Volume 15, Issue 1 - January/February 2013

A Tale of Adaptation:
the Evolution of Windshields And the Future of Auto Glass Manufacturing

by Kaitlan Mitchell

There may come a day when veterans of the auto glass industry gather youngsters around a cozy fireplace, virtually projected on a laptop, to tell stories of the sepia-stained days and of how windshields used to be.

Maybe, during a warm Spring drizzle, they’ll tell tales of the rhythmic melody of wiper blades that have since disappeared from the marketplace. Or maybe they’ll weave stories of how drivers “in the old days” actually wore sunglasses in cars to deflect the sun’s harsh rays while today the windshields themselves sport the equivalent of auto glass aviators.

With advancing industry technology and a plethora of “Jetson”-esque windshield patents on the rise, windshield technicians will have to evaluate how these new applications can affect the installation process. Despite the invention of low-maintenance windshields, the future of windshields still is not clear.

Augmented reality (AR) technology is seeping from our smartphones and creeping from our computers into the windshields of our cars. AR provides digital information layered on top of the real scenery drivers intake from one location to the next. According to Jeff Olive training manager at Glasspro Inc., this can include pedestrian awareness alerts, directions and building identification labels. Although vehicle AR may seem like a far-off advancement, Heads Up Display (HUD) software is already implemented into cars. Auto glass shops need to be able to quickly adapt to the new features AR will entail.

“With the AR technology, installers will need to make sure different attachments are plugged in and wired up,” says Brad Voreis, vice president of operations at Glass Doctor®. “The guys aren’t used to that. It’s more than beads of urethane they’re dealing with. Now you’re throwing electronics into the mix and most guys aren’t really savvy with electronics. Installers need to embrace the new technology or be left behind.”

Pioneer Corp., a Japan-based technology firm has claimed to have created the first HUD dashboard, the Cyber Navi, to project AR information to the front of the windshield. The distance of the vehicle ahead also appears on the glass as well as information about the driver’s route. According to a Pioneer report, the device significantly reduces eye movement, allowing the driver to keep better focus and, in turn, increase safety.

While AR technology is becoming well established in other industries, it is still in the early development phases for vehicles. Various prototypes of HUD software have been laid out in the past few years including Mercedes’ Dynamic and Intuitive Control Experience (DICE). According to Mercedes’ website DICE is “capable of recognizing and using a driver’s hand movements to create a custom virtual dashboard—complete with live feed from their social network...” The display gives drivers the ability to pull up data pertaining to places of interest by simply pointing at them.

Another example of developmental AR is the enhanced vision system from General Motors (GM). This technology surveys the car’s surrounding landscape environment while simultaneously monitoring the driver’s eyes and head movements. The collected data is then processed onto the windshield to rely important information to the driver such as upcoming traffic, an animal near the side of the road or the identification of a building. This GM concept also has the capability of measuring distance from the car to the edge of the road when fog interferes with a driver’s view, a company report states. Adding AR to the windshield may prove difficult for technicians who are not current on the latest industry trends.

“The challenge is a majority of installers haven’t taken the time for any new, formal training in the last three years and they’re missing crucial steps in the installation process,” says Frank Levesque, technical manager of Glass Doctor.

Cutting Glare with Glazing
The days of needing sunglasses during a summer drive could be dwindling down thanks to the advancement of dynamic glazing. Helen Sanders, vice president of technical business development for Sage Electrochromics Inc., describes dynamic glazings as “glazings that change their transmission properties in response to an external stimulus such as heat, sunlight, gas or electricity.” While there is a flurry of projects using this application for the curtainwalls of buildings, the auto industry has also stepped up to the dynamic-glazing plate.

Asahi Glass Co. Ltd. (AGC), announced in December of 2012 that it had created “the world[’s] first tempered glass for automotive front door windows blocking approximately 99 percent UV rays while reducing uncomfortable frizzling sensation.”

Sanders says the commercial applications are limitless because of their “human factor” appeal for building facades but that same thought applies to the auto industry. As energy concerns rise, dynamic glazing offers a solution to controlling temperatures limiting the amount of air conditioning and, in turn, lowering a vehicle’s fuel consumption.

SPD Control Systems Corp., creators of the self-tinting windshield SPD-SmartGlass, state that automotive solar glazing reduces nighttime light pollution build-up, thus farther lower cooling costs. Another advantage of dynamic glazing is that its UV-blocking properties minimizes degradation of interiors and can reduce the harmful health effects to occupants.

The future forecast of dynamic glazing looks promising according to a December 2012 NanoMarkets report. NanoMarkets projects revenues from related coatings and smart glass sold in the automotive sector are projected to reach $3.5 billion by 2018. The report analysis stems from the current sales of dimmable mirrors, which the report claims at the moment is the only automotive application using large amounts of smart glass. These smart glass sales net more than $450 million annually.

A Clean Streak
“As this sector grows, I see the size of the windshield increasing to accommodate this technology,” says John Petraglia, president and CEO of SPD Control Systems Corp. “The windshield will eventually be a part of the roof system. We’ll see this continued trend: more and more glass will be added to extend the current size of the windshield.”

As the perceived focus for automotive smart glass suppliers, the report anticipates $1.3 billion in windshield-based smart glass products by 2018. Some of these expected innovations include smart solar windshields, self-repairing windshield and wiperless windshields.

After a 110 year stint, are windshield wipers gearing up for a change? Since their introduction in 1903 from Alabama native Mary Anderson, windshield wipers have increased the driver’s visibility during inclement weather. Cue Leonardo Fioravanti, a Pininfarina automotive designer.

Fioravanti has conceptualized the Hidra, a multi purpose coupe with Marvel – integrative windshield that heads off impending rainfall and tree twigs. In this prototype, Marvel is designed to repel water and dirt without wiper blades, according to a document released by Fioravanti and his team. The Hidra’s nanotechnology-based windshield has four layers. Although the thickness is increasing, industry insiders do not believe the technology needs more surface to function.

“As always, there is a trend to increase the size of the glass to create the feeling that the car is more spacious than it actually is,” says Olive. “In the future, as cars continue to be more aerodynamic the same can be said, but I don’t foresee this technology requiring more windshield space for successful operation.”

Olive says the top layer of this futuristic windshield contains titanium oxide which is designed to rapidly repel water, while the second layer directs dirt and debris off to the windshield’s sides. Although the windshield’s third layer is a sensor that calculates the amount of water or dirt that needs to be disposed, the commander-in-chief of the whole operation is the fourth layer. The final layer acts as a current conductor, charging the unit with electricity to run the entire self-cleaning process.

With the four new sections the futuristic technology is suppose to contain, experts believe the self-cleaning feature will affect installation. “With the addition of these extra layers, there will be more weight,” says Olive. “I would be concerned with some setting devices that we use now to assist handle windshields, like one-sets, won’t be able to hold the extra weight. With the combination of the added weight and the electric current non-conductive type urethane, we need to make sure the decking height is kept to the proper distance.”

Rain Boots or Raybans?
Weather anchors’ predictions assist in our preparation; the same principal can be said about the advancing technology in the windshield industry. Windshield installers need to keep abreast with patents and prototypes to better prepare themselves for what it to come – the good and the bad.

We are not able to escape the immersion of technology; all we can learn to do is learn to adapt and hope to avoid the brunt of a storm.

“For installers, it is truly important to keep current with the advancing technology of windshields and continue industry education in order for successful, futuristic installations,” says Olive.

Kaitlan Mitchell is the editor of AGRR™ magazine/ glassBYTEs.com™. Follow her on Twitter @agrrmagazine.

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