Volume 37, Issue 5, May 2002
The Future is Here, The Time is Now
by Ric Jackson
In this industry, significant changes in technology routinely reshape the field of insulating glass (IG) and window fabrication. New technologies in warm-edge spacers will again lead to a major shift in the window industry. Manufacturers with the foresight to embrace change to gain a competitive edge should be aware of emerging spacer technologies.
Recent advancements in laminates and extrusion technologies have created opportunities to design flexible spacers with a variety of enhanced performance features. Developed in response to consumer demands and manufacturers searching for a competitive edge, these new flexible spacers can improve a window’s performance significantly while remaining cost-effective for fabricators.
To see the future of spacer technology, the manufacturer should understand today’s technologies. The IG spacer systems of today are characterized in a variety of ways—from thermal performance to degrees of flexibility. Typically all include a moisture barrier, primary and secondary sealants and adhesives, desiccant and spacer. Before 1995, the market was dominated by aluminum spacer systems. However, as of 1999, the residential IG window market featured warm-edge spacer technology primarily.1
That also breaks down the current spacer usage patterns. Warm-edge spacers make up 82 percent of the North American window market, which can be broken down further into rigid (54 percent) and non-rigid (28 percent). Rigid warm-edge spacers include principally u-shaped and stainless steel spacer bar, while non-rigid warm-edge spacers include products like Swiggle®
Seal and desiccated silicone foam.
The remaining portion of the market uses the former dominant technology—aluminum spacer bar (18 percent).
Warm-Edge Spacer Trends
The most significant trend affecting manufacturers today is the requirement to meet new performance standards. With no foreseeable end to energy concerns, consumers will continue to demand products that are energy-efficient. In addition, with consumers’ preferences for thermally efficient windows, spacer systems must meet new certification requirements from federal and industry regulators and they must support longer-term warranties and durability standards.
Another trend is fabricators pushing suppliers to be more cost-effective. New materials, such as laminates, composites, film adhesive applications and advanced extrusion and molding technology, are creating opportunities for better designed windows and spacer systems with advanced performance features at competitive costs. Lower profit margins and reduced selling prices, combined with increased market fragmentation, are forcing fabricators to reduce inventory and increase flexibility of their operations.
Although thermal performance and cost efficiency are leading the drive for new spacer technology, numerous factors are also creating a demand for new technologies. These other factors include developments in new window shapes such as bent glass, new coatings for glass and a variety of shapes and inserts as a percentage of the total window production. New applications for insulating glass in commercial buildings, residential homes, transportation vehicles and refrigerated displays demand advancements in spacer design as well.
At the iGm show held this past fall, our company unveiled its latest spacer system for high-volume manufacturers—DuraSeal™. We also gave a sneak preview of its proprietary new technology in Insuledge™, a product that will drive performance to new heights for manufacturers of specialty, high-end and custom windows.
Continued advancements in warm-edge spacers offer window manufacturers the opportunity to reduce cost, improve thermal performance and differentiate their product lines. So, window manufacturers who want to gain a competitive edge should continue to monitor improvements in spacer technology.
1Study of the U.S. and Canadian Market for Windows and Doors by Ducker Research Co. Inc.
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