Volume 48, Issue 2- February 2013
Is This the Year?
While the glass and glazing industry historically has been, and continues to be, predominantly male, an increasing number of Each spring, we watch as monotonously bare tree branches suddenly show the first hints of color. This is followed by the explosive bloom of colorful flowers able to withstand the late frosts, eager to push up and dazzle viewers with their fragrant reminder of spring’s cyclical return.
For the glass industry, the year 2013 may very well be a spring in which technologies that have been developing beneath the surface in recent years, discussed but otherwise unseen, will start to give way to the explosive diversification of niche products that will enhance the building industry. As architectural design firms suddenly find they have the green light to proceed on projects that have been on hold, as renewed confidence drives construction out of the red (if only ever-so-slightly), then glass technologies that have been poised to take off may find that this is their year.
That is, if construction does in deed begin to improve as early indicators suggest.
“In a market like this, it’s very hard for people to find money for emerging technologies, so the focus is all around stripping out to the lowest possible cost,” says Rob Struble, manager of brand and communications for Pittsburgh-based PPG.
Bettering Energy Efficiency
The codes continue to change, a good reason for research and development departments across the country to stay on their toes.
“In the architectural market, I think the trend in technology will be for the ongoing improvement in the performance of low-E products, and an expansion in their use, as higher energy standards are implemented,” saysJoe Carlos, director of sales and marketing for the fabricator Triview Glass Industries in City of Industry, Calif.
That focus is a response to extensive research among architects that indicates energy efficiency remains the focus of the day, with the need for an increasing range in color and transparency.
“We do pretty extensive surveys with architects and as we go through the development process we spend time with architects, we show them samples as we progress through the product,” Struble says. “We get the reaction, that qualitative and quantitative feedback on all the details about these products—about performance levels, how much visible light, how much solar heat gain—to try to find the sweet spot in the architect’s mind. … then we relate it back to research.”
Funyak adds, “We go through that process several times, before we actually come to the final product characteristics, to see what the market truly needs and wants.”
For PPG, that process has brought the company to its upcoming Solarban 67, which fine-tunes the offerings between the spectrally-selective Solarban 60 and 70.
For Guardian Glass in Auburn Hills, Mich., that research brought the company to expand on its SNX triple-silver platform. “We’ll be extending that to other levels of light transmission, so we’ll have new products that will have different light transmission,” says Barry Corden, senior director of product applications for Guardian.
“Customers continue to ask for technologies that deliver improved performance as it relates to optimizing visible light transmission, while improving U-value and solar heat gain, all while maintaining the appropriate color of the glass,” says Kevin Anez, director of marketing and product management for Viracon in Owatonna, Minn. “Building designers want to reduce the need to power artificial lights and decrease the need to heat and cool buildings with traditional systems.”
New IG Technology
“This gives window manufacturers more freedom to build double-pane [units] with better energy efficiency, maybe in order to comply to Energy Star ratings with the double-pane instead of having to move over to a triple-pane window,” Corden says. The company’s ClimaGuard IS products are used on surface four in a window, and Guardian’s research and development department continues to look at ways to improve a window’s efficiency without adding the weight of an additional lite. Not all fabricators, however, are shying away from the extra weight—and costs-of triples.
“We’re seeing more call for triple IGs,” says Mike Nicklas, business development manager for J.E. Berkowitz (JEB), the Pedricktown, N.J.-based fabricator. “The triples I’ve seen are more toward the northern climates, where the thermal performance is a much higher requirement.” Still, only a few years ago a triple IG might have been a novelty, whereas now it is in some cases a necessity for meeting stringent energy codes.
Other insulating initiatives that have been a subject of tweaking for years are also moving into the limelight.
“We have a longer-term initiative on vacuum IG,” Corden says. “Our primary target is residential, but we’re also looking to develop this for commercial down the road, and we have some activities to support our vacuum IG project.”
While vacuum IG has been in development for many years now, suddenly this much talked-about product is preparing for demonstration projects in the year ahead as one way to earn a place in future specifications. “It’s not just us talking and pushing it out, it’s the customer going out and starting to show these off,” says Guardian’s director of marketing and brand management Earnest Thompson of this technology.
Nicklas says that the more basic IGs of 2013 also are undergoing a shift. “We’re seeing more and more higher performing IG units, in regard to some of the energy codes that are out there.” He adds, “We’re seeing more call for warm-edge type technology on spacers.”
In addition, IGs are starting to meet demands beyond energy as projects raise the bar on performance requirements.
“One of the things that we’re recognizing is that we’ve started these IGs with two low-E coatings as a means of improving U-values, but I think in terms of longer-term development there’s going to be more in the future around safety and security as well as better insulating value,” Struble says.
While energy efficiency has been hot for years, sustainability is expected to play a stronger role in the future as well.
“Looking into my crystal ball toward the end of 2013 and beyond, I see a trend toward more energy-efficient buildings with an emphasis on renewable and environmentally friendly materials,” Carlos says.
