Only Online - USGlass January 2007
Supply Chain Collaboration
The Key to Today's Problems and Tomorrow's Opportunities for Large Area
The following article is reprinted with permission from the American Architectural
Manufacturers Association. Information in the article is from Fred Wallin's presentation
to the Society of Vacuum Coaters, and was originally published in the October
2006 issue of the AAMA GMC Newsletter. Visit http://www.aamanet.org/upload/GMC_Newsletter_October_2006.pdf
to read the entire article.
Vacuum coating is the deposition of a film or a coating in a vacuum (or low-pressure
plasma) environment. While vacuum coatings have numerous and diverse applications,
perhaps no application category is growing faster today than the architectural
glass marketplace. Low-emissivity (or low-E) vacuum coatings have achieved increasing
acceptance in both the residential and commercial window markets, catapulting
them from a "niche" product to an architectural standard in a relatively
Currently, sales of low-E windows for the residential marketplace are growing
at a compounded annual rate of 19.5 percent. While this growth will slow as the
market becomes saturated, low-E glass is expected to represent an 80 percent share
of the residential market by 2008.
The commercial construction marketplace was initially slower to embrace low-E
glass coatings-but today, low-E products are growing at an accelerated annual
rate of 17.1 percent. By 2008, low-E should represent a 50 percent share of the
commercial glass marketplace. Because this segment will not be saturated by low-E
windows in the short term, this growth should continue, according to statistics
from Ducker Research Company.
Several factors have played a part in this growth, including:
- Technological advancements, in both coating materials and coating technologies,
over the past two decades;
- Federal incentives for installing energy-efficient glass products, such as
the U.S. Department of Energy's ENERGY STAR® window program, as well as tax
rewards for the installation of low-E windows;
- Local and state building codes that specify the use of energy-efficient products,
including low-E windows, in all new construction;
- Private-sector financial incentives that encourage reduced energy consumption
over the long term, reduced capital investments in the short term, and increased
daily comfort for tenants;
- Sustainable design and "green" building initiatives, advocating
the use of every energy-saving technology available-including windows that feature
vacuum coatings; and
- Declining interest in reflective coated glasses for architectural applications,
as builders and architects realize that low-E glass can offer insulating advantages
over reflective glass.
There is little doubt that the marketplace for vacuum-coated low-E glass products
will continue to grow-but growth and development is a two-edged sword.
For example, one issue facing vacuum coaters lies in simply keeping up with
increasing global demand. Across the supply chain-from primary glass manufacturing
to the coating line to the construction site-we have struggled for the past several
years to answer the sharp rise in demand for low-E glasses.
Immediate Practical Issues
Vacuum coaters have some more immediate practical issues to consider, however,
such as eliminating the nagging reputation of vacuum-coated glass products as
being "hard to handle" (i.e., susceptible to damage due to scratching,
washing, and human contact). Durability issues not only impact the number of product
defects and customer returns, they also slow down the entire supply chain.
Other issues we should work together to address include:
- Shelf life. The necessity for "fresh" glass slows the supply chain,
and negatively impacts profitability. If we can make it possible to use older
glass products, we will see enhanced flexibility, responsiveness and profit margins
across the architectural glass supply chain.
- Temperability. Tempered glass is a fast-growing category, and we need to respond
more effectively to this market demand with low-E products that can be post-tempered
quickly and easily using existing furnace technologies.
- Glass Color. Color consistency is an issue, especially in commercial glass
installations. Other color-related issues include reducing angular color and producing
a wider range of glass colors to meet special architectural needs.
- Cycle time and cost. Especially for newer vacuum-coated glass products, such
as those used in "smart windows," we need to cut both manufacturing
time and production costs if they are to become widely accepted.
Sorting Out What is "Best"
While each of these issues is important, perhaps the single most critical competitive
imperative for vacuum coaters lies in helping our customers and end-users sort
out the various performance parameters in arriving at a decision as to which product
is "best" for a given application. Further complicating matters is the
fact that developments in new glass substrates, innovative coating materials,
technologies and processes has changed the product from a "one-product-fits-all"
solution to become a family of coated glass choices that meets virtually every
performance need. In determining which of these many choices is "best,"
one must filter through and interpret the proliferating array of standards and
A key issue in this regard is the apparently conflicting array of labels and
standards. The result may be that consumers become even more confused about what
is truly best for their own specific needs:
- The U.S. ENERGY STAR window program, created and administered by the Department
of Energy, certifies windows based on two factors: their U factor and solar heat
gain coefficient (SHGC). The American ENERGY STAR program divides the country
into four regions, based on annual heating and cooling needs, and attempts to
address the primary energy usage in each area. For example, in the northernmost,
coolest region of the U.S., the energy used to heat homes is the primary concern.
