High quality glass production starts with the float process, developed by Pilkington and now the industry standard. Automotive glass production includes pre-processing, toughening, laminating, encapsulation, extrusion and assembly, adding functionality.
The float glass process, developed by Pilkington in 1952, is now the world standard for high quality glass production. Float glass is often processed further before being fitted into buildings and vehicles. The process, originally able to make only 6mm thick glass, now makes it as thin as 0.4mm and as thick as 25mm. A 'batch' of precisely mixed raw materials is melted in the furnace. Molten glass, at approximately 1000ºC, is poured continuously from a furnace onto a shallow bath of molten tin in a chemically controlled atmosphere. It floats on the tin, spreads out and forms a level surface. Thickness is controlled by the speed at which the solidifying glass ribbon is drawn off from the bath. After annealing (controlled cooling) the glass emerges as a 'fire' polished product with virtually parallel surfaces. A float plant, which operates non-stop for a 'campaign' of between 11 and 15 years, makes around 6,000 kilometres of glass a year in thicknesses of between 0.4mm to 25mm and in widths of over three metres. The NSG Group operates or has interests in 51 float lines worldwide.
Over the past 50 years almost every major advance in glass has come from Pilkington, from the invention of the float process to self-cleaning glass. Pilkington invests around £29 million a year in research and development focused on product development and manufacturing efficiency improvement.
Pilkington Automotive has pioneered techniques that have led to major industry firsts such as;
- the production of the wraparound windshield
- the S-bend backlight
- solar reflective automotive glazing
- full vehicle encapsulated glazing systems
- electrically heated filament windshields
Pilkington Automotive conducts R&D at its European Technology Centre in the UK and also in Sagamihara, Japan, Toledo, USA, Witten, Germany and Turin, Italy.