Editorial – April 2013
A fantastic, modern era
By Patrick Flannery
Glass technology is advancing faster than are most other building materials’.
Glass technology is advancing faster than are most other building materials’. It is an exciting time to be in the industry and fun to contemplate the near future.
We don’t do theme issues in Glass Canada where the magazine is all about some particular topic, but rather by accident this issue has turned out to have a lot of content about cutting edge technology. Our cover story takes a look at vacuum insulating glass and the new developments that may soon make it competitive with triple-glazed IGU. And Brian Burton hits a cautionary note in Fenestration Forum about our industry’s lack of investment in R&D and the possible long-term consequences of such neglect.
One of my favourite movies, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is about a 19th-century British naval captain (played by Russell Crowe) who is pursuing a French privateer off the coast of South America. The movie is remarkable in its realistic portrayal of life aboard a man-o’-war during the time of Napoleon, complete with scenes depicting young officers having broken arms amputated rather than set, weapons almost as likely to kill their wielders as the enemy and cages full of livestock to feed the crew in the absence of refrigeration. Yet at one point in the movie, Crowe contemplates the elegant lines of a model of the enemy ship and comments, “What a fantastic, modern era we live in.”
The irony of the line draws a chuckle from today’s audience. But the truth is, that era in history was one of amazing, magical-seeming advances in technology as western countries began to apply the scientific discoveries of the Enlightenment to technical problems in transportation, manufacturing, agriculture and warfare. Steam-powered machinery and ships, railroads, fertilizer, electric lights, the telegraph – all these were right on the horizon, with their attendant transformations to life and society.
It would be a stretch to say we live in such an era now. Computers aside, much of the technology we use today has changed little since the Second World War. The exciting thing about the glass industry is that it is bucking this trend. The last few decades have seen major, fundamental changes in the way we build windows and even whole buildings using glass. Glass itself is being infused with a number of remarkable new powers, including super strength and the ability to bounce or transmit specific levels and wavelengths of light and heat. We seem to be on the cusp of developing glass that will be as energy efficient as a solid wall, once solar heat gain effects are taken into account. Glass that can act as a computer display without visible electronics is not far off, nor is glass that can produce enough energy to power the building it encloses. It is, indeed, a fantastic, modern era we live in – at least for those of us in the glass industry.