Industry Officials Predicted an External Films Revolution

October 8th, 2009 | Category: Featured Content

With the U.S. glass and glazing industries moving steadily toward a triple-pane standard, it is inevitable that window film providers will want to provide a suitable competing product. With triple-pane insulating units, the threat of stress fracture is increased exponentially. For this reason, external films have become prevalent in Europe where triple pane and sloped glazing is already widely in use. 

Perhaps in preparation for this, U.S. window film manufacturers have begun to unveil external products, which use pressure sensitive adhesives. Several industry officials sat down with WINDOW FILM magazine at last year’s SEMA Show in Las Vegas to discuss the implications of glass technology and external films for the American market. Nearly a year later, as the U.S. Department of Energy spurring the glazing industry on toward higher efficiency, it appears the views of these industry officials have proven to be on par.

“In Europe, in cases where it’s even iffy, the installers will not take chances,” explained Yochi Solna, product and sales manager for Hanita Coatings. “They just started putting on exterior films to be sure. And that developed into a huge market.”

Solna said the concept took hold in Europe and he expected the same to hold true for the U.S., as glazing becomes increasingly advanced.

“I would speculate maybe 30 percent of the film that is installed in Europe is exterior film-all because the installer wants to be sure that glass breakage will not occur,” he said.

Hanita Coatings, the Israeli-based maker of HanitaTEK window films, has long offered external products. And Solna said external films are a sort of one-size-fits-all answer for glass breakage. “We have not had windows on which we have said, ‘you cannot apply exterior films,’” he explained.

Solna believes that U.S. manufacturers’ liberal policies regarding glass breakage and warranty claims kept the need for external films low in the U.S. But he also expected that to change.

“Some 20 years ago, in the United States, the manufacturers went into a sort of marketing war where they were trying to figure out what they could offer in order to outdo one another,” Solna said. “And they ended up creating these crazy warranty schemes. In the end, almost all films American manufacturers began offering a five year breakage warranty and a three year seal failure warranty; which was probably a good idea and a great marketing idea at the time. In the way windows have been developing into more and more double paned and low-E on one side etc, the issue of glass breakage becomes big.”

Solna said until glazing technology increases the threat of breakage, which is inevitable with triple-pane glazing, U.S. dealers will hold out.

“As long as the manufacturers are experiencing 1- or 2-percent warranty claims, and they’re just paying off the claims and not bothered with it, I think that exterior films will never really blossom in the U.S.,” Solna said. “Because, the installer is going to say, ‘Well, I’m just going to install it and not worry about it.’”

Commonwealth Laminating and coating, the Martinsville, Va.-based manufacturer of SunTek window films, recently introduced external products in the U.S. market as well. The company’s chief executive officer, Steve Phillips, said SunTek external films have long been used in overseas markets, but he expected the demand to increase in the U.S. with changes in glazing technologies. Europe, however, remains SunTek’s primary market.

“External films are becoming bigger and bigger in Europe,” Phillips said. “The biggest disadvantage is in the fact that they have to take the brunt of weather,” Phillips says.

This presents a potential upside to external films for U.S. dealers who make the leap, though the same could prove a disadvantage for consumers. While internally mounted films remain permanently out of the weather, external films must be designed to endure these elements, which typically gives them a shorter lifespan. That means more frequent replacement, which could mean increased sales and installation opportunities for dealers.

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