Volume 12, Issue 3 - May/June 2008

Factory Competition
New Laminates Offer Benefits Similar to Film
by Les Shaver

What do the Chevy Malibu and Saturn Aura have in common? For one thing, they were winners of the “Car of the Year” at the last two Detroit Auto Shows. But there’s another similarity as well: they both have laminate sidelites.

And, those weren’t the only two cars at the Motor City show featuring laminates in places other than windshields. Ford’s new Mustang didn’t win, but it did introduce a complete glass roof at the show. The Mustang has a high-tech roof with infrared and acoustic protection. Even Hyundai has added laminates to its Genesis model, which is signed to compete with the Chrysler 300.

“The OEMs are seeing the benefits of laminated glass and advanced interlayers growing,” says Tom Laboda, automotive market development manager for Saflex, a unit of Solutia in St. Louis. “It [laminated glass] has been adopted on all types of vehicles. It performs well. It’s a very durable product.”

Yes, laminated glass is coming to sidelites near you. Ten years ago, only a couple of concept cars had laminates in the windows. Now, it’s in more than 40 vehicles. Most film dealers may shrug at this movement, but the ultraviolet (UV) protection capabilities of this glazing may be something dealers need to be aware of down the road.

Many Benefits
The use of tempered glass in sidelites offers some redeeming values. When broken, it breaks into tiny little pieces (and not shards), keeping occupants from being punctured with large shards of glass. And, it remains cheaper to produce than its laminate brethren.

But those advantages aside, it’s easy to see why laminates are making inroads into sidelites—an area they dominated 50 years ago. Instead of breaking into shards or pieces upon impact, laminates hold. In the right circumstances, that can make them more effective than tempered glass in both smash-and-grab and rollover situations.

In both instances, the plastic interlayer adhered to the glass will hold it together. That potentially could keep an occupant in a vehicle during a rollover or provide enough time to keep a smash-and-grab artist from grabbing a stereo, iPod or other valuable possessions sitting in a car. The interlayer can keep other things out of a vehicle’s cabin, as well. In fact, right now, most high-end cars are relying on laminates to reduce the noise inside a vehicle cabin.

“Two pieces of glass with plastic in between absorbs a lot of sound energy in the vehicle,” says Pete Dishart, global product marketing manager with the automotive glass and services segment of PPG Industries in Pittsburgh. “The glass absorbs a lot more of sound energy and it keeps the car a lot quieter.”

And that’s what customers want. “Quiet is very important to people who drive cars,” Dishart says. “In J.D. Powers’ survey, noisy cars always have had the highest level of complaints.”

That’s the reason GM has adopted these sidelites. “We are strictly putting laminates in sideglazing for noise abatement purposes,” says Thomas Hagen, an engineer who handles glass and mouldings for the General Motors Exterior Center. “There’s a program of more vehicles that fit the library-quiet noise profile—as Buick likes to call it. The customer expectation of quieter and quieter vehicles definitely is moving down in the different market segments.”

That’s where the Saturn and Chevy Malibu come in. Neither of these are the luxury Mercedes that might have been associated with laminates in the past. “A vehicle like the Saturn Aura has gotten some very good press,” Hagen says. “It is an extremely quiet vehicle. In those cases, both the windshield and door glass are used to abate noise.”

Laminate sidelites are moving further and further down the price chain, though. The Ford Focus is featuring them in an effort to reduce noise. All Buicks also have laminates and Cadillacs are moving in that direction. “We’re seeing it on a lot more vehicles that are moderately priced,” Dishart says.

And high-end brands, like Mercedes and Lexus, continue to add laminates, as well. On the Mercedes S-Class (which also has an infrared reflective coating to keep the car cooler and an advanced acoustic interlayer), you can find laminated glazing on the windshield, front and rear sidelites, and rear and back quarter glass. “Some vehicles have gone laminate all the way around,” says Chuck Butler, business development manager for DuPont Glass Laminating Solutions in Wilmington, Del. “Typically that’s high-end vehicles.”

Solar Benefits
Quiet is nice, but that’s not the aspect of laminate glazing that could affect the film industry most. That benefit happens to be UV-protection. Though laminate manufacturers don’t seem to have an exact number of how much UV the plastic laminate blocks, the consensus seems to be that it’s more than 90 percent. Laboda says its 95 percent, which is equivalent to 50 plus SPF sunscreen. Dishart says PPG’s laminates block 99 percent of UV light.

“Laminate blocks virtually all of the UV light from the sun,” Dishart says. “That’s important for skin health and keeping the fabric of the car from breaking down from UV.”

Hagen, who generally is cautious about making product claims, sees this too. “The laminate product has better UV transmission properties than a tempered product,” he says. “There would be a solar benefit. Before I can make a claim about a product, I have to have an agreed-upon test to show whether or not I meet that requirement. I can make that claim about the solar performance because there’s data to support that.”

But there are other things that film does that laminates don’t—unless they have help. For instance, laminate doesn’t help against infrared rays, unless it has a special coating, like the Sungate coating from PPG.

“We put on a coating that reflects away infrared, but still passes visible,” Dishart says. In fact, the one area laminate producers haven’t tackled is the controversial visible light question. Laminates generally don’t block visible light. In fact, with the exception of special cases, such as SUVs, OEMs shy away from blocking visible light with their glazing.

