As Featured in Glass Times Magazine - 2016
As we near the end of the third quarter of 2016, Andy McDowell, commercial director at Pilkington United Kingdom Limited, part of the NSG Group, shares his views on the year so far and what’s in store during the final few months.
The past quarters have been busy for the industry and, of course, for the UK in general. It feels like a year’s worth of headlines has been packed into the last few months, and the road ahead for the glass and glazing industry looks difficult to predict.
The manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI, a leading economic health check) published by Markit in July painted an uncertain picture of the UK manufacturing sector. In July the PMI reading dropped to 48.2, down from 52.4 in June, the lowest level in more than three years. A PMI reading above 50 signals growth, whereas a signal below 50 shows a contraction in activity.
For how long this contraction of business activity across the sector might persist is unknown, and it is important for the glass trade to watch events unfold carefully and act with a degree of caution.
Optimism for the road ahead
There is however, reason to be optimistic about the months ahead. A weaker pound has the potential to make the UK’s glass exports more competitive on the international marketplace; a contrast to industry forecasts at the turn of the new year that a strong pound would make British glass products less competitive during 2016.
Business as usual
For Pilkington, it’s business as usual. We are continuing to invest in R&D and are engaging with some exciting projects, both at home and internationally.
Pilkington glass was used in the recent renovation of the Grade II listed former home of Sir Winston Churchill in Roehampton, South West London; and specified at Cheltenham Racecourse, one of the UK’s most prestigious racing venues, in a new five-storey 6,500 capacity grandstand.
Further afield, Pilkington glass has been designed into a new courthouse in Kuwait which opens this summer, with transparency a key theme in the building’s design to reflect the countries legal system. The atrium of a commercial building in downtown Washington DC has also seen an almost-35-metre-tall glass façade achieved using the Pilkington Planar™ point-supported glazing system.
The strength of our product offering and service has also lead to us supply more window and conservatory suppliers across the UK. Listening to feedback from our customers, we’ve found they need to access glass specification information remotely at any time of day, and we are working on a solution that offers this as an online tool.
We also released the new Pilkington Suncool™ One 60/40, an off-line coated mid-range solar control product with a thermal insulation U-value of 1.0 W/m2K. It has been designed for use in commercial and high-end residential settings, to reflect heat back into the property and improve thermal efficiency.
Investment in our state of the art off-line coater in St Helens over the past few years has now enabled us to produce a full range of solar control products here in the UK. Not only will manufacturing the latest Pilkington Suncool™ One 60/40 product in St Helens enable us to reduce lead times for customers, it will also mean we’re able to offer the product in a range of sizes, satisfying demand from independent installers who often require a smaller dimension, and increasing flexibility for glass processors.
We’re not finished with product launches, either. There are a number of exciting products in the pipeline, and in September we’ll also be showcasing a range of our most advanced glass products at Glasstec in Dusseldorf.
Although the PMI reading may be an indicator of uncertain times, it is important that our industry continues to operate as usual. The ongoing use of innovation and investment over the coming months will be key to the glass and glazing sector’s success over the long-term.
This is not the time to put plans on hold - a healthy roll-out of new products and the ongoing use of glass in commercial construction during 2016 so far should work in the industry’s favour in the months to follow.