Growth market

Laminate glass is becoming an almost default IGU specification in commercial sectors. Is the same about to happen in retail? Glass Times talks to Cornwall Glass and Glazing.

Glass specifications are moving forward and, according to sector commentators, at a significant pace. While toughened glass continues to dominate IGU supply, it is laminate glass that is delivering the most significant growth both in volume and higher margin opportunities – up by almost 50% last year alone.

“The commercial sector continues to deliver high through-pull of product, while residential use is also up, driven by new requirements under Part Q and the expanding architectural applications of glass,” Mark Norcliffe, sales director of Cornwall Glass, said.

“Solar control glasses have seen corresponding growth, especially in the natural high performance range, such as SKN 176, as glass sizes increase and more solar energy can enter the building. Low-e is stable and toughened is stable – but the stand-out growth area is laminate.”

According to Cornwall Glass, the volume of laminate it supplies in IGU manufacture increased by 22% between October 2015 and October 2017. This includes year-on-year growth of 30% between October 2016 and 2017.

Figures for the six months between October last year and March this year suggest an acceleration of this trend.

“There are a couple of things that are happening,” Mark said. “The first is that the architectural glass market has delivered increasing demand. You have laminate going into a broad range of applications, including balustrading, glass floors, doors and partitioning.

“At the same time, we’ve seen laminate specified more and more in IGU supply. Again, this has been primarily in the commercial sector but also increasingly in retail with the specification of oversized units.”

In this case Norcliffe defines ‘over-sized’ as units measuring 2,000mm x 2,000mm and up – or the 4m2 mark. Reporting a steady increase in the supply of bigger units, Cornwall Glass has also seen growth in laminate volumes going into not just commercial applications but also higher-end residential markets.

“The growth in over-sized units is really phenomenal,” he said. “We’re talking about higher-end applications, for example architectural aluminium sliding doors of anywhere up to 2,800mm x 2,500mm – and they’re being specified in laminate.

“This high-end specification has made a significant impact on total volumes of laminate.”

This analysis is consistent with that of industry pundits. The Window, Door and Conservatory Markets in Housing in Great Britain report by Palmer Market Research said that aluminium is on course to reach a 17-year high by 2020. This includes notable areas of growth in the aluminium bifold and inline sliding door sector.

This is forecast to continue through to 2020, achieving total growth of around 50% to 35,000 door-sets per year.

Cornwall Glass has geared itself up to take advantage of this growth through the investment it has made in its IGU manufacturing capability. It operates IGU manufacturing facilities across three sites: St Austell, Highbridge and Plymouth.

And it’s the £5 million investment that it has made in the latter, which has given it not only the ability to greatly increase its capacity, but also the scale to handle oversized units.

“Had we not invested in the Plymouth laminate cutting table a couple of years ago, we simply couldn’t have kept up,” Mark said. “What it also gives us is the ability to make large laminate units from our 6,000mm x 3,000mm stocks, which allows us to service a rapidly growing area of the market.”

So, what does a £5 million investment get you? Well, Plymouth uses automated concertina racks and gantry crane and Intermac cutting tables to process cutting of laminated jumbos in as little as 15 minutes.

But it’s scale that is key, according to Mark. This includes a Northglass Gapless Series toughening furnace capable of handling sheets of 2,850mm x 4,200mm, and its Bystronic IGU line capable of handling units of up to 2.7m x 5m.

Cornwall glass has also built on this capability with a further six-figure investment in a new Tema laminating oven, which was bought online at Highbridge in May. With two independent heating chambers, it’s again geared up for manufacture on a large scale with a total capacity per production cycle of 45m2.

“Our capacity to handle bigger and more specialised units has delivered a pull-through of laminate products,” Mark said. “The other driver has been the wider response from the industry and its customers base to Part Q.

“It’s no coincidence that the growth that we have seen in laminate volumes has also coincided with the introduction of Part Q, which has driven increasing specification of laminate.”

The glass requirement in Part Q is in fact not directly stated. The Building Regulation, however, makes reference to PAS24, which in turn refers to Secured by Design’s New Homes Document. This in summary stipulates that all windows and sidelights within 400mm of a door must incorporate a pane of laminated glass meeting or exceeding BS EN 356:2000 class P1A.

“The requirement to specify laminated glass in order to comply with Part Q or SBD certainly isn’t there in every case but the industry has generally responded to it as an almost default specification in new build,” Mark said. “That’s driven a significant increase in demand for IGUs, which incorporate a laminated pane.”

He said the other defining trend is the combination of products and technologies.

“We’re now seeing specification of laminates in an increasingly diverse range of combinations,” he said. “This has been reflected in our stock holding so we’ll hold a low-e laminate in 6.8mm and 8.8mm as well as 6.4mm to give us more flexibility.

“We’re also seeing more demand for different combinations, for example acoustic glass and a highly insulative glass. This means that we’ll supply an acoustic laminate on one side and coating technology, for example Planitherm One, to combine the requirement for noise control, with a high degree of insulation, solar control and light transmittance.

“Laminate is growing but it’s also delivering higher value opportunities across commercial and retail sectors in larger IGUs and combinations with soft coat technologies.”