What lies ahead in 2020

Andy McDowell, commercial director at Pilkington UK, reflects on the year gone and what lies ahead for Pilkington UK and the wider glass and glazing industry.

In another year where England came at arm’s length of victory in a World Cup, you’d be forgiven for thinking not a lot has changed since 2018.

Indeed, the glass and glazing industry has continued to persist through some tough market conditions. But it’s encouraging to see this hasn’t hampered innovation.

Last year was very much business as usual for Pilkington UK. We continued our internal ‘best in glass’ strategy, which guides all areas of the business in delivering enhanced products and the best possible service to our customers.

A significant investment in our processing capabilities is just one initiative that helps us to be best in glass. In October, our new state-of-the-art toughener came online at Pilkington Architectural, to support customers of our structural glazing solution, Pilkington Planar. It increases our size capability while enhancing our quality control systems.

Meanwhile, we launched Pilkington Activ Suncool Pro T, a technically challenging product to create, but something which is inherent of the manufacturing capabilities we’ve established in the UK. It’s our first toughenable, self-cleaning, high performance solar control glass, manufactured through both offline and online coating.

Elsewhere in the business, we’re now employing automated technology in our warehouses, helping us to be more efficient with deliveries and logistics for customers.

While we innovated our products and services in 2019, it was against a backdrop of tricky trading conditions. Prevailing uncertainty in the housing market resulted in fluctuations in people purchasing homes, a common trigger point for window replacements and a segment representing a large chunk of overall glass sales.

Indeed, prior to 2016, the volume of Fensa registrations, which help to give an impression of the amount of window replacements taking place, had never fully recovered to the levels seen before the financial crash in 2008. So, while its likely prevailing economic uncertainty won’t have helped to spur refurbishments, it’s difficult to place the tougher trading conditions seen across the industry solely at Brexit’s door.

The residential picture does also seem to be improving. HMRC data shows the amount of property transactions in June 2019 was 16.5% below the total in the same period last year, but in October 2019, property transactions were 4.3% higher than both October 2018 and September 2019.

Meanwhile in the commercial sector, uncertainty has contributed to lower volumes of big new-build projects for the industry to enjoy overall, reflected by Construction PMI data showing a trend of decreasing output this year. That said, we’ve worked alongside our customers on plenty of exciting UK developments during 2019, from redeveloped stations on the Crossrail line, to luxury hotels and flagship high street stores.

Overseas, there remains a healthy appetite for quality UK manufactured glass. We’ve supported our customers W&W Glass in the US on a major new ‘American Dream Mall’ in New Jersey a shopping centre with its own ski slope. In Dubai, our partner Intraco is installing 50,000m2 of solar control glass manufactured at our St Helens base at The Palm Tower, a new landmark multi use glass-clad skyscraper.

There were many other reasons for us to be cheerful. October 2019 saw our best ever month of sales for Pilkington K Glass S. We were also crowned winner of the Commercial Project of the Year award at G19, for a second year running, for our installation at Slimming World’s Derbyshire HQ in conjunction with Advanced Glass Facades.

If the current political climate steadies, it should be a good thing for the market. The certainty and clearer path ahead is likely to increase demand as consumers and businesses make investments with confidence.

The consultations around changes to Part L 2020 (conservation of fuel and power), will also be watched with a close eye this year. The glass and glazing industry will no doubt be lobbying for the energy efficiency capabilities of advanced glass to be recognised by the regulations as they’re updated.

2020 is no doubt set to be another eventful year. For whatever lies ahead, I’d like to wish you all the best for 2020 from all the team at Pilkington UK.