Few other industries have embraced new technology as readily as the automotive sector. From the rising popularity of electric cars to the development of autonomous vehicles, automotive innovation is putting new demands on glass.
Our market-leading automotive business serves some of the biggest car manufacturers in the world. As such, the company is well placed to meet the challenges thrown up by these technological advancements.
Indeed, the business is developing products to not just increase the functionality of automotive glass, but to improve the overall efficiency of vehicles and support the wider revolution in automotive transport.
Here, Timothy McKittrick, Global Capability and Emerging Customers Account Manager at NSG Pilkington, explains how the company is driving innovation in automotive glass.
Q. What does your role involve and how is automotive business structured at Pilkington?
The global capability part of my role means I have responsibility for directing the R&D portfolio of the automotive business to ensure we’re working on the right projects and delivering the right products to the market on time. The emerging customers side of the role involves working with companies such as Tesla and start-ups in the automotive space to win business and supply glass to their vehicles.
The automotive division is a fully global business, spanning Europe, Japan, North and South America and China. We’re fully globalised because our customers are too. We have three main hubs for automotive: R&D at Lathom in the UK, our sites in Toledo, Ohio and in Japan, with smaller R&D branches in Germany and Italy as well.
Q. How did you develop your specialism in automotive?
I’ve been with Pilkington for nearly 32 years, so I’ve covered many different roles in that time. I started in R&D specialising in coatings and then worked in both the architectural business and solar side of the business, and for the last seven years I’ve been in automotive.
One of the things I’m trying to do is introduce our architectural-type products and coatings into the automotive business. As vehicles need to become more thermally efficient – particularly as they become electric vehicles – everything helps in terms of extending the range of the battery rather than trying to heat or cool your vehicle. That’s why you’re seeing architectural-type coatings coming into automotive in order to make the vehicle as thermally efficient as possible.
Q. What are some of the big developments in automotive glass currently?
A key area for us at the moment is head-up display windscreens and, as an extension of that, augmented reality. That’s where you overlay moving images onto the windscreen as people are driving – for example to provide lane assistance, speed and safety monitoring. I’d say we’re the global leaders in that capability currently.
Another very strong area of expertise is our shaping capabilities, meaning the ability to shape windscreens to a very high tolerance level. That’s something required for head-up display, but also as we move to autonomous vehicles you’ll see more and more cameras and sensors housed behind the windscreen. Therefore we need very good optical clarity to maximise the functionality of those cameras and sensors. Our shaping capabilities provide that very high level of clarity.
Q. Why is Pilkington considered a valued partner in the automotive industry?
We operate on a global level, which is important to our customers who also operate globally. We’re replicating our expertise in shaping and head-up display windscreens in all of our main regions, and my role as global capability manager is to ensure best practice and benchmarking globally so that new products and technologies are introduced across all regions.
Pilkington Automotive was recently recognised for its outstanding performance during the Jaguar Land Rover Supplier Excellence Awards, which is a good example of a customer we’ve been working with for many years. We supply a wide range of high technology components to Jaguar Land Rover as part of a very strong working relationship.
Q. What do you see as the next big step-change in the automotive industry?
The buzzword at the moment is CASE, which stands for Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electrified. That’s really where we see the business going over the next 10 years. Connected refers to the connectivity between passengers but also vehicle-to-vehicle interaction. That means we have to ensure our glazing allows for the transmission of 5G, GPS signals and so on.
Autonomous demands that all the cameras and sensors housed behind the glazing are optimised in their functionality. So that could mean heating the camera zones or absorbing the moisture when there is frost or condensation to enable the cameras to work. Electrified means making the vehicle’s glazing as thermally efficient as possible in order to maximise the battery and the range of the vehicle. We’re introducing things like low emissivity glass and augmented reality head-up display as innovations that will support these advancements in automotive going forward.