What’s the state of the flat glass industry? Where have we been and where are we going? These are some of the questions Ricardo Maiz, president of Vitro Architectural Glass, answered during his session at the Building Envelope Contractors Conference in Nashville.

What’s the state of the flat glass industry? Where have we been and where are we going? These are some of the questions Ricardo Maiz, president of Vitro Architectural Glass, answered during his session at the Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference in Nashville. The event is underway at the Omni Hotel and is organized by the National Glass Association.

One major industry shift, Maiz said, is how the demand for float glass has changed. He noted there was less peak in demand in 2023 compared to 2016. In 2023, ten fewer float glass furnaces were in production for architectural, automotive and imported glass.

While demand is lower, pricing has remained relatively stable. Working from third-party data, he pointed out that glass prices increased by a 1.42% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) per year over the past 25 years, trailing other construction materials such as cement (up 3.55%) and iron and steel (up 4.11%). You see that flat glass stays the same, Maiz said, but costs like freight, electricity, sand, labor and soda ash have all gone up.

“We are in a margin crunch,” he said. “Our demand doesn’t grow and price doesn’t grow, but input has dramatically.”

Float glass manufacturing, he pointed out is highly capital intensive, and industries such as glass need higher margins to justify a return on investment. As a result, starting up a new float line isn’t a simple process.

Since 2005, there have been 13 tank shutdowns, many of which relate to big shifts and consolidation. Looking forward, though, he says there are opportunities, particularly in some forms of fabricated glass. Maiz offered a look at some historical revenue from fabricated glass in architectural, automotive, solar and other markets, as well as a forecast for 2032.  While architectural and automotive remain steady, the solar market forecasts a huge jump.

Energy codes and changing sustainability demands are driving code changes and the need for increasingly high-performance products. Codes, he said have been continually evolving since the 1970s and are not going back.

“Codes will not regress. We are not going back. Everything is progressing,” he said. Going forward we will continue to see demand for value-added solutions.”

More work will need to go into creating a carbon-neutral float manufacturing process, said Maiz. This will need improvements across the industry in furnace design, batch materials, fuels, heat waste recovery and carbon capture, for example. He said four of seven Vitro furnaces operate with Oxyfuel technology, which uses less energy in the manufacturing process compared to traditional production.

Nearshoring and reshoring are other trends as international companies establish themselves in or near the U.S., Maiz said. Glass is now expected to provide energy, thermal (U-value), comfort and sustainability. As more and more products to meet these needs, more restrictive window-to-wall ratios will be easier to meet.

Maiz also looked at the proliferation of digital tools to assist the architects. Vitro, he said, has developed several tools designed to help make things easier for the architects. “We believe heavily in this space,” he said, pointing out there will be more digital and more user-friendly tools for architects and users.

One of the key takeaways from the session is the important role that solar will play in the future

“We’re only scratching the surface of what glass can do,” Maiz said. “It’s constantly evolving. It’s incredible what we will be able to do with glass in the future – the future is bright.”

The BEC Conference continues through March 5. Stay tuned to usglassmag.com and follow USGlass Magazine on social media for more news and updates.

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