IGS: You’ve been at the helm of Guardian Glass Europe over a year and a half now, is the job as enjoyable as you thought or is it more challenging?
I would say both, and part of the enjoyment is the fact that there are so many interesting challenges. We are experiencing strong glass demand which creates challenges to maintain the level of service our customers have come to expect. Furthermore, we are in the midst of a transformation to a more customer-focused business. Nothing is more enjoyable than working with an organization that is performing well and moving forward in development.
IGS: What were your key objectives for the group when you decided to accept the position, and are you on track to meet those objectives?
When I arrived, it was important to change the mindset of Guardian Glass in Europe from a manufacturing-driven glass producer to a more customer-focused, industry-leading business. Change of this magnitude takes time. I am naturally impatient, but I think we are making good progress. I base my assessment on what the customers are telling me through direct conversations, and on our customer loyalty assessments. While we are on the right track, we have much room for improvement when we consider how we service and collaborate with customers to create value for both parties.
IGS: The glass industry talks openly about innovation, or the lack thereof, what or who is driving this innovation? Your take on this subject is an interesting one, please share with our readers just what innovation means to you?
Too often we limit our thinking about innovation to just product performance. We need to expand our definition beyond the performance of our products to include novel ways of reducing waste in our processes, improving service to our customers, better managing inventory through the value chain, optimizing product portfolios, better utilization of existing assets and expanding our knowledge of glass applications. If you open the definition to include the entire glass value chain, there are so many opportunities. Can we do better? Absolutely. What we need is for the customer to help drive innovation, not just the glass manufacturer. We need to listen, understand and anticipate their needs.
IGS: Architects say when a salesman shows them 2 glasses and claims they are both “neutral”, tests reveal discrepancies in the neutrality. Then if they compare a third one, also claiming to be neutral, quite often it’s even worse. So is it possible for architects to get unequivocal scientific proof, indisputable facts about the glass they are considering to use in their buildings?
Talking about “performance” of a product is easy. It is based on test data, measures and commonly accepted standards. We have key indicators for this, such as light transmission, solar factor, etc, that are undisputed and the value of these parameters are understood. As soon as we talk about aesthetic properties of the glass, we enter into a very subjective area where emotion and perception have the highest influence. On top of this, the human eye is not equally sensitive amongst human beings to “color”, and each of us have our own interpretation and vision of what is appealing. Despite the fact that we can “measure” color, the emotional interpretation of those numbers will vary from person to person. The variation of this interpretation is much more diffused when we talk about neutral color and consequently “neutral” looking glass follows the same trend.
So, to answer your question, we can measure color but as long as technology will not be able to model human emotion and perception, we will not have a 100% accurate tool to assess the aesthetic appearance of glass.
IGS: We need to secure the long term future of architectural glass. Imagine a huge energy price rise that forces environmental concerns to be the main priority, and people point at glass buildings like smokers in a restaurant. Companies then decide not to have glass in their new headquarters because it’s politically incorrect and scorned upon. The glass industry would be technically knocked out of what Scott Thomsen called “The battle for the Wall”. How can we prevent this scenario from happening?
A battle for the wall cannot be based solely on one attribute. Your scenario only focuses on insulation or U-value properties of glass. However, energy efficiency of homes and buildings is a highly complex problem. What we need is to tell the story correctly: glass is not the problem, but rather a key component of the solution! As an industry we simply need to be more effective in telling the whole story.
Advancement in coating performance means that glass facades are more efficient than they have ever been. Today we build larger glass facades than ever before, mainly due to improved coatings and energy balance allowing passive heat from the sun to help warm buildings freely whilst controlling the transfer of energy to allow them to effectively save energy. Glass allows natural light into a building, reducing the need for powerconsuming, artificial light. Glass enables passive solar heat gain that is very beneficial in cold months. High performance glass combined with double and triple glazing can provide both solar control and insulation. We also need natural daylight. It helps office workers’ eyes refocus comfortably while they work, it provides a sense of well-being and helps us embrace our environment. We came from caves; why would we want to move back?
Glass may be energy intensive to produce, but its benefits and the coating we apply make it far more energy neutral. I believe in the future glass will be an integral part of renewable energy solutions. The real challenge is how to generate more functionality from walls and roof space, either by generating energy or by making roofs publicly accessible and/or used for leisure, “urban farming”, etc.
IGS: Returning to innovation, the greatest show on earth just took place. Tell us what the visitors to glasstec were dazzled by on the Guardian stand?
The majority of the 40,000 visitors that attended glasstec 2016 could not have failed to notice the presence of Guardian Glass and our impressive, 2-storey stand showcasing some of the latest innovations and applications in float and fabricated glass. The Guardian exhibit provided a source of inspiration and I would like to encourage everyone to visit Guardian’s website for an overview of what we exhibited.
Under the “Inspirations in Glass” theme, we focused on the performance and aesthetic appeal of our glass in application. A few of the products and technologies we showcased include:
• A 6-metre-high, curved glass facade showcasing our latest advances in glass coating technology for varying levels of reflectivity, thermal insulation and light transmission
• Innovative and inspirational design concepts for colored glass applications and interactive displays
• The no-glass effect of Guardian Clarity™ anti-reflective glass in a range of applications, and
• ClimaGuard® Blue LM 1.1, a self-cleaning glass for conservatories.
