Global trends unearthed in Tampere at GPD, acknowledged as the world’s undisputed number one glass industry conference.
Glass Performance Days (GPD), the world’s leading glass industry event, was undoubtedly one of the industry’s highlights of 2019. The conference was established back in 1992 as a way to bring glass processors together, with only 30 participants attending the first event. By 1997, the event had attracted over 800 delegates. Over the years, the event broadened its horizons to include players from the entire glass value chain and encourage market development. How? By creating a forum where ideas and expectations could be shared openly and easily.
“By sticking to the well-worn path, you become its slave. To achieve new things, you must wade into the virgin snow.”
“By sticking to the well-worn path, you become its slave. To achieve new things, you must wade into the virgin snow.”
The spirit of GPD is well in line with the above quotation: great achievements require readiness for change and constant development. Filled with an immense amount of new information from industry leaders and influencers, the GPD conference is the birthplace of change.
In 2019, a total of over 1,000 delegates, together with those in the workshops and Management Forum, attended the event. The conference set records in many ways. For instance, 242 presentations given by a worldclass lineup of 220 speakers gave strength to the program. Keynote speakers included Stefan Blach from Studio Libeskind, Mike Pilliod from Tesla and Dr. Sener Oktik from Sisecam.
This exclusive article written specifically for IGS contains a summary of some of the more interesting and important topics covered during the highly intense but rewarding threeday event in Finland.
Global glass market trends
Notably, glass remains one of the preferred materials to enable structural development across multiple industries. However, we have come to a stage where the world faces several major challenges. From the circular economy, environmental and climate issues requiring reduced CO2 emissions, globalization, cultural effects and the application of smart technologies in buildings and cities. These changes will inevitably reformulate societal decisions and preferences in time to come.
Moreover, this will also affect our urban structures, commercial and residential buildings and overall glass applications across many different fields. So, the glass industry has no time to rest.
The general consensus is that glass products will soon become even more multi-faceted. This means that their manufacturing will require input from various suppliers, especially from sources outside the traditional glass industry. Creation of different forms of alliances between industries is one sure way to support and evolve the glass market. In addition, startup companies with vast innovation potential will also encourage wider and deeper integration of new solutions.
Partnerships and collaboration were some of the main themes running throughout the entirety of the conference. The need for joining forces is obvious, and we can clearly expect many new and even surprising alliances to be formed over the coming years in response to the need to better adapt the glass industry to present-day realities and innovations.
Our ever-changing society sets new requirements on the day to day operations of the industry. Today, this involves strengthening the focus on partners and customers, and how we provide service to them, whether it happens online and remotely, or physically on site.
Global glass design trends
One of the most important trends in design this year has been total transparency. This is being driven by architects looking to combine spatial continuity between the inside and outside of buildings, allowing the surroundings to play a major role in the character of the final structure. Huge glass sheets create the illusion that the outside blends and converges with the inside as one, an uninterrupted comfortable space where the difference is hardly noticeable.
Efforts have been initiated, for example, by DOW to introduce crystal clear silicone spacers for insulating glass units. This feature allows having a transparent spacer in the visible glass edge that adheres easily to glass. The result is a seamless view with maximum transparency, all whilst preserving important technical characteristics of the insulating glass units.
Another trend has been the surge in complex façades using advanced engineering solutions, especially in geometry, that can be seen implemented all over the world. Bent, curved and complex glass forms are high in demand and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
The approach is not about the choice of various materials for the structure any longer. Instead, architects start with an image and work the design toward its realization, using materials that best enable them to fulfill their vision, the architectural intent. Often, the only limiting factor is the machinery to process the materials in such a way as to realize the dream. Still, modern glass processing equipment and technology are quickly evolving to produce larger glass sizes that can support absolute transparency and extra clear glass for use in complex shapes and forms.
Ever more companies are using glass in ways previously considered unthinkable. One way this has been achieved is by staying true to the initial design intent. This involves defining the limitations of the process equipment and then figuring out the choices for overcoming them.
When we have architects and machine builders working together and discussing openly as they do at forums like GPD, both parties can discuss what is possible. Machine builders can then design the equipment early enough to help architects realize their visions. Using this approach, when a company designs new products featuring glass, advanced properties and shapes become an essential part of their toolbox.
Digital trends in designs
In addition, digitalization and IoT are being used more in the evolution of glass building design. So, we see many engineers in the glass industry looking for ways to tap into digital work processes and fabrication methods, and the real boom is soon to follow. Within the digital arena, we are able to experiment with forms and shapes faster and more effectively than ever before, creating room for improvement when trying to achieve the designs envisioned.
Organic forms, for example, have been an inspiration for designers since the very beginning. And today, we have technologies, including 3D glasses, that allow us to achieve unusual, free-form structures. This creates the ability to achieve unusual, free-form structures. Such technologies are not only helping us explore new design expressions, they also have the potential to reduce material consumption, fabrication time and of course costs.
