitor came to the show with an updated logo and plans to launch a new website.

"It's important for companies to continue to innovate in a down market," said Helen Sanders, vice president of technical business development. "You have more companies competing over the same job. Companies need to be able to offer something that differentiates their products―something other than price. We're continuing to work on performance improvements of our products. You can never stop improving your products," she said.

Innovation on the interior

While a variety of exhibitors focused on the building exterior, interior glass product suppliers also were in full force at GlassBuild America. Klein USA, for example, promoted Unikself, an addition to its line of interior, sliding, all-glass door systems. The sliding door offers a self-closing feature and is particularly suited to offices and other interior areas where space is at a premium, said Jessy Servol, architectural business manager.

"Demand for [all-glass sliding doors] is increasing ... in LEED projects," Servol said. In addition to providing a clean look, they allow natural light to further penetrate interior spaces, he explained.

The same is true of C.R. Laurence's new CRL 50 Series Synchronized Bi-Parting Top-Hung Sliding Door System, which debuted in Atlanta. The kit comes with everything but the glass, and is designed to help address space-saving and interior lighting needs, said Paul Daniels, vice president of sales.

For Guardian Industries, innovation came in the form of a new interior decorative glass line and its accompanying marketing materials. Partnering with Joel Berman Glass Studios, the company recently launched the InGlass line of designer textured glass. To more effectively promote the line to architects, Guardian developed a new sample box system that allows designers to view the company's InGlass products in three categories: performance glass, colors, and textures and patterns. Additionally, Guardian introduced its InGlass Viewer that allows designers to see various glass types with color options. "It's a quick way for designers to see broad options," said Diane Turnwall, market segment director of interiors.

"The industry is changing so fast. The needs are changing, how customers use glass is changing, and the [performance] requirements are becoming more stringent," said Jay Phillips, national architectural sales director, Guardian Industries, on the show floor. "You have to invest in technology, and you have to have continuous product improvements. If you're not investing, you're going to get behind," he said.

"Innovation is very important [to] staying ahead and trying to figure out what the next greatest thing is," agreed Greg Abrams, president of Cardinal Shower Enclosures. "We always want to be the first one to market [with new products]." At this year's GlassBuild America, the company introduced ½-inch patterned glass, available in eight different patterns.

CRL also introduced a new bath and shower enclosure product in Atlanta: the Serenity Series Sliding Door System. According to Steve Frey, sales engineer for Mr. Shower Door, and an attendee to this year's event, "The Serenity Series Sliding Door System, in particular, looks very promising. Installation appears to be simple due to their clever design. To a company like ours, this product opens up a new avenue for sales as our customers are seeking that minimalist look while using the least amount of metal possible."

The machinery market

"We're here to solve people's problems," said Doug Canfield, president, Casso-Solar Technologies, LLC, on the show floor. For fabricators looking for quick turnaround in laminating, the company provides shorter cycle times via batch laminating kilns with convection or infrared options―or a combination of both― to help meet the demand for this value-add fabrication process. Casso-Solar also showed its tracked tray system that maximizes the oven's output; as one batch is in the oven, another is loaded and ready.

At the Glasstech booth, innovation was partially described in terms of a company's longevity. The Perrysburg, Ohio, glass processing systems designer is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and is "looking ahead to its next 40," according to a company release.

"A lot of our equipment is still operating," noted Tom Noe, vice president, customer service, at GlassBuild America. "We didn't build in obsolescence, so we can keep old machines operating, which helps in a slow market and also for the aftermarket sales," he said. What's different today, however, is that "energy is the big buzz, so efficiency is the key for any equipment supplier." Glasstech, said Noe, specializes in configuring systems that meet local operating budgets and costs.

Glaston highlighted its efficiency upgrades during a "lunch and learn" booth session explaining the range of glass processing machines and tools offered by Bavelloni, Tamglass and Uniglass, Albat+Wirsam and Cantor. For example, the Vortex Pro upgrade―developed by two of the company's U.S. engineers― is an upgrade convection control system that uses more efficient nozzles to circulate furnace air for improved heating of clear and low-E glass, according to Kimberly Davis, sales and marketing coordinator, Glaston. Currently available for Tamglass models CBHF, CHF and BHF, Davis said the company will be able to retrofit other furnaces—including competitors' models—soon.

TigerStop, producer of stop/gauge and pusher systems, is focused on innovation, despite the difficult economy. "While the rest of the world fell into recession, we decided it was time to be more innovative. We launched two new products," said Erland Russell, eastern regional sales manager, at the show. The company introduced the Sawgear, a portable TigerStop system that can be brought on site, and TigerRack, a positioner with a rack and pinion drive system.

Game-changing innovation

The industry needs "disruptive change," game-changing innovations, Surace said. "Steve Jobs is the epitome of disruptive innovation. This industry needs that kind of innovation; that kind of R&D."

Innovation and R&D investment is critical for glass industry companies, particularly as raw material prices rise, agreed attendee Dan Castilleja, president of DHF Technical Products, a tier one supplier of silver targets for coating lines. "Two or three years ago, silver was $11 or $12 an ounce. Now it's $40 an ounce," Castilleja said. "The market is just so volatile. R&D dollars are slim, but most of the big players realize they have to invest now."

"Economically, we're in hard times, but I think one of the great things about our nation is we know how to reinvent ourselves," Petratis said at the GlassBuild America welcome reception, Sept. 12. "Our nation, our industry, will see prosperity again: prosperity driven by innovation and the entrepreneurs that are here [at GlassBuild America]." 

Click here for additional news, videos and product coverage from 2011 GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo.