New glass in the age of overcapacity

One of the many remarkable things about the world’s largest glass industry trade show is how all-encompassing it is. Every means of transforming glass into value-added products is found in glasstec’s nine halls and the booths of its 1,162 exhibitors. This includes flat glass, container glass and even art glass.

Another thing is who you meet. It’s a reunion of American one-week ex-pats I see only in Germany every two years. This year, I was fortunate to also meet several interesting locals, among them, Dr. Dedo von Kerssenbrock-Krosigk, curator of the Glass Collection at the Museum Kunstpalast. He invited me to an after-hours tour, which given my show schedule, was the only way I could have seen 3,500 years of glass-making.

A description of this beautiful collection could fill many glassblogs, but the unique thing about it was the new addition of American cut glass. You see, Dr. von Kerseenbrock-Krosigk was once the curator at the Corning Museum in New York and believes that including representative examples from America into a timeline of EMEAI glass art is important (judging from how often I heard this acronym, which stands for Europe, Asia, Middle East and India, it's now the de rigueur reference). 

The next day back at the show, it struck me that America was also uniquely represented at this year’s glasstec. There were several “new” exhibitors, among them Corning, which showed construction-sized Gorilla glass, the super thin, super strong surface you have touched many times over if you own a tablet or smartphone.

Then there was GED, with its “new to Europeans” Intercept line, and also its ATLAS equipment for producing dual or triple IG units. Triple-glazed units started in Europe; the penetration for which may be at 100 percent in Scandinavia, Joe Shaheen, told me with a big smile on his face.

"Re-newed" might be a better description for two other American exhibitors, Guardian and Quanex. Guardian’s “stand,” which is how Europeans refer to exhibit booths, was jammed with customers and worldwide reps all four days of this mega-show. This was, to say the least, a dramatic departure from the float producer’s previous glasstec no-name quarters in Hall 13. Re-branding beyond commodity takes space to display new products like SunGuard, ClimaGuard and InGlass.

Known in the European market as Edgetech, the Quanex Building Products business unit announced a third warm-edge extrusion line for its still relatively new Heinsburg, Germany, plant. The company estimates it will produce 1 billion feet of product by 2013, forecasting 30 percent growth in sales this year. “We have a very simple philosophy, said Andy Jones, managing director of Quanex’s European operations, “when we get to 80 percent capacity, we add a new line.”

Of course, there’s a darker side about capacity in the worldwide glass business. I spoke to one European veteran of glass recessions past who listed the 12 most recent European float plants in cold shut down or on hot-hold. A hot-hold, or slow production/under repair facility, is these days likely to become a cold and permanent shut down. All the float glass manufacturers—AGC/Glaverbel, Guardian, NSG/Pilkington and Saint-Gobain—are affected.

But as I learned at the Museum Kunstpalast, the glass ribbon of history that stretches across the centuries is marked by economic, political and social change—and human ingenuity. Back at the NGA/Glass Magazine co-hosted North American pavilion where 20 of the 57 North American exhibitors met with customers and prospects the world-over, Doug Canfield, Casso-Solar Technologies, Pamona, N.Y., was busy working up quotes for the steady flow of prospects he’d met with. And for Stewart Engineers, it matters not that in the past five years 80 float lines have been taken out. For this North Carolina specialist in float glass facility engineering, where one goes cold, there’s another about to be fired up.

Post-Sandy P.S.—Listening to New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, on the morning news, it’s clear that glass companies in the path of the storm will be dealing with the aftermath for some time.  Let us know what you hear. 

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