Picking Up the Pace

John G. Swanson
September 24, 2012
COLUMN, COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Markets & Trends

Technology in the window and door industry generally advances in baby steps. Change—as we see in electronics or communications—generally isn’t radical. There’s not constant shifting we see in fashion or even food.

I know the pace of change in our industry is sometimes frustrating to developers of new technologies who don’t understand why companies may be slow to adopt something new. Window and door makers, know, however, that builders are always ready to try something new. Homeowners that are going to live with a product a long time can be deliberate in their choices as well.

There is nothing wrong with slow and steady. The industry can point to a strong track record of continued gains in energy efficiency, structural improvements, impact resistance, low maintenance, expanded finish and design options and more. I am sympathetic to developers of new products, however. Sometimes, the tradition of slow, steady progress can limit our thinking. Getting out of the box can be hard. Thinking big can lead to frustration.

So I was particularly pleased to note several interesting new developments at GlassBuild America, which we report on in this issue. The first is EcoBlend, a new extrusion technology under development at Quanex Building Products. The company is working to bring post-industrial recycled content—not just its own scrap, or its fabricators’ scrap—into its profiles.

“Our EcoBlend advancement takes our sustainability commitment to a new level,” says Jeff York, VP of process innovation, Quanex Window & Door Systems. “Our ultimate goal is to consume more waste than we generate.”

“We’re looking to change the equation on windows,” said Kevin Seiling of Veka Inc., talking about the extruder’s Solutions, its solar collection technology for windows designed to power mobile devices. "We don't want to talk about just energy savings,” he noted. “We want to talk about how windows can create energy.”

Those are big goals. And they’re not coming from some green tech or clean tech firm or even small start-ups. They are coming from established players that I suspect have pretty realistic viewpoints on the industry and on the market.

Of course they’re not the only companies pushing the envelope. Guardian Industries was showing dynamic glazing products, as well as glass units with integrated solar cells. Sage Electrochromics was showing its dynamic glazing products—suggesting that a real market for such products is likely to emerge soon. Granted, it will probably be in the commercial side of the business, but it could cross over to residential as well.

From a vinyl window and door industry perspective, it seems like crossing over the other way—from residential to commercial applications—is becoming less a “future possibility” and more of active push. Vinyl extruders, including Deceuninck, Rehau and Veka, were all talking about products targeted at schools, hotels, and offices more than residential replacement, it seemed.

I’ve been around long enough not to expect overnight changes. I learned my lesson on the iPad. I expected it would see quick widespread adoption as a window and door sales tool and we’re far from that day. But this year’s show suggested to me that people are thinking bigger and more “out of the box.”

David Petratis, Quanex CEO, offered one reason attitudes in the industry may be changing and that’s attitudes among consumers—or at least certain types of them. “The Prius and the Volt have proven there’s a real market for something different, something better. People are willing to pay more to get to that next level,” he said. “That’s a market we want to be in, where we want to be a leader.”

We all know consumers are changing. We all know companies are working hard to find new opportunities. I won’t make predictions on specific technologies, but this past GlassBuild told me that the pace of technological change will pick up in the window and door business.