The Glass Industry Boom

Posted on June 12, 2017 by ATB Chartered Accountants

From the Glass Gardens in Singapore, to the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing, all the way to the iconic glass entrance to Apple’s Fifth Avenue store in New York, the sleek appeal that glass designing provides can be seen all over the world.

Glass Garden, Singapore

For Apple in particular, the glass entrance in New York provides their company with the symbol of modernity and transparency that they strive for, and it’s no surprise that many companies are following suit. In recent years there has been an array of new smart phones, larger TVs and many more, with glass becoming a largely iconic material symbolising modernism in our world today.

As well as the business image appeals glass provides for companies globally, it is also an avenue which has a vital role in the development of affordable, renewable energy through the use of solar power.

Glass is being manufactured thinner and more flexible than ever, as well as having technology inbuilt to adjust transparency at the flick of a switch, making it arguably the most utilized and iconic material of our age.

GLASS DEMAND ON THE RISE

Given the wide array of uses for glass at present, the industry has seen major shifts since the early 2000s. Previous demand for glass was predominantly held by the building industry, with the main producers being North America, Western Europe and Japan. Following the GFC in 2007-08, the demand for new housing dropped and so, resulting in production cuts in the glass industry. Within 10 years from 2005 to 2015 in North America, 19 plants and 7 glass lines were cut.

National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing

During the same time period however, the production of glass in China soared, and by 2013, they were considered the largest glass market in the world. It has been estimated that China will also possess the fastest growing glass demand with their rapidly increasing demand for solar energy, and glass screens for technological devices.

It has been estimated that on a global level in the time period from 2005 to 2013, demand for LCD glass screens increased from 75 million square meters to 350 million square meters. The global demand for glass is in no way slowing, with an annual growth of 6.5% a year anticipated.

This brings us to a demand of approximately 10 billion square meters in 2018, worth US$100 billion. The Asia-Pacific region are the largest market for flat glass at the moment, accounting for 52% of worldwide demand in 2013.

A key facet of this remarkable increase in the demand for glass is also driven by non-residential buildings. If you walk into Sydney CBD and look around, you are highly likely to see new buildings made predominantly of glass.

HOW SUSTAINABLE IS THE GLASS AGE?

When the commercial construction boom initially happened, glass infrastructure was not very sustainable. Without the current technology, the glass utilised meant that there was a great deal of air conditioning was needed since buildings resembled a greenhouse. As a result, extraordinarily high levels of energy were being used, and much of this was escaping out of windows. The first attempt to combat this was through using semi-reflective glass but this compromised the transparency of the glass itself.

To address these issues, the glass industry now include protective coatings which reflect UV radiation and be insulated to prevent warmth from escaping during cold time periods, all the while maintaining their transparency. Sustainability is also being improved with Nano-level solar technology inside the glass itself beginning to appear in the industry.

THINNER, STRONGER AND MORE FLEXIBLE

Recent technology improvements have allowed the industry to produce glass that is thinner, stronger and more flexible than ever before. These improvements are not only beneficial for the technology industry, but also to the automotive industry. Corning, the maker of chemically strengthened Gorilla Glass have partnered with Ford to introduce new, thinner and stronger windscreens for their new GT models, said to be 5 times stronger than currently used windscreens.

Glass used particularly in the technology industry is now being manufactured so thin that it can be bent. Recently, this has been seen in the new curved TV screens that have hit the market, as well as the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphone. As this glass is so thin, up to 0.4mm, the flexible glass can be printed more efficiently and so we can expect higher production of it in recent years.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF THE GLASS AGE

Glass is conventionally made of three core ingredients, silica sand, soda ash and limestone. In order to manufacture glass from this, temperatures of approximately 15,000 degrees Celsius are required. Given the high demand of glass mentioned earlier, the process is energy intensive and work needs to go into the glass industry in order minimise the levels of CO2 emissions to make this process more environmentally friendly. One way the industry is doing so is through implementing advanced technologies to minimise the wastage on the production line. Making a switch from clear glass to green glass would reduce emissions by up to 20% as well. If the glass industry strives to ensure that the glass products as well as their packaging are more recyclable, it will reduce its environmental impact greatly.