Guardian Gearing Up to Bring Vacuum Glazing to Market

May 8, 2009
Companies

At the recent American Institute for Architects exhibition in San Francisco, Guardian Industries Corp. reported it is gearing up to introduce its vacuum insulating glass, or VIG, in late 2010.  It is working with a consortium of companies, including material and equipment suppliers and window manufacturers, including Jeld-Wen, to launch what Scott Thomsen, chief technology office, calls "leapfrog technology." 

Prototype windows using VIG are now in the field in Europe, where Guardian expects to roll out the product initially, he reports, and the company anticipates it will have prototypes out in the field in North America sometime in the third quarter of this year.  The glassmaker plans to have "beta" products out on the market by the end of 2010, with and is looking to commercialize production in 2011.


Guardian's vacuum glazing uses translucent ceramic pillars to separate the two panes of glass.

An initial European roll-out is planned because energy codes are ahead of those in North America, and there are also incentives for homeowners to help them afford high-value energy efficient products.  European window manufacturers have shown a keen interest in the product, Thomsen points out, noting  that there are already regions and countries where triple glazing accounts for 40 percent of the market there. 

He sees demand for the product in North America too, however, noting that Energy Star criteria are expected to tighten once again. Unlike Europe, the climate in much of America is cooling dominated, he notes. He still sees significant interest in this type of product for the Northern Energy Star climate zone.

VIG takes windows from an R4 to an R9 to R11 when it comes to insulating value, Thomsen reports, but the technology represents a significant change in processes, materials and window design. "You can't just take out the existing IG and plop it into the sash," he notes.  The unit itself, he explains, is much thinner than a standard IG (about 8 mm). The edge effect associated with this type of unit can translate into significant heat transfer. A VIG unit with a center of glass R11 can produce an R6 window if it is not integrated properly. The low-E coating used also continues to play an important role in the overall window performance too, he notes.

Looking at the market potential for the product, Thomsen reports that as a high-end product, the company expects to be able to deliver VIG in the custom sizes demanded in that segment of the residential business. As for its eventual market success, he notes, one question that remains concerns the "buyers' impression of the pillars" that are necessary to separate the two panes of glass in the unit. Guardian has opted for a translucent ceramic that is visible, but "you have to look harder to see them" than has been the case with other pillars used in this type of vacuum unit construction. Still, he notes, in focus groups, the company has seen a mixed reaction, with homeowners reactions running the full spectrum from those who like the high-tech look of the product to some who say "no way."

Guardian plans to produce the VIG units itself, but it also foresees other companies using the process in some markets, Thomsen reports.  "Our goal is not to dominate the insulating glass market," he states. "Our overall goal is to increase the overall window to wall ratio."