Volume 46, Issue 11 - December 2011

feature

La Dolce Vitrum
17th Biennial Vitrum Seeks Attendance Sweet Spot Amid Down Economy
by Megan Headley

Italy has long been known in the glass industry as the source of some of the most finely crafted machinery available to process a lite. That’s why Vitrum has, for years now, attracted to its trade show floor in Milan, Italy, fabricators who seek innovation in new machinery, and attracted exhibitors from around the world who want to show their lines can stand in rank with their Italian counterparts.

The most recent Vitrum, the 17th iteration of the biennial event, took place October 24-29. Show organizers say that the fair hosted 482 exhibitors from 26 countries at the Rho Fiera Milano. Organizers noted that this year’s event was marginally larger (approximately one percent more exhibit space) than the last showing in 2009. Eleven of those exhibitors hailed from the United States, just as in 2009.

This year—when fabricators seem more likely to search the auctions than the trade show floor for cost-effective machinery—innovation took a back seat to strengthening relationships. Vitrum’s exhibitors stayed busy, finding the show to be a cost-effective way to connect with existing customers.

“We’re looking to connect with customers,” new and old, commented Andrew Kohler of Benteler during the event. Like many other companies, Kohler’s brought no machines to display in its booth, just information on its range of processing solutions and a mindset to meet and greet those attendees who came.

As Mike Ondrus with Glasstech of Perrysburg, Ohio, pointed out, the cost of a booth at the event is far more effective for a North American company than traveling across Italy and beyond to visit with customers. For those like Ondrus who planned ahead to meet with customers, Vitrum provided an effective meeting venue with the possibility of a few walk-up surprises.
The 2009 event hosted 20,689 total visitors at the venue, while show organizers report that 20,255 attendees visited in 2011.

While exhibitors and attendees alike noted that traffic seemed lower than in years’ past, Gimav, the Italian machinery manufacturers association that organizes the event, wasn’t entirely surprised at this perception.

“We are experiencing an uncertain, fluctuating situation,” commented Cinzia Schiatti, president of Gimav. “The gloomiest times of 2009 and 2010 are behind us. We got off to a great start in 2011, [and] there is still a lot of effervescence but not many deals are being cut. There is no long-range planning because it’s still difficult to make investment decisions. There’s a credit crunch in Eastern Europe, while Brazil is still offering very satisfactory results. The Old Continent has ground to a halt, although Great Britain is showing its first signs of recovery.”

Overall the message seems to be that some companies are seeing growth, some are holding steady and no one is quite sure what the near future holds.

“Orders and growth rates for the general economy are actually shrinking,” commented Dino Fenzi, president of Vitrum and honorary president of Gimav. “But we should also consider by the end of the year the world as a whole will have grown by 4 percent and will, in all likelihood, perform equally well again by the end of next year.”

He added, “Who stands to benefit from this, however, remains to be seen.”

Low-Cost Options for Fabricators
Given the state of the economy, it might not be surprising that a number of manufacturers introduced lower-cost machines at this year’s Vitrum.

Lisec was among those companies focusing on low-cost entry into new fabrication markets.
“Our real novelty is the edge-grinding machine,” shared Manfred Lesiak. “Up until now we always had a very high end solution,” he said. While the new KBU vertical edge processing center maintains the company’s quality, it is geared as a much-demanded cost-effective option for fabricators.

The Fit line is very much geared toward start-up fabricators with its streamlined options and “reasonable” price. The Fit.Cut features a tiltable standalone cutting line that is “really optimized for production,” Lesiak says. The Fit.Line insulating glass production line is available in three simple models depending on what is needed.

Hegla of Germany also focused on entry into new fabrication markets at more cost-efficient levels, and has begun offering a cost-effective cutting line. At the glasstec 2010 event, the company launched its Galactic float glass cutting table, which features an electro-magnetic linear drive and a high precision non-contact positioning system.

“We’ve rearranged the Galactic line a bit,” explained Hegla representative Joachim Knoll. That means there is now a basic version available, and the option introduced last fall, which is able to work at a rate of up to 13 meters per second, is now marketed as Galactic Plus.

Other machinery manufacturers, however, were not following the low-cost trend.

“The problem in the United States is not the price, because they pay,” said Francesco Nicotera of KeraGlass. What U.S. customers seek is “excellence.” Nicotera said he’s found that U.S. customers want to see machinery in action before considering a purchase. “They want to see every screw, everything,” he joked.

Glaston in Finland offered a little of both of these options with its many launches at Vitrum.

While its new Hiyon series of straight line edgers might not be for entry level fabricators, per se, the machines use a very basic operating system that “means the customer does not need anymore the highly skilled operators,” as Marino Ferrarese, director of the pre-processing product line, explained. The XtraEdge double-edger, first in the series, has amped up automation but reduced control panels—down to one, which can be operated remotely via tablet or iPad—every function except for “start.”

While the machinery offerings are geared for simple automation, the company also has launched a number of service plans intended to improve the customer’s experience.

“We wanted to make ourselves more valuable to the daily operations of a glass company,” said Arto Metsänen, chief executive officer. “If something’s broken down—you’re late. The customer has already lost valuable time that he won’t get back.”

