Technological advances are changing the float glass industry. Market demands for higher performance glasses along with pressures to reduce the environmental impact of production have led to notable advancements in technology for both float products and processes.
Regarding the first, the push for more high performance glass products has helped many glass companies transition from commodity suppliers to producers of value-added products. This has offered growth opportunities for manufacturers during difficult economic times, says Patrick Dupin, president of the flat glass business for Saint-Gobain.
“You don’t make a lot of money with a commodity product,” Dupin says. Advancements in processing technologies in the last decade have increased the possibilities for glass companies in the value-added market. “Everybody has enjoyed the quest for added value, in large part to differentiate themselves,” he says.
“The biggest change is the growing demand for high performance coated glass products,” adds Chris Dolan, director of marketing, North America, for Guardian Industries Corp. This trend, which has been building in Europe and North America for many years, has come to emerging glass markets as well, he says.
“The research and development team at our Science and Technology Center works closely with sales and marketing to monitor customer needs, which closely parallel how energy efficiency demands are evolving,” Dolan says. “We see the demand for high performance coated glass products growing around the world. Guardian is adding a magnetron sputter vacuum deposition coater in Saudi Arabia, projected to be operational in 2016.”
Looking at improvements in manufacturing processes, leading glassmakers have also instituted efficiency improvements at float plants, as they seek to reduce emissions and environmental impacts of energy- and cost-intensive glass manufacturing.
One such improvement is the use of oxygen-fuel furnaces, describes Jeff Yigdall, director of engineering for PPG Industries. “Compared to conventional glass furnaces, oxy-fuel-powered glass plants have demonstrated the ability to reduce the amount of fuel needed to make finished glass by more than 15 percent while cutting associated carbon emissions by 10 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 50 percent,” he says.
Glass manufacturers say they expect the industry’s technological advancements to continue in the next decade. More stringent environmental regulations around the world will require a move to more efficient float plants in all markets. And, the move to higher-performing end products will continue to drive growth.
“What will the world of glass look like in the next 10 years? We will see new technologies, exciting development,” says Stephen Weidner, vice president at NSG Pilkington. These advancements will be seen, in particular, down the supply chain, with the continued proliferation of high-tech value-added glass such as dynamic glass, he says.