PGT Innovations (PGTI) is set to be acquired by Miter Brands, but that hasn’t stopped the company from moving forward with its existing plans, including a new glass company and production facility in Prince George, Virginia, where it will produce thin-triple glass.
In June 2023, the company announced a new form of thin, laminated glass it co-developed with Corning Inc. Diamond Glass weighs up to 45% less than standard laminated glass. Then, in November 2023, PGTI unveiled Triple Diamond Glass (TDG), a new company that will produce Diamond Glass and Tri-Ultra, a thin-triple insulating glass product.
Last week, the company gave USGlass magazine a sneak peek at its new facility—an old Rolls Royce plant previously used to make jet engines. The event drew the interest and attendance of representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as numerous industry groups and related experts.
PGTI’s new facility was initially constructed by Rolls Royce in 2011 and closed in 2021. According to company officials, the building was just one of four available nationwide with the correct outlay and power supply sufficient to fuel its new electric tempering furnace. PGTI leased the site in September 2023.
A $54.3 million investment will revamp the 291,000-square-foot space into a manufacturing center for its new TDG insulating glass (IG) products. The company currently employs around 30 people as it gets its new facility up and running. When fully operational, it will require around 500-600 employees.
Officials said that TDG will produce and sell laminated and thin-triple glass products to door and window manufacturers nationwide.
A segue into more efficient glass marks a departure for a company that operates out of Florida, where the primary benefits of thin-triple glass (improved U-value ratings) are less of a factor. But the project has been in the works for around six years, beginning with an interest in creating lighter, thinner laminated glass, said Bob Keller, PGTI’s senior vice president of product innovation and technology. As doors and windows have grown larger, IGUs with laminated glass have become extremely heavy, Keller said—not only to operate but to handle and install in the field. Meanwhile, “The weight is in the glass, not the frames,” Keller said.
The company has spent four years working on lighter impact-rated products. Then, “About two years ago, we started working on thin triples in a big way,” he said.
According to information shared by the company, products typically weighing around 149 lbs. can be as light as 82 lbs. using its new thin glass (45% less).
The company’s aim includes solving “any problem associated with using multiple layers of glass,” Keller said.
With around 50 million windows sold annually, including an average of 10 square feet of glass each, officials estimate the potential market for thin-triple IGUs to be around 500 million square feet annually.
“That’s what made us want to start a company,” Keller said.
Among the solutions PGTI is currently developing are retrofit products to be used as secondary glazing systems for adding thermal performance or protective laminates to existing windows and facades. The prospect of such a system drew the attendance of officials from the General Services Administration (GSA), who are responsible for upgrading buildings in GSA’s portfolio. Among the key needs, GSA officials mentioned was ballistic-rated glass. PGTI officials had demonstration products on hand showing thin glass’s size and weight benefits in those and other applications.
In Northern climates, “We think it’s a better solution for performance, but also condensation,” said Dean Ruark, PGTI’s vice president of engineering and innovation.
Officials said that the new TDG facility will feature a centrally located tempering furnace, which will eventually be used to fuel two lines. Two cutting bays will include automated material handling and a cutting machine that “knows where the glass is and what it is,” Keller said. The company’s thin glass comprises aluminum borosilicate and is produced using a fusion-draw process rather than float. For this reason, sheets of thin glass look and feel more like plastic. “If you have someone who’s handled soda lime glass for 20 years, it’s very challenging to get them trained for handling this [thin] glass,” Keller said.
The same IG production lines can handle regular and thin glass, mixing and matching as needed, but require separate washers. Lines can produce double- or triple-pane units of various sizes and thicknesses using a thermos plastic spacer (TPS), which is applied according to IGU depth. An automated system is used for quality scanning.
Regarding producing thin-triple glass, “This is not a pipe dream,” Keller said. “It’s here. We’re doing it.”
However, there are remaining obstacles before the company’s products can reach mainstream acceptance. There are added costs when compared to traditional IGUs. And while you might expect the industry to recognize the benefits of thin-triple glass, awareness remains quite low, officials said. Despite patents dating back to the 1980s, many lack a full understanding of what thin-triple glass is and how it benefits customers.
The company hopes to overcome these issues before taking its first orders in the second quarter of 2024.
The current lease in Virginia is for 10 years, with an option for expansion, but as the company builds its customer base, “We will build additional plants,” Keller said.