Volume 7, Issue 7 - July/August 2006

FMA Insights
Hot Market Opportunity
Applying Films on IG units

by Craig Duncan

The art of applying window films on glass has been around for many years and has grown into a multi-million dollar business. Among the many desirable benefits that window films provide to the end user are: increased privacy, ultraviolet light protection, solar heat rejection and impact resistance. While these benefits have been available to the aftermarket industry for many years, these benefits have been introduced to the OEM markets only in the past few years.

Dry Lamination Takes Hold

The transition of this technology took place by developing an application process called dry lamination. Unlike the conventional methods of applying film using water-based application solutions, dry lamination is done using specialized equipment in a clean room environment. This process eliminates many of the problems faced by the conventional installer such as contamination, cure time and inadequate accessibility to the windows.

Dry lamination is now a mature technology and is being used by several companies to mass-produce dry-laminated impact-resistant windows. Companies interested in getting started in dry lamination can now get up and running quicker and cheaper than ever before. Many years of testing and engineering have resulted in a process that allows the useful properties of film to be incorporated into an insulating glass unit (IGU) while meeting the demanding quality requirements of window fabricators.

The dry lamination process is designed to be added easily into a conventional IGU assembly line. The clean room and laminator are added after the glass washer. As film exits the glass washer it goes into a laminator immediately that applies the film in a precise manner. After the film is applied the fabricator can then move on to constructing the IGU and save the glass-film composite for later use.

Films used in IGU do not have any scratch-resistant coatings unlike traditional window films. They are designed to be used on surfaces #2 and #3 of the unit which makes a scratch-resistant coating unnecessary. This eliminates any potential for out-gassing. The film forms an instant bond to the glass upon lamination and there is no need to wait for the film to cure. Retrofit films often require several weeks to several months for the application solution used to mount the film to fully evaporate. Until this curing is complete, any impact performance is minimal. With dry lamination, the bond occurs as soon as the film is laminated to the glass. No waiting is required.

Impact performance is by far the biggest reason the window fabricators look to incorporate dry lamination into their process. The need for windows that protect people and houses during inclement weather has grown exponentially in the last few years. 

In response to the damage these storms create, many states and counties have adopted stringent requirements for the impact performance of all windows installed in new constructions in coastal counties. One way to meet the requirements is to dry laminate an impact-resistant window film composite into an IGU on surfaces #2 and #3. This combination has been proven through multiple independent testing labs to withstand the 2-by-4 impact test.

Why Add Film?

Unlike other methods of meeting these requirements, adding film to the IGU increases the weight of the window by only a small percentage. This weight reduction is the biggest reason that window fabricators are turning to dry lamination. Other methods add so much weight to the window that the partial shipments can be sent down to highway weight restrictions.

These lighter-weight windows are also easier to install, sometime requiring only one person. The sashes and counter weights can also be reduced since they donít have to support the additional weight of traditional laminated glass. All of these savings have driven the push to bring the dry lamination technology to where it is today. 

Aside from just impact performance, dry lamination also provides the window fabricator with increased flexibility. By laminating film onto standard annealed glass, the performance properties of tempered glass can be obtained. This has been proven by ANSI Z97.1 and CPSC 1201 Cat 2 (unlimited) testing. Having this flexibility is a tremendous benefit to the fabricator. Instead of having to wait for custom size glass to be tempered, it can be done on-demand with film.

Fabricators arenít the only ones taking advantage of some of the new developments that dry lamination has brought forth. Architects are discovering the array of possibilities that can be created when metallized spandrel films are laminated onto glass. 

With all of the recent advances that have been made in film production and dry lamination, the future for using films in IGU has never been better. A recent Ducker research study estimated that 22 million square feet of hurricane-resistant impact products will be produced in 2007. Windows produced using film will make up a growing percentage of this number. 

Looking further into the future, the next big jump for window film will be in development of films that block almost all IR-waves without reducing the amount of visible light let in. This technology already exists but it continues to improve as new materials are discovered and better methods are found for depositing these materials onto film. All of this bodes well for window fabricators who have already discovered the potential of dry lamination since it will incorporate easily into their current processes. 

DWM
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