Of course the most talked-about trends have been in advanced glazing technologies—but it seems that certain segments of this category are ready to hit the mainstream (see related article on page 18).
“Dynamic glazing is becoming a major trend,” Funyak says. This category includes those switchable glazing products, wired or temperature-controlled or any other manner of changing glass from opaque to translucent, that have been under development for years but are suddenly reaching a point where their distribution channel may support broader use.
“I think we’re going to continue to see that [technology] make a play in this market, especially as that market starts to recover. Currently for those types of technology the cost per square foot is elevated, but as the market turns around and you start to see more of this come into the marketplace, I think that’s going to be a major player,” Funyak says.
While PPG is working with the manufacturer Pleotint, Guardian has aligned itself with View (formerly Soladigm). “In 2013 we expect electrochromic products to be on the market,” Corden says.
Technically, those products have been on the market for a while … it’s just that no one’s been buying. Cost has been a detriment, but that looks ready to change.
“It’s not just the cost of some of the emerging technologies like dynamic glazing, but it’s also the development of a solid distribution channel,” Struble adds. “I think as the supply chain starts to sort itself out, you’ll start to see demand for these kinds of technologies.”
And then there’s solar, Struble continues. It’s an area that has had “the same kinds of issues with the infrastructure and with the price point coming to the point that it can become more integrated.” Some are optimistic that as construction grows in 2013, this expensive but high-yielding technology will make a bigger splash.
“Certainty on the building integrated photovoltaic side there are installations that we expect to continue in that area,” Corden says. “We’re working with glaziers … in this area where electrical connectivity is part of the installation.”
On a quieter note—and not just because of it’s secret nature—some companies are focusing advanced glazing in terms of stopping sound rather than light.
“Government organizations and businesses are looking to glass manufacturers to provide solutions that reduce the transmission of radio frequency (RF) electromagnetic radiation, also known as RF Shielding,” Anez says. Viracon offers a solution that addresses this emerging need “by building designers who want to mitigate the risk of cyber attacks through a glass façade. Products with enhanced performance and aesthetics coupled with solutions that address the growing concern of cyber attacks will continue to grow in 2013,” Anez says.
Bigger, But Only if Better
“The architects want to continue going bigger,” Nicklas says. “Here on the East Coast, at least, that seems to be an influence from European manufacturers. I think some of the coaters are starting to respond to it.”
In deed they have. Guardian, for example, has put measures in place that will allow for coating larger lites when it opens its Richburg, S.C., coater. “It supports what I call ‘oversize box sheets’ that can be sold to our fabricator customers,” Corden says. “Our standard is 144 inches, and this coater is able to do 160-inch lites.”
Architects have gotten wiser in seeking big glass that is able to reduce glare and heat transmission effectively.
“Customers are asking for the same great performance, but in larger sizes,” Anez says. He adds, “A continued focus on enhancing both performance and aesthetics through the development of new high performance coatings in larger sizes will be a focus for us.”
Because interest is still high in cladding new construction as fully as possible in glass, architects seem to be taking a more critical look at the quality of the glass they’re using.
“We’ve talked for years in the industry about roll wave distortion as far as quality,” Nicklas says. “In the area of optics, millidiopters is becoming a bigger influence; that’s the focal point of that distortion. We’re investing in more and more equipment to measure that and monitor that,” he says. Nicklas believes this is because architects today are looking for better quality than was allowed for in the past. “On your major projects this becomes a bigger issue … At the end of the day you build a building once, and you want it to look good. They’re looking for tighter tolerances and requirements on the optics of the glass, not just peak to valley and roll wave but that millidiopter also.”
Nicklas points out that not only is the architectural industry becoming savvier (or, just perhaps, better educated by quality fabricators and glazing contractors) about tolerances when it comes to distortion, but many building owners are “actually spending money on these technologies.” That could mean that this is the year where quality will separate the big players from the small-time fabricators.
Support for Emerging Tech
So is this the year we see construction pick up?
“I think so,” says Nicklas, for one. “We’re seeing a lot more private investment going on,” he points out.
Carlos sees these trends in new glass technology as relying on bigger trends within the construction industry. “In terms of a customer wish list as it relates to technology, it comes down to information: where to get it and how quickly,” he says. “There are new products, building codes and reference materials that get listed in specifications. If the estimator is unfamiliar or unsure about some of it, they need somewhere to go. The larger suppliers have done a good job of upgrading the technical data they offer on their website and I expect that trend to continue.”
In other words, as soon as these new products emerge, contractors downstream want to know about it.
The Year Ahead
How the industry creates these technologies and gets them into buildings also is evolving. “I see companies taking a big picture view of where our industry is headed, and looking for a more collaborative relationship with those firms that have common interests,” Carlos predicts.
Partnerships among players with resources and those that have the flexibility to develop new glass technologies may very well be the year’s hottest trend.