Volume 41,   Issue 3                             March 2006

Issue @ Hand

We Can Do It

Liar. That’s what I would have called you if you had told me 20 years ago that Nippon Sheet Glass would someday own Pilkington. But it does and you can read all about it on page 16. It is too soon to understand the ramifications of such a monumental shift in ownership, but there are sure to be some, as two leaders of the global glass industry become one.

Disbelief. That’s what you would have heard if you had told me 20 years ago that PPG’s flat glass division would be far surpassed in sales by the company’s other divisions, including coatings. But it is. Your claim that PPG’s glass division lost approximately $1 million last year would have been met with extreme skepticism. But it did (see February 2006 USGlass, page 14), leading some to speculate about the possibility of future global changes at that company, as well.

Changes of this magnitude have the predisposition to be perceived as upheaval. But I don’t think they are and here’s why: glass is beginning a renaissance as a building material. End users and others involved in designing buildings are rediscovering it as a versatile, long-lasting, aesthetically pleasing material that is relatively inexpensive. We have to remind ourselves that glass has characteristics no other building material has. Design professionals have come to realize this also. 

And glass is a material that has changed to meet the times. Have you seen any concrete become more energy-efficient in the last 20 years?
New ideas are the mark of any good renaissance and the glass industry is no exception. You’ll see an incredible amount of new glass products introduced during the next 18 months with tightly developed performance characteristics, as well as innovative value-added products with attributes not seen before.

You may also see the first in a very interesting trend: proprietary glass, which is glass manufactured to certain specs and performance characteristics. What’s new about that? Nothing, until you add the fact that the manufacturers may agree to protect the glass and produce it for only one or a few fabricators, thus limiting what they will make for whom. It will also be interesting to see how such monumental shifts in channels to distribution affect the industry long-term. So, you’ll also see innovation in getting that product to the market.

Nowhere will innovation be more apparent than in coatings. As my friend Russ Ebeid of Guardian has said, “We’ve coated glass with copper, silver and gold. We have still got almost all the elements on the periodic table to go … and each of those elements will bring different characteristics to the glass.” 

The renaissance is ours to profit from or to squander. Doing business as usual, avoiding promotion and enhancement of our products before the design community and bemoaning “the way it used to be” will keep us from capitalizing on what’s coming as an industry. 

I recently had the chance to visit with the president of a large and prestigious film company. He talked about how his industry has operated in the past and how he is changing the way his company does business. “You have to remember,” he said, “that in the past we all [window film companies] were competing with each other to gain more market share. We all wanted a bigger piece of the pie. Our company has realized that the best way to get a bigger piece of the pie is not to ‘steal’ a job here or there, it’s to make the pie bigger.” 

Bigger Indeed. And that’s what the glass industry must do: help make the pie bigger. Move the choice from another building material to glass … and dazzle the customer with innovation. As John Lennon once said, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” We, as an industry, can do this. Let’s get it done.


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