For this region, ENERGY STAR recommends windows with a lower U factor to capitalize
on passive solar transmission. In the southernmost region ENERGY STAR focuses
on minimizing air conditioning costs, primarily by blocking solar heat gain.
- By contrast, the Canadian ENERGY STAR program focuses on U factor and "heating
degree days" (HDDs) when certifying windows. The Canadian program logically
groups the nation's cities and regions together according to annual temperature
trends, with the colder areas requiring more energy-efficient windows-and a lower
- Window labels provided by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC)
include U factor and SHGC-but also feature measures such as daylighting, air leakage
and condensation resistance. In addition to these items, consumers should educate
themselves about other energy efficiency measures before selecting a product.
One example is daylighting, or visible light transmittance (VLT). While a high
level of natural light is an aesthetic choice that is becoming more popular in
homes and offices-and is advocated by "green design" organizations-we
all know that glass with the highest VLT levels is often not the most energy-efficient
choice, especially in climates that remain warm year-round.
Adding still more to the confusion are the wide variety of state and local
building codes that govern the residential construction marketplace. Not only
are these building codes often at odds with the recommendations of the NFRC or
ENERGY STAR, but they are also constantly changing-and both professionals and
consumers are expected to keep up with ever-shifting window standards. For example,
in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in late 2005, new building codes have
been introduced along the Gulf Coast to govern both energy efficiency and hurricane
Overwhelmed with information, consumers look to glazing contractors, builders,
architects-and, increasingly, even employees at "big box" stores like
Lowe's and Home Depot-for guidance in choosing the right window. But often these
perceived "experts" are equally confused by the multitude of glass and
coating choices available today.
Where can the marketplace turn for a clearer view of window performance-one that
takes a more scientific, consistent approach? Since glass manufacturers and coating
professionals have partnered to create today's range of sophisticated architectural
glass products, they can play a key role in helping commercial and residential
customer decision-makers to choose appropriate windows based on their many concerns.
These include year-round energy efficiency, UV light transmission and visible
light transmittance, as well as price, aesthetics, light transmission, privacy,
glass color and other product attributes.
By getting closer to our customers to support the growth of existing low-E
glass solutions, we will also be well positioned to introduce other vacuum-coated
products that we have not even imagined yet.
The Challenge of Innovation
With regard to the latter, it will not be enough for coaters to simply increase
their capacity, so that they can produce more of the same coated glass products.
Market demand will eventually flatten, so they will also need to explore market-changing
innovations, such as emerging "smart window" technologies that create
new demand for their products. Primary glass manufacturers and vacuum coaters
must collaborate on the next generation of architectural glass products-revolutionary
solutions that have the power to change the marketplace.
These market-changing innovations will certainly include variable-performance
windows, including photo-chromic and electro-chromic glass solutions. While these
coated glass products are available today, their current price point-up to $100
per square foot-needs to be dramatically reduced before they will win broad acceptance.
Other futuristic coated glass innovations could include:
- Integrating television screens into windows, taking advantage of large bay
windows and making them truly multifunctional;
- Installing touch pads on coated glass surfaces, so that windows can be used
to control heating and air conditioning, security systems and even in-home audio
- Designing photovoltaic units into frit patterns, so that large glass spaces
such as atriums can be both beautiful and functional, generating valuable energy;
- Developing coated solutions with the same characteristics on either the second
or third surface-including performance numbers, aesthetics, reflection, and transmission-for
new levels of flexibility and efficiency; and
- Using low-E glass coatings to make tinted glass substrates a thing of the
past. If primary glass companies produced only clear substrates while vacuum coaters
produced low-E glass in a rainbow of shades while still maintaining excellent
emissivity standards, the glass supply chain could become much more efficient.
In the ever-changing world of architectural glass, neither glass manufacturers
nor coaters can allow themselves to become complacent. Remembering the spirit
of collaboration and innovation that led to the initial development of low-E coatings,
we must agree to continue working together to achieve an even brighter future.
Fred Wallin is the vice president of marketing for AFG Industries.
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