Strong and cost-effective, developments in glass continue to enhance both production processes and vehicle applications

It would be a mistake to think that the business of automotive glass was without innovation. While glassmaking itself hasn’t changed much since the development of float-glass production in the late 1950s, a complex range of coatings and laminates has vastly extended the features and characteristics of the basic glass substrate.

Modern automotive glazing is now available with a range of features: ultra-violet light reflective glass; infrared radiation reflective glass; noise-reducing glass; glass equipped with sensors to detect rainfall and finished with water-repellant coatings. Further into the world of automotive glass installation, a combination of logistics processes, materials handling innovations, and styling-driven tighter tolerances have transformed construction assembly techniques.

The three features on the following pages profile some of these developments and pinpoint the benefits they bring to the automotive industry, drivers, fleet owners,and the environment.

As well as functional performance, it turns out that advanced glass technology – and advanced glass installation processes – can reduce costs and save energy both during manufacture and after production.

Concentration and competition

The global automotive glass industry is one that, in real terms, is very concentrated. As automotive industry expert Richard Gane, a 30 year blue-chip consulting firm veteran, ex-automotive manufacturing engineer and director of procurement consultants Vendigital notes, the number of automotive glass suppliers offering the full range of capabilities is small, and competition is intense.

“It’s not unknown for major vehicle manufacturers to work with smaller suppliers, or even invest in them, in order to promote competition in an industry,” he points out, citing Chinese tyre manufacturer Maxxis as an example. Founded in 1967, Maxxis is now an original equipment supplier to Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

Could the same thing happen with automotive glass? Time will tell – although Gane admits to knowing of one major automaker’s deliberations on just this topic. In the meantime, the following pages shine a spotlight on the technical challenges that any newcomer will face. The automotive glass industry has come a long way since Henry Ford’s Model-T – and it still has a great future ahead of it.