“From a glass manufacturer’s perspective, we have federal regulations that require us to meet a certain amount of visible light transmission,” Dishart says. “It needs to be 70 percent, unless you go to an SUV or a minivan.”

So, that leaves glass manufacturers with two real goals when it comes to OEM glazings. “You want to block as much heat from infrared as you can and you want to block as much UV as you can,” Dishart says.

Impact on Film
So, you have laminate glass that can block almost all of the UV entering a car. And, with a coating, it can take care of infrared light, as well. But, glass manufacturers, hindered by NHTSA regulations, won’t touch visible light. So, what does that mean for film? Opinions vary.

“It depends on what you use the films for,” Dishart says. “If you put the films on for UV, you won’t need the film from that perspective because the UV is already taken care of. If you’re doing it for less visible light, then the laminate glass doesn’t do that for you.”

Infrared coatings are a separate issue. “Some people put film on for infrared blocking,” Dishart says. “Laminate doesn’t do infrared blocking, but it does allow infrared coating to be enacted from the original manufacturers.”

The film industry also sees these differences. “Film provides increased solar protection (heat and glare) while laminated glass does not,” says Cody Forbes, marketing director for Johnson Window Films in Carson, Calif. “Film also enhances the aesthetic look of a window.”

The aesthetic value of film is an argument other manufacturers make as well, “UV rays, though part of the solution offered by window film, are only a part of the story,” says Mary Corley, brand manager-automotive for CPFilms in St. Louis. “Consumers buy film for appearance, reduction in glare and reduction of solar heat,” she says. Some people even see the potential to use laminate and film together. 

“They [laminate sidelites] are not a big concern,” says Bill Stewart, North American sales and operations manager for Solamatrix in St. Petersburg, Fla. “In combination with the use of window film, UV blockage will be that much better.”

In fact, Forbes isn’t even sure that people with laminates will shun film for UV protection, pointing out that not all laminates block as much UV light as film does. “I’m not sure the UV protection is as strong as window film, which rejects up to 99 percent,” he says.

One area where laminates could hurt film is in smash-and-grab protection, though. CPFilms has launched a film that it says offers side impact and smash-and-grab protection. But with laminates, these won’t be as necessary. “A bigger impact [on film] may be where you have security film used for smash and grab issues,” Stewart says. 

Others see the strength of laminates in safety as well. “Although there has been an increase in laminated side windows, the main reason for this is safety,” Forbes says. “It’s understandable that manufacturers are trying to improve safety with their glass as well.” 

Glass Half Full
Take the benefits laminate offers with UV protection and smash-and-grab avoidance and subtract what it doesn’t do with visible light. What kind of market change are you actually seeing? So far, it’s not much.

“We have not noticed a drop-off in our sales due to the laminate sidelites,” Corley says.

Those in the glass industry don’t really think laminate sidelites will cut film out of the market either. “I don’t expect it will take the place of aftermarket film,” Dishart says.

Butler cites the major driver behind film sales as a reason it won’t go away anytime soon. “I don’t think that a lot of it is marketed for UV blocking,” Butler says. “A lot of it is about transmitted light blocking. They just want to darken the car.”In fact, Corley argues that these new automotive technologies ultimately could provide a boon for film. “As the equipment improves from the OEMs, the improvement increases consumer demand for technology,” she says. “Aftermarket solutions can only benefit from the quality improvements on the front end.”

Even if these new “solutions,” as Corley calls them, reduce the need for film, they still offer potential for the film industry. “Certainly, as the glass technology improves, the customers buying film for those purposes no longer will have need for the film,” she says. “However, the same customers develop expectations for the protections those new technologies offer. They may choose to upgrade their other vehicles with aftermarket films to increase protection.” 

Sunroof Opportunities
The new laminate glazing Detroit is rolling out doesn’t just appear on the sidelites, windshields, quarter- and backlites of cars; they’re also found on large sunroofs, like the one in the Mustang. The solar protection that laminates offer make it likely that they’ll even be used in the many cars with large sunroofs that manufacturers are wheeling into showrooms. 

“[We’re] seeing laminated glass on the sides because of benefits for UV security,” says Pete Dishart, global product marketing manager with the automotive glass and services segment of PPG Industries in Pittsburgh. “We’re seeing it on the roofs too. As [sunroofs] get bigger, the need for UV protection becomes more important. Having glass over your head allows a lot of heat in.”

But if these sunroofs don’t have enough UV and infrared protection, these could provide a boon for the film industry. “It provides an opportunity, but only on vehicles with larger sunroofs,” says Cody Forbes, marketing director for Johnson Window Films in Carson, Calif. “Regular size sunroofs, like the ones you see in sedans, usually come with about a 20-percent tint and that’s usually enough for vehicle owners. On larger sunroofs, consumers are looking for a little more solar protection.”

Other film professionals see this as well. “Anytime there is more glass to cover, there is more opportunity to cover the glass,” says Mary Corley, brand manager-automotive for CPFilms in St. Louis.

Les Shaver is a contributing writer for Window Film magazine.

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