Top of the glass
Glass has transformed the face of the world's construction industry.
Most building components are designed to do their job and never be seen. Plumbing, wiring, steel reinforcement and even concrete itself is usually buried beneath layers of plaster, rendering, carpet and tiles, and is only seen again when the building is refitted or torn down.
But there’s another major component that most people see every day and that they never give a second thought to. Without glass, however, modern high-rise living simply wouldn’t be possible; stunning vistas from height would only exist in nature and we’d all be living and working in rather dark, uninviting buildings that offered little natural light.
Glass has transformed the way in which the world builds and lives. Without glass, skyscrapers would be imposing, bricked in monoliths. Glass has made it possible to achieve the impossible. Huge glass curtain-walled facades dominate every major city skyline around the world, monuments to architectural excellence and huge advancements in engineering and manufacturing capabilities during the latter half of the 20th century. Glass has not only made it possible to reach unimaginable heights, but it has given us the chance to enjoy the view while we’re there.
With so much construction going on the in the GCC, glass is also big business in the region. In the UAE alone, Glass LLC – the corporate arm of Dubai Investments PJSC – runs four wholly owned subsidiaries that represent a combined capital of AED 400m and investments of AED 1.1bn. Each company, Emirates Float Glass, Emirates Glass, Lumiglass Industries and the Saudi American Glass Company, supply to the construction industry, and each report positive growth throughout 2010, which has surpassed expectations.
“Dubai Investments formed Glass LLC as a holding company of the Glass entities to leverage synergy from its many glass business initiatives to deliver the best of products and services to the customers in the region,” said Khalid Kalban, managing director and CEO, DI.
“Ambitious investments in the range of AED 2 billion are planned for the next four to five years under the aegis of Glass LLC to realise the envisioned growth,” he added
In fact, just this past week, Dubai-based Lumiglass Industries announced that it had nearly doubled its production capacity of laminated glass with the installation of a state-of-the-art pre-laminating unit from Benteler AG, the Germany-based global automotive supplier. The machine is the largest of its type in the region and now means Lumiglass can produce up to 35,000m2 of laminated glass per month.
“In adding this state-of the-art machine to our equipment line-up, Lumiglass increases its laminated glass capacity by almost 100% at a stroke,” said Sultan Al Zarif, general manager of Lumiglass Industries. “The new machine will help us meet the rising demand for laminated glass, and allow us to boost our competitiveness by delivering superior quality, low-emission laminated glass products.”
“At Lumiglass, we always seek to be at the leading edge of glass development in the Middle East. Our strong focus on innovation, coupled with our constant upgrade of equipment and facilities, allows us to produce and supply a wide selection of high-performance laminated glass to customers around the region,” he added.
Lumiglass also recently announced that it had tripled its bullet resistant glass (BRG) capacity by adding two new automated glass bending furnaces. Lumiglass says the demand for BRG had risen as a result of the company had rapidly expanding its client base – and that the glass was ideal for both architectural and automotive uses.
Emirates Float Glass, another subsidiary of Dubai Investments PJSC, last year opened its new, state-of-the-art $200m 320,000m2 factory in Abu Dhabi – and has plans for a second one in the city over the next few months. The plant was built with technological assistance from US-based PPG Industries, and produces 190,000 tons of glass for construction and the automotive industry annually, exporting products to more than 35 countries throughout the GCC, South America, Europe, Australia, Far East Asia and Africa. The second plant will double EFG’s output to 1200 tons per day, making the company the region’s largest single-location float glass manufacturing facility.
Float glass, or Pilkington glass, is made by pouring molten glass in to a bed of molten metal, usually tin or other low melting point alloys, which produces exceptionally uniform sheets that have tremendous strength. Once laminated, float glass is able to resist extreme weather, human impact, burglary and forced-entry, firearm attack and explosions, and has a remarkable ability to stay intact, and to continue its protective role, even when broken, making it perfect for curtain wall construction and automotive uses.
Emirates Glass, another subsidiary of Glass LLC, was established in Dubai’s Al Quoz area in 1998 to market its EmiCool range of high performance, energy saving, reflective coated glass products. Since then, the company has poured more than AED100m in to the expansion of its coating facilities, increasing capacity to more than 3.7 million m2 of flat glass annually.
The company’s main focus is glass coating, which is designed to reflect light and cut down on the heat entering glass-fronted buildings. To do this, Emirates Glass uses a combination of silver, tin, zinc, chromium, titanium and stainless steel and applies it in ultra-thin layers to change the colour and reflectivity of the glass. Emirates Glass says this provides tremendous solar control and thermal insulation (when used in double glazing) to minimise heat gain in buildings, and helps to reduce energy costs in summer. The company’s range of products includes 11 different colour substrates and 11 different coatings with light transmission ranging from 3% to 40% for solar control glass and 20% to 73% for low emissivity coating.
Its products have been used throughout the UAE and GCC, most notably on the Index Tower, an 80-storey mixed-use residential and retail tower complex developed by Union Properties at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). The project required 40,000m2 of SoLite Neutral 52/29 high performance glass. Emirates Glass also supplied 10,000 m2 of its EmicoolSun NN35 green glass for the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation – Etisalat Tower project in Dubai.
Saudi American Glass project sales manager Nizar El Saadi said business in the Kingdom was also encouraging. With several key contracts secured in Riyadh – including the two tower projects in the city, plus the supply of coated glazing to the King Abdullah Financial District and the King Abdullah University, Saadi said his order books were looking up for the year.
“We normally sell about SAR65m every year, but I think this year we are looking at more like SAR80-85m, which is very good,” he said.
“There are a lot of projects going on in Saudi at the moment, a lot of contracts are being awarded and a lot of big projects that need our products. It’s good to have a lot of work on,” Saadi added.
Saudi American Glass is the fourth of Glass LLC’s current collection of specialist companies. Its production plant in Riyadh’s industrial area buys in its float glass stock from sister company Emirates Float Glass, and completes the coatings to local specifications.
“We’re the biggest company of our type in Saudi and the only glass coating operation in the Kingdom – so we’re aware that we need to remain ahead of the game. It’s a competitive market, and there is always pressure from outside the region to come in and take over.”
“I think that has changed with Dubai going through the tough times. We were looking at markets in the UAE too, but I think it’s best we stay focused on our own area. There is a lot going on and a lot coming up that we want to be involved with,” he said.
Saadi’s self-advice seems salient, but with the glass industry in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia looking buoyant for Glass LLC’s four companies, and with additional company expansion expected over the coming years, it seems prospects for the future of the glass industry in the Gulf look bright.