Company History 1950-1999

1950 - 1999

Pilkington announced the float glass process in 1959 but further development work was necessary before the process could be fully exploited commercially. Pilkington decided on a policy of licensing the process to existing major glass manufacturers. At the same time the company encouraged its licensees to assist in the further development of float by granting them free use of any improvements they might make on condition these were also made available to Pilkington itself. The first float licence was granted, to PPG, in 1962. Others quickly followed. Pilkington stopped making polished plate glass in 1967 and others soon followed suit. 

The lower fixed capital costs of the float process - as compared with the polished plate process - together with the royalties flowing from licensing enabled Pilkington to build float plants in its export markets earlier than it would have been able to build the costlier plate glass line. 

In 1967, Pilkington added a float line to the existing sheet glass factory in Canada and in 1970, a second line was built. In the 1970s the Group was also able to build float glass plants in Australia and South Africa in addition to starting up a new plant in the UK. 

The company also made its first incursion with a manufacturing operation into continental Europe. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Pilkington acquired safety glass interests to serve the growing Swedish motor industry. In 1974, recognising the importance of establishing a float glass manufacturing base in northern Europe, Pilkington began construction of a plant at Halmstad, Sweden. Further expansion took place in Finland with the acquisition of Lamino, a safety glass manufacturer, in 1975; of a share in Lahti, a Finnish sheet glass manufacturer, in 1978; and of Nordlamex, a safety glass manufacturer, in 1979. 

In the late 1970s, Pilkington further consolidated its position in South America by acquiring holdings in Providro, a flat glass manufacturer, and Blindex, a safety glass manufacturer in Brazil.

The 1960s and 1970s also saw further diversification into glass and glass related products.

In 1966, as a development from its optical glass operation in St Asaph, North Wales, Pilkington and Perkin Elmer formed Pilkington Perkin Elmer Ltd to make optical and electro-optical systems for the defence industry. These activities were extended in 1974 with the acquisition of Glasgow based Barr and Stroud. The combined business was later to become Pilkington Optronics. 

In the 1970s, too, there were further developments in the company's ophthalmic and glass fibre operations. Hitherto the ophthalmic business had been restricted to the manufacture of glass blanks for lenses by Chance Pilkington and prescription lenses by a small operation in Kent. The company made an attempt to acquire UK Optical, a large optical manufacturer, but was thwarted by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. In 1979, however, the company's ophthalmic interests were much expanded with the acquisition of the Australia-based Sola Holdings Ltd, already one of the world's leading manufacturers of plastic spectacle lenses. 

In glass fibres, a new factory for manufacturing glass fibre reinforcements was opened in Wrexham in 1971, and in 1976 capacity for insulation products was increased with the opening of a new factory at Pontyfelin, South Wales. 

The company remained private, owned by the Pilkington family, until 1970. It was realised that , in view of the company's growth, the Pilkington family age profile and the high rate of death duties, it would be necessary to offer the shares to the public if the company was to continue growing. In January 1970, the decision was taken to make Pilkington a public company and in November about 10 per cent of the family's shares were issued to the public. By then, the company had been reorganised into operating divisions, a new research and development complex had been built at Lathom, near St Helens, and a new headquarters had been occupied in St Helens. The year of 1970 was, however, marred by a long unofficial strike over pay and negotiating procedures which affected factories in St Helens for seven weeks and elsewhere in the UK for shorter periods. 

Lord - formerly Sir Harry - Pilkington retired from the company in 1973, after 24 years as chairman. He was succeeded by Alastair Pilkington (later Sir Alastair), the inventor of the float glass process, who had been the company's technical director. Sir Alastair was chairman until 1980, when he was succeeded by Antony (later Sir Antony) Pilkington who retired in 1995.

1980s Global growth and more diversification

Growth, diversification, two deep recessions - and a hostile takeover bid - characterised the 1980s. 

Major growth came through acquisition in Europe and the United States. In Europe, the French glassmaker BSN decided to divest its interests in flat glass manufacture, in order to concentrate on the food and drink business. In 1980, Pilkington was able to acquire, for £113 million, 61 per cent of Flachglas AG, the main flat glass manufacturer in West Germany, and 81 per cent of its holding company, Dahlbusch. Flachglas brought operations in building product manufacture and in automotive glass. As a result of Flachglas's holdings in Brazil, both Providro and Blindex also became subsidiaries of Pilkington. In 1981, Pilkington increased its shareholding in Flachglas AG to 77 per cent. 

In North America, the company both retracted and grew. In Canada, under severe competition from American manufacturers, Pilkington sold its controlling interest in its flat glass operation. But in 1982, the company returned to North America on a much larger scale by acquiring a 29.5 per cent stake in Libbey-Owens-Ford Co, the country's second largest manufacturer of glass for automotive and building markets. In 1986, the stake in the company was swapped for the whole glass division. 

