GPD Draws Glass Executives Focused on Innovation and Transformation
June 17, 2011

Glass Performance Days is underway this week at Tampere Hall in Tampere, Finland.
The increasing pressure for glass companies to innovate is a theme that will no doubt continue to be felt by the more than 800 attendees of the 12th Glass Performance Days (GPD), the biennial event organized by Glaston that opened today in Tampere, Finland. This morning a number of attendees participated in the first workshop on the Future of the Architectural Glass industry. Hubert Kopf of Guardian Industries, in his discussion on “Future Opportunities and Trends,” noted, “The life cycles of products are getting shorter, and that puts pressure on innovation.” magazine is attending GPD and will provide product reports.

These changes are happening rapidly, Kopf said, driven in part by technology improvements and legislation changes. As the costs of development increase, and competition grows so that no longer do a few manufacturers dominate the market, the “innovator will take the biggest advantage much more than in the past.” Kopf added, “It is more important to innovate; this is where the profit is.”

Emphasizing this focus on innovation, the workshop broke into three groups, that were invited to brainstorm on trends seen in three areas: environmental and legal trends; technology trends; and global, customer and market trends. Some common themes emerged on each list, including the expected growth of intelligent glass in glass' new role as an energy saving (or generating) product and the education of public and end-users (as well as the full distribution chain) on sustainable practices and the use of glass.

The rapid changes seen by the glass industry - in particular in connection to today's energy environment - was again revisited in today's keynote addresses. Bruce Oreck, U.S. ambassador to Finland, commented on the transformative change the energy industry is undergoing. Oreck focused on “transformation, not change. Change is nibbling around the edges; transformation is something altogether new.”

Oreck, who heads the League of Green Embassies, encouraged his glass industry audience to keep in mind that transformation requires that they “stop trying to invent the present ... rather, what we believe is possible determines what we design.” Oreck proceeded to discuss a transformation that the U.S. government is taking to make efficient its more than 600,000 buildings across the world.

“As we manage our light differently, we'll design our buildings differently,” he said, before presenting case studies of building upgrades where window film was added and window systems were upgraded. In particular, he noted that the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki is updating its 100-year-old building, with new windows, among other things, with the goal of achieving LEED Platinum status.

“When you understand that your product is energy, not glass, when you understand that you deal in systems, not units ... you hold to bear of transformation and bear the responsibility of transformation,” Oreck concluded.

Russ Ebeid, president of Guardian Glass, noted that his company has embraced that premise in that it no longer regards itself as a glass company but as an energy company.

In his address, “No Time for the Timid,” Ebeid referenced his earlier keynote presentations given at this conference, in 1999 and 2007. In the 1990s, he commented, “a calendar rather than a stop watch measured the pace of change,” and “coatings were a novelty.” Fast forward to 2008, he commented that the downturn experienced across the global economy carried with it “gloom and promise, depending on your view.” He added, “As always, more lessons are learned in hard times.” The lesson he offered his audience is that to survive, glass companies need to move beyond a commodity product and competing at cost, to adding value and enhanced price. “Think larger than unprocessed glass,” he said.

The industry alone can't push the adoption of energy-efficient glass, however, Ebeid said. It takes knowledgeable consumers and government backing. “Government drives product acceptance,” he said, adding that government directives are not enough as they must be enforced by codes.

Ebeid added another aspect to the focus on innovation. As he explained, “This industry is going to go through a quantum change in the next ten years ... it is going to shift down to the consumer.”

Ebeid said that as float manufacturing has been adopted by companies around the world, no longer held by a select few, that innovation - that process of adding value to glass - continues to increase in importance. “If you want to make money and do something for society at the same time, you have to do value-added.” Moreover, he noted, innovation on the manufacturing level is going to become more visible to the end user. He offered a bit of perspective to his listeners, noting that originally the manufacturers had the power to choose who to sell to. And as that technology spread, the industry saw the consolidation of fabricators for purchasing power. As that model began to weaken during the downturn, he said that glazing contractors have had an increasingly important role in recommending products that provide energy and other performance factors. Next, Ebeid predicted, the end user will be targeted by manufacturers so that the brand is what is in demand.

Looking out at his audience, Ebeid pointed to the remarkable fact that even in Finland the international group was likely connected to respective home offices by the Internet and mobile devices. He pointed to the rapid proliferation of online technology and social media as one indication of the power of the consumer - and as an evolving tool for manufacturers to promote brands and service, and get the wisdom of consumers. “The nature of decision making has evolved rapidly,” he commented. “The consumer increasingly is king ... The next era will be one of brands and customer service. The companies that understand that will be the winners of the future.”

GPD continues through Monday. Stay tuned to for more updates from the conference.

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