SageGlass invented dynamic glass—“tint on demand” windows that use special coatings and low voltages of electricity to filter out varying degrees of light. The small company started in 1989 in New York, but eventually moved to Faribault, Minnesota, 50 miles south of Minneapolis, because the area was developing a reputation for its innovation in window manufacturing.
Then in 2012, French building materials manufacturer Saint-Gobain acquired SageGlass. Although the unmet demand for dynamic glass was mainly in Europe, Saint-Gobain chose to keep production in Minnesota, build a new plant there, and convert the old plant to a research and development facility. The new facility can coat panes of glass that are more than twice the size of the old ones.
David Pender, director of operations at SageGlass (who previously spent 11 years in Germany working for Saint Gobain), talked about the challenges and advantages of keeping SageGlass’s manufacturing and R&D in the United States:
Challenge: Europe has the most growth potential, but our manufacturing facility is in the U.S.
Western Europe is a little further along than the U.S. in building codes. What’s considered extremely exotic here … is considered almost normal in Europe. Getting the supply chain right to be able to produce everything from what’s acceptable in the U.S. to what’s expected in Europe poses a certain amount of challenge. We’ve got to be sourcing some things from Europe, to make the products here and then shift them back to Europe. That doesn’t make too much sense at the moment, but we are trying to grow this market worldwide. Europe is growing very, very quickly because the Saint-Gobain name in Europe is a big plus.
Advantage: The highest demand for the product is still in the U.S.
Overall, we’re on a three to four times year-over-year expansion. So this year we’ll produce three to four times what we did in 2016. Which is a phenomenal growth rate, and that’s set to continue as we grow in the Europe, in the U.S. and the Middle East. We just got our first really big job in China. In the future, this facility will get to capacity and just produce in North America, and there will probably be another facility doing something similar in Europe—and who knows how that will do going forward.