Profit between the sheets

Unilam directors Dave Hargrave (left) and Nolan Millard.
Unilam directors Dave Hargrave (left) and Nolan Millard.

Laminate glass has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to its security credentials and design flexibility. Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited Unilam Machinery’s directors David Hargrave and Nolan Millard to discuss the opportunities for glass processing companies.

Unilam is no stranger to laminated glass, having been a major supplier of resins and laminate glass products since the 1980s. In 2013 the company decided to set up Specialist Laminates as a separate company with a single focus.

“Over recent years, we have seen huge growth in the EVA market in the UK, mostly at the expense of resin,” Unilam’s managing director David Hargrave said.

“EVA is typically easier and faster to process, and because it is more cost effective, it is easier for processors to enter the market.”

However, Specialist Laminates is also seeing its export resin sales grow, especially in the Middle East where the recent political upheaval has given way to a resurgent economy.

“Furthermore, Unilam resin works well with less than perfect processed glass, which reflects the general standard in Middle Eastern countries,” David said.

Back in the UK, David and Nolan say that Specialist Laminates has become the number one supplier of laminate equipment and consumables.

“We provide EVA films, heat-resistant tapes and mesh, cleaning systems, and a full range of laminating ovens,” director Nolan Millard said. “We can also provide the training and ongoing support.

“We’ve also increased the amount of product we have in stock at any one time, which means we can offer a next-day delivery service or, in some cases, on the same day.

“The interlayer uses DuPont polymers – the best in the industry – and all products are tested at TUV in the Netherlands, so we are absolutely confident of the quality.”

David and Nolan acknowledged that sales of laminate glass ovens had been very good recently.

“Eight ovens have been installed in the last year, with three in just the last two months,” David said.

“And we’ve got another two installations ongoing at the moment,” Nolan confirmed.

Part of this increase in popularity was down to companies upgrading to bigger machines. However, there is no escaping the fact that laminate glass is being increasingly specified on both domestic and commercial projects.

“The market is growing thanks to the tightening of regulations, and the trend for glass balustrades and stairways, which you are starting to see everywhere,” David said.

“There is also a lot of design freedom with laminate glass, more so than with painted glass,” Nolan said. “For example, we’ve just won a job with a big chain of hotels to put logos into glass screens.

“Not only are there more options with laminates, but the designs are protected by the glass, so there is no chance that they will get damaged.”

What is also encouraging for many companies eying up this lucrative and buoyant market, is that the entry costs are relatively low.

“Furthermore, we can offer a trade-in service to make it easier for our customers to upgrade once they realise just what a profitable market laminate glass actually is,” Nolan said.

David pointed out that modern glass processors are defined by their willingness to invest in the latest machinery.

“If they have other equipment then they should buy a laminate oven,” he said. “They are relatively low cost, have a small footprint, and service a growth market.

“Also, the market is still young, and we are still exploring the opportunities for laminate glass. Architects and designers love the potential of what these ovens can provide. Splashbacks, for example, are moving away from painted glass to interlayers because you can offer more, and you can guarantee them for longer because they are encapsulated rather than surface painted.”

Laminate ovens certainly fit with the modern trend for companies to handle more of the glass processing functions, rather than buying in from a specialist supplier, offering benefits such as full quality control and reasonable set-up costs. As glass processors become more technologically advanced, it is likely that laminate ovens will become a common feature up and down the country.