Seasons of Change

Well, hunting season may be upon us in many parts of the country but in the glass industry, it’s mating season.

During the past year, a number of primary manufacturers have set their sights on some pretty attractive conquests. A deliberate hello was followed by some “getting-to-know-you” dating and then, an all-out dance of courtship, all led by these same primary manufacturers.

The result? Everyone is hooking up with someone. Why? Because the primaries need what they don’t have—or rather need to have access to what they don’t have.

It all began with Saint Gobain’s acquisition of a fifty percent equity stake in SAGE Electrochromic, a manufacturer of electrochromic glass based in Minnesota. Saint Gobain’s  $80 million investment was geared toward mass marketing the dynamic glass product.

Saint Gobain will contribute its electrochromic glass intellectual property to SAGE, and all manufacturing and research and development efforts will be merged. SAGE will manufacture the dynamic glass for both companies’ product lines at its facilities in Faribault. The funding from Saint-Gobain will go toward construction of an electrochromic glass manufacturing facility there as well. Two senior members of Saint-Gobain’s management team have joined SAGE’s board of directors.

And isn’t that just like a wedding to spark more weddings? Not to be outdone, PPG Industries of Pittsburgh and dynamic glazing maker Pleotint of West Olive, Michigan have joined together in a marketing alliance. The product of this union, the combination of sunlight responsive thermochromic technology and PPG’s low-E glass “will absolutely compete with Sage’s product,” said Glenn Miner, director of construction and marketing for PPG’s flat glass business.

No one is quite sure how large the dynamic glazing market is going to be or where it will lead, but everyone agrees it represents a one of the greatest glass industry growth areas. Hence, the rush to pair up. The primaries are making sure they have the technology—and if it doesn’t already exist in the family, they will marry into it, so to speak.

It’s part of the change by glass companies from commodity manufacturers to energy solution providers. Saint Gobain has been particularly aggressive, just today closing on its purchase of Solar Gard Specialty Films, a manufacturer of a variety of energy, window and specialty films. It’s a fit reminiscent of the purchase of CP Films a number of years ago by Solutia.

Some primaries, such as Guardian and Pilkington, continue to grow their own in-house, as they have been doing for a number of years. For others now and yet to come, it remains to be seen whether these partnerships are truly matches made in heaven or marriages of convenience.