Global architectural glass trends
The 90’s was an era of strong growth in coated glass applications. Since then, huge technological leaps have taken place. Although glass processing companies supply locally, they use global suppliers. This allows them to tap into opportunities to provide locally even more advanced and energy efficient glass products from the insight they have gained through their global outlets.
Major trends governing the architectural sector include a strong focus on environmental issues and how they can be addressed with glass. For example, interest in thin and ultra-thin glass is starting to enjoy accelerating growth. After all, this is a proven (together with coating technology) way to get totally new products, reduce the weight of the glass structure and decrease CO2 emissions.
In the architectural sector, large-size glass is always a fascinating topic. The only thing that has changed in the past 10 years is that now we have moved from jumbo, to extra-large sizes. This allows architects to create more transparency and help eliminate boundaries between the external and internal within buildings as mentioned before.
For this, glass processors are pushing toward ever-larger full-height and extra-large sizes, with glass panes reaching beyond the jumbo dimensions up to 21 meters, and beyond. In the constant search for original designs, many architectural projects have been driving global innovation in engineering and façade design. This can be seen in unique landmark projects where architects push the industry to develop new, advanced and challenging products.
Curved glass trends
One of the more specific trends that is clearly on the rise is the possibility of bending glass in a tighter radius. This gives designers the capability to make more impressive and transparent buildings.
Historically, however, the actual limitations of bent glass products were the sizes and shapes with sharp curves. It is known that glass coatings, especially Low-E or solar-control coatings, do not withstand tight radii bends. Since this imposes a challenge to creating irregular designs, lots of developments are focused on providing solutions that would allow efficient bending of Low-E glass. Concave and convex bending technologies are one such example.
Chemically tempered double-curved or threedimensional glass with smaller and wider radii plays a significant role here as well. Such threedimensional glass products are experiencing growing demand. For example, prismatic glasses and 3D-chemically tempered and laminated glasses with large sizes have already been applied in top-end projects around the world.
Beyond evident trends governing the architectural industry, a strong emphasis is being placed on the use of cold-bent and warped glass units in façade application, which has represented a state-of-the-art approach during the past 10 years. Recently, these new techniques have challenged the design and engineering of glass units and frame elements, pushing for the exploration of new concepts.
Worldwide automotive glass design trends
For automotive glass, the right balance of multiple product attributes is important. This includes the appropriate tint levels, thermal properties, optics, transmission of signals and additional engineering requirements. In fact, automotive glass today is a piece of highly smart material packed full of elaborate features.
If we look at the semi-truck market, heavy impact resistance is key. Researches reveal that people are really afraid of breaking windshields in semi-trucks. However, the technology that would allow the production of giant, complex, wrap-around and, most importantly, exceptionally safe windshields is indeed available. Industry leading car manufacturers have already begun to successfully use this technology.
As presented in the keynote speech at GPD of Mike Pilliod of Tesla, one of the emerging trends is the ability to scale up the glass design. His company is focusing on finding new ways to use larger glass in the industry for highvolume production. And indeed, Tesla has already proven that huge pieces of glass can be industrialized – from the front of the windshield all the way to the back.
Global glass energy trends
The glass industry has taken huge steps to control the energy flow in or out of buildings. Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glass and the latest development of transparent window PV and controlled transparency and a seamless appearance, is just one example of emerging technologies in the architectural glazing industry that is bringing buildings closer to becoming zero energy structures.
Pioneers using BIPV, for example, are proactively addressing global warming issues. Glass is an inherent part of this solution, as BIPV would not be possible without glass.
In the EU, buildings are currently responsible for about 36% of the CO2 emissions. Yet, glass used in buildings has the unique potential to supply approximately 30% of the EU’s energy demand. Making glass a more sustainable option is the next step forward. Using rare gases and selective coatings improves the insulation and reflectivity properties of glass.
The global movement of pure design freedom is becoming more limited, constrained by the balance between what a client requests and what global energy codes mandate.
Until recently, large-scale glass façades with a nearly seamless appearance could only be achieved with the use of both coated, tempered and laminated safety glass. However, these are becoming more the norm in the beginning when a building is being designed, as a result of the increasingly stringent energy efficiency requirements that are being enforced.
The thermal transmittance of a façade is the primary factor driving the overall glassprocessing industry to balance glass energy properties with its aesthetic qualities. And many new developments are expected in this area.
Impact of energy trends
A special focus on the glazing renovation of residential or commercial buildings is an upcoming necessity. The potential impact of high-performance glazing on energy consumption and CO2 emissions is compelling. According to a 2019 report submitted by Glass for Europe, the theoretical potential of the final energy demand can be reduced in building stock by 29.2% by 2030 and 37.4% by 2050 if conventional windows are replaced with high-efficiency glass.
