At Pilkington, research and development (R&D) sits at the heart of everything we do, ensuring we are always at the forefront of new innovations in glass. When it comes to testing our products to the utmost levels of rigour, our R&D supports our efforts to deliver products that are guaranteed to perform to the highest possible level for every one of our customers.
Having joined Pilkington as a research scientist in 1995, Kevin Sanderson has seen huge changes in the business as the uses and applications for glass have become increasingly sophisticated.
Here he explains how, in his current role of Global Portfolio Manager for On and Off Line Coatings and Incubation Director, he is helping to deliver the latest innovations in the Pilkington product development and testing procedures.
Q.What does your day-to-day role at Pilkington involve?
There are two key parts to my job here. As Global Portfolio Manager for On and Off Line Coatings, I’m responsible for a global team looking at developing new and future products and improving our processes - driving that forward on a global basis.
The second part relates to The Incubator – which is how we talk to the outside world about new tech, do our future-casting and share and develop ideas. We do this in a variety of ways, including discussion forums, speaking to academics, speaking at industry events and participating in panels. We’re looking for new mega-trends and for where they might be relevant to our customers. At the moment, this includes climate change - where we might look at new ways of achieving energy efficiency, the implication of rapid urbanisation and the impact of automated vehicles.
Q.Given that we are focusing on ‘testing and rigour’ as a content topic, could you explain the role that your R&D department plays in testing Pilkington products?
The testing for any of our products is run within the project that develops it. We take a very rigorous approach to looking at the kind of testing that is needed. As a starting point we might ask, ‘what is the correct process? What do we need the product to do and understand how it will be used?’
When it’s not obvious, or when maybe the regulatory framework hasn’t caught up with developments yet, it might be up to us to look at developing the type of evaluation and processes we need. So we’ll always look at regulatory testing but then add on additional tests including tests developed to simulate what the product will see in use and scientific testing.
Q.What is unique about the scientific methods that Pilkington uses to test its products?
The regulatory testing is really the entrance hurdle for all new products. Add to that our extensive glazing experience - we have been working in the field for 200 years - and you can see there is a blend of historical and practical experience which we combine to ensure rigorous testing of any new product. We go above and beyond what is needed.
Q.Are there any recent innovations that have changed the way you approach testing and rigour?
Things are really accelerating in terms of how glass is being used, with new applications often driving new approaches to testing too. So as well as residential and commercial we are seeing a move towards new types of usage, thing like the solar industry, or digital signage and we are always responding to that.
We have to make sure that testing is robust and fits each application - that might include tuning our products for particular applications.
Q.Does Pilkington have different manufacturing and testing practices for residential products versus commercial products?
We’re working in an era where new and more advanced substrates are being used and we have to respond to that. So our test process has to be application specific and that creates different test protocols for different types of glazing use.
That might be looking at wind-loading for commercial glazing or sealant/consumer product compatibility when we’re considering residential applications. It’s about working even more closely with customers to understand how they are going to use these products and adjusting our testing protocols accordingly.
Q.How does Pilkington approach recruitment and training to ensure it has the best, most skilled people working in its R&D department?
We’re always looking ahead to the future because getting recruitment right is really important.
We look for people who have multiple skill sets, people who have a scientific or engineering background.
We tend to try and recruit people early, we work with students and those who are just starting out on their scientific careers. It may be that we can work with people while they are still studying. So we can sponsor someone through a relevant PhD or support them when they’re doing a year in industry. We see it as an extended interview process.
Q.During your long career with Pilkington how have you seen the business evolve – particularly with regards to its manufacturing practices and in terms of testing and rigour?
I’ve been here for 23 years so I have seen a lot of changes within the business and the industry as a whole.
There is a consistent push towards higher and higher quality, across the industry and in our own R+D departments and that’s reflected in our testing processes.
We’re building on our past history and becoming more customer-focused. We’re seeing new uses for glazing on a very regular basis and we work very hard to keep up with that. We now engage with customers at a much earlier stage to build their needs into our day to day testing and development.
There’s much more emphasis on process and product analysis and we now have a rapid prototyping approach. Over the past five or six years, we’ve become a lot more open to sharing new products with clients at an earlier stage - it makes much more sense to show someone a piece of actual glass than it does a presentation.
Q.Can you give an example of a project Pilkington worked on that was particularly challenging, and that required the company to test and innovate to find new product solutions?
I’d have to say Pilkington Activ™. It was our first foray into a product where our customer and the end consumer both directly interacted with the coating. We had to work hard to understand how it was going to be used and what we needed to look at around its practical application and adjust our testing protocol accordingly. This expanded its scope significantly.
So for Pilkington Activ™ we had to consider things like the effect of cleaning agents, the impact of how it was glazed and sealants on glazing units and this was way beyond what we had done before. It meant changing the scope of our testing and gaining a better understanding of the supply chains we were working with. This has been critical as much of our new developments pose the same challenges
Q.What new projects are you currently working on within the R&D team, and how will they provide benefits to customers?
We’re looking at continually expanding our range to meet architects’ demands and ensure glass remains the material of choice. For example offering a wider range of colours, innovative performance through our solar control range and looking at new settings in residential and commercial applications. There is also a lot of focus on the Dynamic façade with glazing that reacts to the environment or uses it to generate energy. We’ve been speaking to architects who tell us this is something clients are asking them for so it’s important we try and help them respond to this need.