glasstec 2006 Opens with Optimistic Industry-Wide Outlooks

glasstec 2006--The 19th International Trade Fair for Machinery, Equipment, Application and Products-took place last week (October 24-28) at Messe Dusseldorf in Germany. Thousands of glass professionals from around the globe traveled to the five-day event looking for the latest developments and innovations for all facets of the glass industry, from flat glass to hollow glass.

Last Monday, while exhibitors busily prepared for the show's opening the next day, representatives of Messe Dusseldorf and the international glass industry shared optimistic views of the industry during an opening press conference.

Joachim Schäfer, managing director of Messe Dusseldorf Gmbh, opened the conference by talking about how glasstec has grown, and expectations for future growth.

"This is the 19th fair [glasstec] and the biggest ever," he said. "The display area exceeds 63,000 square meters, a new record, and there are more than 315 new exhibitors-that's nearly 10 percent more exhibitors and 50 percent more space," he said.

Schafer talked about the diversity and innovation that glass affords the architectural industry and how glasstec is able to be a source of the product's growth.

"We're delighted to post the biggest international exhibition and we're looking to the future and being at the pulse of the sector to identify the current trends … we want to be the complete value chain [and a] resource [for the industry]."

He also talked about the growth of architectural glass in applications ranging from glass buildings and facades to interior applications.

"The multiple design options of glass facades are made possible only because of new developments in systems and technology," he said. "The multi-functionality of glass constantly acquires new perspectives, and it is amazing to see how many different functions a single glass item can have."

Siegfried Glaser, chairperson of the Forum Glastechnik at VDMA (The German Machinery and Plant Manufacturers' Association), and chair of the glasstec exhibitors' board, next spoke about some of the changes and advancements in glass processing machinery and how equipment is being produced to address growing trends in glass usage.

"The trend is toward high-quality, special glass," he said. "The developing focus is on increasingly thinner glass." Glaser showed samples of paper-thin glass products that have been created to illustrate this shift. He said there was also a constant growing demand for glass products such as safety glass, fire-rated glass and other specialty glass products.

"German manufacturers are leading in the field of high-tech plants for making high-quality special glass," he said, adding that currently German companies are primarily positioned to supply the international glass market with production systems to manufacturer and fabricate these high-quality, special glasses.

Glaser also talked about how German glass machinery manufacturers are currently doing very well financially. He said the industry's sales increased 57 percent domestically and 5 percent abroad over the first eight months of this year compared to the same period in 2005. He said the VDMA also expects turnover growth to level out at a "good double-digit figure" by the end of this year.

Regarding export growth for German machinery manufacturers, this is also doing well, accounting for 77 percent of business. Glaser said right now a hot market is the Middle East, where for the first six months of this year orders from the region quadrupled compared to the same period last year.

India and Eastern Europe also remained strong, but demand from China was on the decline. In 2006 the United States was still the largest export market.

Providing insight into the state of Germany's glazing industry, Martin Nagel, president of glasstec 2006 and federal master of the German Glaziers' Guild, was the next presenter. He described the trade as being "carefully optimistic," with a push toward being more energy efficient.

"We see a great benefit in energy-saving glass," Nagel said. "The awareness has grown these last few years." Renovation and upgrading is another income generator. Nagel said that currently 26 million residential units are not up-to-date when it comes to energy efficiency-that's 500 million square meters of windows.

Nagel explained that 86 percent of glaziers in Germany today provide window installation services, as well as a host of others, including services for all-glass facilities, profile glazing, framing and more; solar technology will be the next area in which the trade is headed. That means the buzzword of the industry is training.

"The concept of life-long learning will maintain a prominent position in the German glazier trade," he said. "The training and professional development centers of the German glazier trade … ensure that the level of education will be maintained." Nagel explained that these schools train apprentices in the areas of glazing, refining, glass painting and glass appliance construction.

Dr. Johann Overath, managing director of the Federal Association of the Glas Industry (BV Glas), was the conference's final speaker, who provided "glass industry optimism" for the different sectors of the industry.

"After receding sales in the past year the German glass industry is looking ahead again with optimism," he said. "The trough has been passed, inquiries from abroad are increasing and the economic climate in Germany has slightly improved," he said.

Overath said sales volume for the first six months of 2006 increased 5.5 percent; order volumes saw a 7.1-percent increase, the majority of which was for markets outside Germany.

Specifically, companies producing flat glass saw a 22-percent sales growth, of which 28 percent was for abroad markets. Specialty glass and technical glazing also have been improving. Compared to last year, foreign sales increased by 12.3 percent; domestic sales, however, are still low, though orders are starting to increase.

As far as 2007 and the future, Overath expects the markets to continue improving, as new developments, such as photovoltaics and solar thermal technologies, are "reviving the market."

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