The company is focusing on preventive maintenance, beginning with its 5-year warranty for these pre-processing lines.

Lami Lines in Demand
Laminated glass processing lines proved popular as introductions at Vitrum. Standing out among the introductions was a new product from Pujol of Spain.

“We think it’s the end of the autoclave,” said Jorge Pujol Mari, general manager. “Yes, strong words,” he acknowledged with a smile.

The Pujol-100 is being marketed as a system that allows fabricators to laminate PVB directly without using a climate box or dehumidifier.

The new machine operates using only 70 kW, and is able to work any kind of standard PVB, and fast cycles of EVA, Mari said.

“We’re hoping for a big response,” Mari said.

Mappi International, the Italy based furnace manufacturer, hoped to achieve the same aim—laminating PVB without an autoclave or climatic room—with its new LAMMIflex. The heating chamber houses five independent planes on which to lay lites of varying thickness, as well as curved glass. Inside the heating chamber, a hot air convection system distributes the heat evenly across the surface of the glass.

The company notes that the new process allows fabricators to enter new markets without having to assume the economic cost and of space of traditional systems.

The Powerlam line from RCN Kiln Solutions focuses on fabricating with EVA. The line was designed to reduce laminating time using EVA interlayers, with no need for a vacuum bag, although company representatives note that PVB can be used as well.

Other companies are focusing on new processing for laminated glass.

“The great novelty in our booth this year is a laminated line that can do curved cutting of shapes,” said Carlo Strappa with Intermac in Italy. The line allows for automatic cutting of shapes and diagonal lines.

Now that the option to cut laminated shapes has hit the market, it’s gaining popularity.

Among the novelties in the Lisec booth was its new laminated glass shape-cutting line. Lesiak explained that operators might still have to break it by hand as is normal, but the option to cut shapes already laminated hasn’t before been available. The line is able to process up to 10-mm glass and a 4.5-mm interlayer.

Peter Nischwitz, corporate communication manager for Bystronic in Germany, acknowledged the demand for laminated glass as well. The company launched its eco’lami pre-nip machinery at glasstec last October. “Now following the product development we launched the full line,” Nischwitz said. It offers a complete solution from washing and positioning to unloading. Like many of the products at the show, the full line is being marketed as an option for economical entry into laminated glass manufacturing.

Vitrum Organizers Create a Festive Atmosphere
Vitrum event organizers included a “festive” new addition to this year’s event: the Vitrum Gourmet Festival.

The makeshift restaurant, cordoned off from the sights if not the sounds of the machinery abutting it on the floor of Hall 22, each day featured a different gourmet menu. Dishes such an appetizer of chestnut cream made with lightly smoked buffalo ricotta ice cream; a side of creamy Carnaroli rice with cardoons and toma cheese d’alpeggio; an entrée of pork cheek with smoked potatoes and apple with hibiscus; and for dessert crispy millefoglie with mascarpone cream and Kahlua aspic, provided a taste of something distinctly Italian. As they indulged, trade fair visitors could discuss the machinery, Italian and otherwise, they’d likewise sampled that day.

One evening, after the lights had dimmed, that venue found itself transformed for an altogether different festivity: Fenzi held a celebration in that venue in honor of its 70th anniversary.

“70 years rush by very quickly,” Dr. Dino Fenzi said in thanking his guests, “because you keep us busy everyday, not only with your requests and your demands but also your trust and cooperation.” He added, “We’ve been here 70 years because of you and we trust you to keep us alive for the next ones.”

Although giving credit to customers for the anniversary, the customers in attendance were quick to give full credit to the product range and the approachability of the worldwide specialty chemical manufacturer.

Decorative Options Abound
While not laminated glass per se, Durst Phototechnik AG in Italy offers a new printing technology that Heinz Wiedmayer notes should be used on glass that is laminated, or included in an IG unit. The engineered decorative glass production line is rapid, produces striking colors with high resolution and true reds. The glass can be handled immediately once through the line and no primer is required prior to printing. However, the Sol-Gel UV ink is subject to fading in some exterior applications if not protected by another lite. The vibrant samples at the show displayed the striking colors.

The company three years ago partnered with Saint Gobain in France to find a printing solution that was speedier than silk-screening and sharper than most digital printing available. The solution was the development of the Rho organic Sol-Gel ink, an organically pigmented, volatile organic compound-free ink system designed for durable, highly adhesive printing on glass. The product has ASTM and EN certifications.

Meanwhile, MuchColours had on display across the hall what it says is the only inkjet printer able to print using special colors such as fluorescent, transparent and white dyes. Company representatives stressed that the Practika printer’s NanoPigments ink is environmentally friendly, as it does not use chemical solvents. In fact, the company made available to attendees a life cycle assessment on its printer and inks.

Thieme was more interested in the “big picture.” Its Thieme 3000 GS LS/LM was billed as the largest architectural screen printing machine, for large-format prints up to 118 by 236 inches. The company notes that the quality of the print is achieved by the precisely repeatable positioning of the glass against fixed stops and reproducible, programmable print parameters.

Megan Headley is the editor of USGlass. She can be reached at mheadley@glass.com or follow her on Twitter @USGlass.


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