The change is visible also in our decisions regarding various material choices. It is becoming increasingly widespread to support waste-free principles when it comes to selecting glass material. However, to ensure the best solutions for the sustainable future of the industry, more innovations are needed as the industry collectively becomes more aware of recycling and circular economy opportunities.
For example, better ways are coming to the market to delaminate glass effectively. Some options have been developed, but are not yet in wide-scale use. An Australian company Delam recently launched a patented system for delaminating flat and curved glass, and more such companies are emerging in the market. These are huge steps forward.
Global glass quality trends
Although the visual quality of glass ha improved tremendously in the last 30 years, we still need to do better when it comes to roller wave distortion, overall and edge bow, warp and anisotropy.
Eliminating visual distortions in curved glass panels has long been a challenging but important task, especially for the automotive and aerospace industry where distortions may cause visual misjudgments and safety concerns. New methods to quantify different types of distortion helps glass processors achieve higher glass quality. Specifically in the area of anisotropy, quality control equipment has been developed to better evaluate the phenomenon and gain knowledge of how to reduce its visual impact.
When it comes to ensuring the high quality of glass, new measurement devices and efficient AI tools come to our assistance. For example, a first-ever mobile phone application for counting fragments eliminates the risk of making mistakes when performing a tempered glass fragmentation test. Launched this summer by Glaston, the Glaston Siru mobile app is unbelievably simple, yet such a helpful tempering quality control solution for all glass processors.
A new and innovative way to measure the concentration of argon in triple and doubleglazed insulating glass units is with an online and offline system from Helsinki-based Sparklike. The non-destructive capability of the technology allows glass processors to deliver tested IG units, test already installed units or integrate automated testing to their production. We can see a growing number of companies starting to make use of innovative quality control methods and delivering a completely different glass quality. In this way, they are opening up new areas of application, paving the way for a long-awaited change in the quality aspect of the business. Quality is key after all.
In the glass business, new technical innovations are emerging continuously, in surprising forms and combinations.The glass market awaits new sensor concepts and glass-integrated electronics. Active glass and active façade performance, media façades and touch-screen applications will all become more commonplace.
Initiatives toward the combination of different technologies can be decisive for the peak performance of glass panes. For example, magnetic or dynamic levitation for sliding solutions. Providing unmatched window operability, offering zero friction three-axis movements of the windowpane, ensuring absolute water and air tightness, something unachievable with the standard bearing solution. Or transparent photovoltaic glass, vacuum insulated glass, switchable glass, piezoelectric touch-sensitive surfaces or ultrathin glass – are all in full development. And these are expected to change our approach to glass in the near future. Already now, the usage of programmable materials and artificial intelligence methods are driving new glass applications that were recently considered impossible. The game is changing.
The extended functionality of smart glass is another area with huge potential for the future, this area is expected to enjoy rapid development. Many new players are coming to the market with exciting innovative solutions. It’s a time of waiting to see which ones will breakthrough to help alleviate global warming. For instance, smart glass products offer greater possibilities for energy savings, especially when it comes to reducing energy consumption in air-conditioned spaces.
Another new technology for glass is to allow signals, such as the 4G or even new 5G mobile communication radio waves, to easily pass through glass. Recently, various different applications have been introduced to the market that help the signals pass through the glass, this touchy subject has been a long standing unspoken challenge for the industry.
The glass industry is still actively exploring the digital world and, in some areas, the use of digitalization or IoT has progressed quite far. The automation of glass processing is relatively well established. Automated glass processing lines do exist, and automated IGU lines are part of the more advanced glass manufacturing facilities.
From here, the next stage is making some of the most promising new technologies go mainstream, while further improving their capabilities, reliability and economy of scale.
Collaboration is key
What I learned over the 27 years since starting GPD in 1992 is that collaboration with various companies and other stakeholders in the glass industry is key to moving forward. Through collaboration, we can better support startups and bring new innovations to the market faster.
Even from Tampere, Finland, a small city far up in the north, it is possible to create a global network and common understanding to make great things happen in glass industry. By working together, the impossible becomes possible. When you have the passion and a dream – it spreads.
I truly believe now that the future of the glass industry is as bright and clear as glass itself.
This article was originally published in IGS Magazines Winter 2019 Issue: Read the full Magazine here for more thought-leadership from those spearheading the industry
Author: Jorma Vitkala
Jorma is the founder of the Glass Performance Days Conference (GPD) and has been chairing the organizing committee since the beginning. He is the first recipient of the “The Jorma Vitkala Award of Merit” awarded by the international glass industry. The prize was announced and handed over at the opening of the GPD conference in the summer of 2017. On the same occasion, Vitkala received several recognitions: the special awards of the HKFA (Hong Kong Façade Association) and the KAFA (Korean Architect Façade Association), the USGlass plaque and honorary membership of GANA (Glass Association of North America). Finnish Flat Glass Association has nominated Vitkala the Glass Builder of the Year 2013, and he received the Tampere Congress Award in 2001.