Architecture & Design, Manufacturing, and Technology

Pleotint racking up sales and recognition

Jenison company sees a large market for its self-tinting window glass.

November 7, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Chad Simkins shows off the low-e glass that allows visible light to pass through while controlling the passage of solar heat. Photo by Michael Buck

Each year, according to the new vice president at Pleotint in Jenison, about 2 billion square feet of “low-e” architectural glass is purchased in the United States, or about 75 percent of all architectural glass.

But only Pleotint produces a thermochromic material to give window glass low emissivity, said Chad Simkins, who was hired just a couple of months ago.

Low-e glass allows visible light to pass through while controlling the passage of solar heat into the room.

The company’s Suntuitive brand of thermochromic self-tinting film is an inner layer in architectural glass that automatically becomes darker as the intensity of sunlight on the window increases during the day, and vice versa. It helps reduce the amount of solar heat entering a building, resulting in less demand on the air conditioning system — saving energy while keeping occupants comfortable. It also mitigates glare from the windows.

Pleotint, whose corporate headquarters and manufacturing are at 6722 18th Ave. in Jenison, just received a 2014 Crystal Achievement Award for Most Innovative Glazing Technology from Window & Door magazine, an architecture industry trade publication.

A recent major installation of Suntuitive glass was at the Quality 10 GDX Theater by Goodrich Quality Theaters, a state-of-the-art cinema that recently opened in Saginaw. According to Pleotint, architect Todd Ockaskis with Grand Rapids-based Paradigm Design said a main challenge with designing the theater was limiting heat and glare from the sun on the south façade during the day, while allowing maximum visibility into and out of the building at night.

The ability to see into a public facility at night is a major safety factor, according to law enforcement experts.

“We considered using permanently tinted windows, fritted glass and mechanical shades, but the self-tinting glass offered the advantages of each without any compromises,” Ockaskis said. “The glass naturally adjusts to provide the perfect tint to counteract outside conditions, while allowing the glass to be clear at night.”

Some types of low-e glass use fritting, a dot pattern or fine lines on the glass to mechanically filter out some of the sunlight. Others have a coating that will reflect back some of the solar energy. Still other types of low-e glass are dynamic, meaning they can change tint, i.e. darken or lighten. Most dynamic glass is electrochromic; the change in tint is activated by an electric charge. Gentex manufactures aircraft windows that are electrochromic, which can be controlled by the crew of the aircraft.

Eyeglass lenses that darken with exposure to sunlight use a photochromic process similar to the thermochromic, but Simkins said the photochromic process has not been able to be developed for larger applications.

Pleotint’s product is “a dynamic glass without the wires,” said Simkins. The change in tint is triggered by a proprietary chemical formula that reacts to the thermal energy in the sun’s rays.

Suntuitive is not a hands-on control system, so it isn’t affected by a power failure or by human error. It also costs less than half that of electrochromic glass, according to Simkins.

A privately held company, Pleotint has an R&D facility in West Olive and a wholly owned window manufacturing subsidiary in southeast Michigan. It was founded in 1998 by Harlan Byker, who is CEO and one of the owners.

According to the Pleotint website, Byker was previously a vice president and board member of Gentex Corp., and he has more than 30 years of experience in R&D, invention and manufacturing. He is the inventor or co-inventor on 44 U.S. patents and invented the chemistry portion of the first commercially successful electrochromic device, an automatic dimming rearview mirror for motor vehicles. Over 100 million of these mirrors have been sold, and more than 10 percent of all vehicles built in the world today incorporate one or more electrochromic mirrors with the chemistry he invented, according to the Pleotint website.

The company does not reveal its annual sales volume. It employs about 50 in West Michigan, and its Thompson I.G. window manufacturing plant in Fenton employs about 160. The company is anticipating exponential growth, and has been considering the creation of about 75 new jobs in 2015, most at Thompson I.G. but some in West Michigan.

When asked about Pleotint’s competition, Simkins said it is actually just conventional window glass products, simply because the construction industry is not generally aware yet of Pleotint’s thermochromic dynamic glass.

“That’s our real competition — getting people to change what they’ve been doing the last 20 or 30 years in the building construction trades,” Simkins said.

Simkins said one of the major selling points is that Suntuitive eliminates the use of drapes or blinds in office buildings during sunlight hours, a key element of inefficiency of glass buildings. Even with shades drawn, thermal heat can still pass through the windows.

In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council issued a report in December 2013, called “Seduced by the View.” Noting that all-glass high-rise buildings are all the rage, the report states that “from an environmental perspective, glass buildings are a major step backward,” because “even the very best windows insulate barely as well as a single inch of wall insulation.”

“As a result, glass buildings use more energy,” states the USGBC document.

However, the report looked at another factor — the behavior of people who live and work in all-glass residences and offices — and using two months of photography, analyzed 55 such buildings in New York City. The analysis shows that, on average, blinds or shades covered about 59 percent of the window area throughout the day, as a whole, which seems to defeat the purpose of a glass building.

Simkins said in the construction industry, “engineers say, ‘Use smaller windows because brick and drywall are better insulators than glass.’ But architects — they are the visual and creative people — are on the other side. They want bigger windows and more glass. Visually, it’s more pleasant to the occupants.”

“We say, ‘Use all the glass you want,’” said Simkins, because Suntuitive glass can reduce the peak energy demand of the HVAC system by as much as 20 percent to 30 percent.

He is also armed with statistics on how patients heal faster in hospitals with windows that allow the daylight to enter. The same goes for kids doing well in school, he said, and office workers being more productive and having better attendance.

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