We also announced the winners of the Guardian Glass Student Design Challenge, a competition focused on interior applications for our Clarity™ anti-reflective glass. The first prize was awarded to Angelo Blythe and Anastasia Tasoula Kontzes for their “Guardian Clarity™ Sightseeing Boat” design concept. The second prize was taken home by Simon Seidl for his “Glass Partition” proposal. Emanuel Etzersdorfer and Felix Stadie won the third prize with their “tme. Glass clock” project.
IGS: In your expert opinion is the glass coatings industry exciting enough, is it doing sufficient to improve the performance of facades – basically, is there a disruptive coating technology on the horizon?
I think magnetron sputter coating continues to be an exciting technology. We continue to stretch the limits of selectivity, the ratio of light transmission to solar factor, responding to needs from architects and building owners. We continue to reduce internal and external reflectivity to improve the viewing experience, particularly at night. Coatings have become increasingly color neutral. These improvements combine to deliver better performance today. Whether or not there is a disruptive technology on the horizon, I cannot say. What I will say is that we must expand our view of coating technology. With triple glazing, we now have six glass surfaces to work with in the IGU. How can we use each surface to potentially improve the façade performance?
Additionally, we must not forget that glass is only a component in a complex façade system. Future coating technologies must integrate with or enable the next generation of façade, including dynamic glazing.
Energy efficiency of homes and buildings is a highly complex problem. What we need is to tell the story correctly: glass is not the problem, but rather a key component of the solution!
IGS: Guardian has spearheaded technology for a number of years, you have a plethora of world leading products but competition is fierce. Is Guardian still the heavyweight champion of the world when it comes to glass coatings?
Regardless of how we describe our position in glass technology, we want to continuously drive product innovation that creates real value for our customers. The only “title” we care about is whether we are their first choice. Without continuous innovation we will lose that first choice position.
IGS: What makes Guardian different from other glass manufacturers, what is the company’s unique selling point?
I think what sets Guardian apart from the competition today is our culture and our intense focus on the customer. We do not produce Insulated Glass Units (IGUs) in Europe, therefore we must compete based upon the value we create for our customers, from the processor to the building owner. We cannot rely on internal demand created by downstream fabrication businesses of our own. We must provide great service, outstanding quality and value-added products because all of our customers have choices. Competition keeps us focused on winning that brand choice.
IGS: Gorilla glass is so thin it’s difficult to find a use for it other than in our mobile phones, vacuum insulated glass and electrochromic glass have been around for some time now, but they seem to be driving with the handbrake on – people thought these were earth shattering developments at the time so what’s the problem here?
I can’t comment on another company’s business strategy or decisions. What I can say is that conceptually, products like that try to meet the fundamental needs of the consumer. Thinner glass would help reduce the façade weight, provided it has the necessary mechanical strength. Vacuum Insulated Glass (VIG) can dramatically improve the insulation properties of windows and façades. Dynamic glazing answers the occupants’ desire to have a façade that actively manages the balance between light, glare and solar energy.
Many companies seem to have real interest in all these technologies. However, it comes down to value. Is the incremental cost of the new technologies creating equal or greater incremental value versus today’s available alternatives? Is the supply chain capable of delivering this value? Today’s commercially available solutions are at a stage where they 1) don’t meet all of the requirements (such as safety), 2) are too expensive for the performance they bring, or 3) are too complex for the players in the supply chain to effectively implement them. Eventually, solutions will emerge that create real value and we expect to be part of this evolution.
IGS: Owners, investors and architects still cry for large expansive pieces of glass, the eternal call for natural daylight to connect inside to the outside etc. is there an opening here perhaps for large sized chemically tempered glass?
Increasing the amount of natural light in buildings, houses and cars is one of the fundamental drivers in design and architecture. As a consequence, architects and designers want to get rid of all structural elements. Frames should be thinner or disappear for windows, a glass façade should be frameless and fixed on the building itself, glass should cover two floors instead of one… all these applications currently require thick glass, either tempered, laminated or both, for safety reasons. If the glass industry found the technology to produce the base glass so that it could match this safety requirement and keep all other properties without having to add another costly step (tempering, lamination, etc), this would be the real breakthrough.
IGS: It’s in the incubation stage, but talk of glass companies leasing as opposed to selling glass has become an executive boardroom discussion. What is your opinion on leasing glass facades?
Clearly there are significant inefficiencies in the glass value chain between the manufacturer and the building owner. I see opportunities to increase efficiency and create value for the building owner.
Current façade design is difficult to change or update with the latest design trends or the latest glass technology. Therefore, it becomes a fixed technology for much of the life of the building. The concept of managing the façade through its entire lifecycle has merit and there are systems used in buildings today that are managed in a similar way. I think it is certainly a concept worth exploring. Ultimately, as with most new ideas, the challenge will be to execute on the details while creating real value for the customer, the building owner.
IGS: Does glass have a bright future? Where will the industry be 50 years from now?
No question glass has a bright future. Sure we will go through natural economic cycles, but glass is fundamental to so many human needs. I don’t think the desire for a comfortable living space with natural light will be any different 50 years from now. The need to protect or preserve something while still being able to view the object will not change. I think the biggest changes for glass in the next 50 years will be in how glass is used and how it enables interaction with our surroundings.