Volume 43, Issue 12 - December 2008

Feature

World-Class Glass
Düsseldorf Hosts the 20th glasstec
by Megan Headley, Ellen Rogers and Charles Cumpston
 

For first-time attendees, glasstec 2008 was not just a trade show, but an experience. “Everybody told me it’s big but …” commented first-time attendee Bret Penrod, general manager of fire protection glass of Pilkington North America, adding, “Everybody’s here. The world is well represented.” 

The magnitude of the show, which covered more than 785,700 square feet of net exhibit space at Messa Düsseldorf in Germany, certainly was the first factor to strike attendees. 

Kearne Prendergast, solar technology account manager of Grenzebach Corp. in Newnan, Ga., was another first-time glasstec attendee. When asked his impression of this show compared to those in the U.S., he laughed: “Bigger and—a lot bigger.”

Bob Quast, president and chief executive officer of Lisec America Inc. in Burnsville, Minn., also attended for the first time. When asked how it stacks up against shows back in the United Stated he said, “It’s the largest international glass show—you can’t get any better than this.” 

That may be true for exhibitors who sought to reach worldwide markets as about 55,000 visitors (a slight increase compared to the 2006 event) attended the event looking for the latest in all things glass. 

Certainly a good amount of traffic at the show came from North America, perhaps more than most exhibitors had hoped for. Tom Bechill, U.S. sales manager for Hegla, reported seeing a good deal more traffic from the U.S. than expected; with some surprise he said that people with whom he’d had appointments later in the week showed up earlier to take part in the show. 

Although Bohle has its world headquarters in Germany, the company this year was a source of U.S. attendees. It recently opened a U.S. subsidiary in Charlotte, N.C., and was exhibiting with a number of new products. Gary Dean, chief operating officer for Bohle America Inc., said the transition to the North American market has been exciting and a positive development.

Yet, Dean added, “The impact [from North America] just keeps rolling.”

The Economy Under Question
The impact from North America was the big unknown about the event, but there was no question that attendees and exhibitors alike were interested to hear how the bad financial and economic news in the weeks preceding the show would affect business. 

Anders Holmqvist, sales director of Glassrobots, the Finnish equipment supplier, said that some companies are “waiting for the moment; people are afraid of moving ahead.” He continued, “Some of the deals we thought were going to go through have been postponed. However, then there are others who see this as the opportunity to go ahead.”

For Steve Goodburn, sales director of CGI International Ltd. in the United Kingdom, exhibiting at glasstec was a necessary way of reaching new markets while times are tight.“

A lot of the world’s major economies are down, so we want to find ways to reach other markets, such as the Middle East, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe,” Goodburn said.

Michael Spellman, whose company IGE Solutions Inc. in Jupiter, Fla., represents a number of European as well as Chinese companies, was in the booth of Landglass, a Chinese equipment supplier he has represented for the past six months. When asked if the economic conditions are having an effect, he said, “The architectural market is going strong thanks to commercial.” He added, “Looking out at my business and the long lead time there is, I expect the next couple of years should be good … The big question is ‘why are people still so interested?’” he said. “Companies are still expanding and going into new areas. We’re not seeing a lot of replacement of machines. People are maintaining them and they’re lasting longer.”

Spellman expects sales of laminating equipment to go down for a while and then go back up. “But tempering furnaces are just forging ahead.” 

How is the economic crisis affecting things in the Southern hemisphere? Anecdotal sentiments on the show floor were that fewer South Americans came to the show due to the costs and the uncertainty of business conditions. However, Camilo Gomez, director general of Cigtra Ltda., which is the representative for AGC Flat Glass in Columbia, said that things are fine in his country—for right now. “However, as you know, if the U.S. sneezes, Latin America gets triple pneumonia,” he said.

One long-time industry icon Dr. Dino Fenzi—who heads up his own company as well as serving as the honorary president of Vitrum, the Italian equipment show—made the point that the Italian companies do not have to worry so much about the credit situation because they are family-owned entities that have not taken on large debts. “Who knows if we will have a recession or a depression but the Italian companies are prepared and equipped to deal with it,” he said.

The bottom line seems to be that while the economic/financial crisis has made people uneasy about their personal situations, deals were being done at glasstec.

Solar Sights 
Among the products on display, one segment in particular stood out at this year’s show; machinery for solar glass production were present at every corner. As Professor Stefan Behling with the University of Stuttgart, and organizer of the glass technology live exhibit, said during the opening session, solar glass production is “an integral part of the glass industry.” It certainly seemed to be that way at glasstec.

While some exhibitors admitted to working on solar production equipment for a number of years, it has only become a trend in the months since glasstec 2006.

For example, Benteler has been working on solar-related products for the last year and a half, according to one company representative. It is one of several companies adapting automotive glass equipment to take on grinding, seaming, cutting, handling and other functions for the sizes most common for solar panels.

An even more recent announcement came from Bystronic Glass, which announced during the show its partnership with the Laser Processing Systems business unit of Jenoptik to create production facilities for thin-film solar cells. The new machine resulting from the partnership combines the processes of laser edge deletion and laser glass cutting, or thermal laser separation. The laser glass cutting process leaves the glass edges free of cracks that, upon absorbing heat in PV applications, could lead to thermal stress breakage. 

Intermac too has announced a partnership. The company is now offering tempering furnaces through its relationship with BHT. According to Carlo Strappa, marketing manager, the furnaces provide the high quality required for producing solar glass. 

As Quast quipped when explaining what made Lisec’s new tempering furnace suitable for solar glass production, each company aims to produce “the best” quality glass anyway, but with solar glass production, “best” quality is a necessity. 

“The ability to temper single-strength glass without roller wave [distortion] is critical for solar,” Quast said.

The company’s flat-bed furnace tempers glass sheets up to 2-mm thickness without optical distortion, according to information from the company. 

Of course, the typical sizes handled by much of the equipment on display may not be typical for long. Applied Materials hosted in its booth a 5.7 square meter panel (approximately 61.4 square feet)—the size panel that can be produced by its new SunFab™ solar module production line for fabricating thin film silicon photovoltaic (PV) modules. A benefit of the large lite, according to one sales representative with the company, is that the glass installer only has to work with one junction box and fewer wires than if he were installing a number of “traditionally” sized PV panels in the same space.

Saflex was another company offering new solar solutions in large sizes; the company launched its PV business in June 2008 and already provides PVB encapsulant technologies for thin film modules as large as 5.7 square meters. 

What’s Ahead 
At this point, one can only wonder what innovations will be on display at the next glasstec. The one thing that is certain is that plans already are underway for glasstec 2010, which will take place September 28-October 2 in Düsseldorf, Germany.

 

USG
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