Environmental Winds at Glass Performance Days (GPD)

 

Registration lines moved quickly at GPD, which has attracted approximately 1,000 people from around the world.

If Russ Ebeid, president of the Glass Group at Guardian Industries Corp., Auburn Hills, Mich., were reading the story of the Three Little Pigs to his grandchildren, who would he identify with: the pigs (who seem to have achieved enough success to have a nice house and steady jobs) or the Big Bad Wolf, who comes along to blow that house down?

In his remarks at the opening of Glass Performance Days today in Tampere, Finland, Ebeid seemed to take on the role of the wolf in telling the approximately 1,000 attendees that the comfortable world they know is disappearing as if in a strong wind storm.

In discussing trends, regulations and innovations changing the way we do business, Ebeid said ownership of global glass players has not run its full course. "Excluding the Chinese, the near future will see three to four well-established world-renown glassmakers departing," he predicted.

On a broader scale, he said secondary industries in developing countries will grow exponentially as pure distributors continue to fade in importance while processors continue to emerge and flourish.

Russ Ebeid, president, Glass Group, Guardian Industries, also spoke at the press conference and the opening ceremonies.

"If we take a distant view, we can witness the gestation phase of a new industry being born within the traditional glass industry," he continued. "Creative glass manufacturers are spearheading this rebirth by trying to differentiate themselves not only from other domestic suppliers, but also to shield themselves from less expensive commodity imports."

Ebeid had made bold predictions like this in the past, and in his presentation today he went through a list of points similar to a presentation at the sixth GPD. He indicated that indeed he had given good insight into the industry eight years ago, correctly predicting that leverage would shift from producer to user, enhanced products would be necessary to appeal to consumers and the global group of primary glass manufacturers would consist of Japanese, French, U.S. and UK companies.

"I ask today as I asked then, 'Are we in the glass business or are we in the environmental business and just happen to make glass?'," he said.

Indeed, the GPD program is heavy with sessions that focus or refer to environmental issues. Others on the opening program emphasized the subject. Arthur Ulens, CEO of AGC Flat Glass, made the environment the focus of his presentation. Tomoaki Abe, vice chairman of Nippon Sheet Glass, opened his talk with a discussion of energy conservation.

Since it was clear to this reporter that environment was on everyones' minds, USGlass asked senior executives the following question during the press conference: For glass to play its role in climate change and energy efficiency, it must be available. Given the growth of production in China as well as the rest of the world and the capital investment necessary for a float line to be built or repaired, are you comfortable with the supply and demand balance of glass today?

Arthur Ulens, president AGC Flat Glass and CEO Glaverbel, spoke of climate change and the major role that glass has to play.

"In terms of China," said Ebeid, "only 20 percent of its output is of the quality for use in energy control glass. Where you have regulation, you'll see the industry react quickly. When it is not regulated, it becomes a money issue."

Ulens added, "If there is a demand, we can adapt. It takes a couple of years to react to demand. The situation differs from market to market, but we are flexible enough to adapt."

The executives from three of the four largest global primary glass manufacturers gave GPD attendees a lot to think about as they began their three days of intensive educational (and social) focus.
- Charles Cumpston

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