In the meantime, recession in the UK had hit the company hard and had taken the UK business, which still accounted for over 40 per cent of sales, into loss. The overseas companies provided the necessary insurance and also made possible the remedial cost cutting action required. The final switch from sheet glassmaking to float glass took place, with the start up in 1981 of the St Helens float line, UK5. In St Helens, the number of employees was reduced from 11500 to 6700 between 1981 and 1986. The UK businesses returned to profit in 1984/5. At about the same time, further decentralisation took place, together with the dismantling of much of the central committee structure. 

The return to profitability in the UK and the strengthening of the Group worldwide allowed Pilkington to repel a hostile takeover bid launched by BTR in 1986. The company successfully marshalled employee, community, city and parliamentary opinion to back its long-termist approach to running its business. Towards the end of the bid process, it was able to forecast profits of £250m. The bid was withdrawn after a nine week battle. 

The objective of reducing the impact on profits of cyclical demand intensified the search for businesses allied to glass. Sola Ophthalmics had proved a successful business, marketing plastic spectacle lenses worldwide and, by 1984, manufacturing in eight countries. In 1985, the contact lens business of Syntex Ophthalmics had been added. 

In 1987 Pilkington took the opportunity to make a substantial move into the eye-care business with the acquisition for £386 million of Revlon's two vision care businesses: Barnes-Hind, making contact lenses and solutions; and Coburn Optical Industries, making lens-processing equipment and glass and plastic spectacle lenses. All the company's lens businesses were reorganised under the Pilkington Visioncare name. The aim was to grow the Group's so- called advanced technology businesses to represent 30 per cent of the whole business by 1995. With Pilkington Visioncare included, the company was half way to its target in 1987. Pursuing this direction it also acquired the aircraft glazing business, Swedlow Inc, and set up a New Business Division to nurture and grow significant new businesses. 

The company opened a new fibreglass insulation plant in St Helens and further expanded this division through acquisition of rock fibre and plastic foam insulation businesses, and of insulation contracting companies. It, however, sold its glass fibre reinforcements business in 1986. 

The core of the business nonetheless remained the flat and safety operations, delivering over 80 per cent of profits in the peak year of 1988/89 when the Group operating profit was £349 million. The higher returns on flat and safety glass in the southern hemisphere encouraged further expansion. In partnership with Saint Gobain, two more float plants were built in South America - an additional one in Brazil , and one in Argentina - and a second plant was opened in Australia near Sydney. In 1989, Pilkington sold a 20 per cent stake in Libbey-Owens-Ford to Nippon Sheet Glass Company, with which it already had an association through investments in Hankuk Safety Glass Company Limited of Korea and Taiwan Glass Industry Corporation. 

Investment also continued at a high level in Europe, with float plants started up in Finland in 1987 - the second in the Nordic area - in Weiherhammer, Germany in 1990, and in the UK, albeit delayed, in 1992. 

At the end of the eighties the second recession of the decade hit the company: this time it was to be worldwide and to become the longest since the second World War. Float glass prices fell by 25 per cent and, between 1990 and 1992, operating profits on flat and safety glass fell from £293 million to £139 million. A further round of cost cutting began and parts of the business - including cement and rubber reinforcement businesses, insulation contracting and a 50 per cent share in Pilkington Optronics - were sold. In 1992 the Group's South African holding was sold to its partner, Plate Glass and Shatterprufe Industries, for about £93 million. 

In the 1980s the balance of the Group had changed considerably. In 1980 about 70 per cent of operating profits came from the United Kingdom and Europe. Ten years later, the figure had reduced to 50 per cent. In 1980, in a total number of employees of 35000, 22600 worked in the United Kingdom. In 1990 there were 13700 in the UK and nearly 47000 overseas. By 1993 numbers had fallen to 41600, only 8200 of whom were in the UK.

1990s Refocusing on flat and safety glass; making the core business more efficient

1992 

In 1992 Roger Leverton became the first outsider to be appointed to the post of group chief executive. The Group stated its clear intention of concentrating on its core businesses of flat and safety glass and began a programme of both disposal and new investment. 

In 1992 the Group acquired a 45 per cent shareholding in International Glass Poland, a processor and distributor of glass building products, and this was followed by the decision to take a 40 per cent stake in a joint venture in Poland to construct the country's first float plant. 

1993

There was further substantial investment in Europe in 1993. In the United Kingdom the Group bought the glass processing and distribution business of Heywood Williams for £95 million. The rationale was one of vertical integration, with the UK outlets providing a direct route to market for the Group's products, underpinning the demand on UK float plants and adding to UK profits. 

In continental Europe, Pilkington, in partnership with Techint Finanziaria, acquired the whole of the issued share capital of the Italian glassmaker, Societa Italiana Vetro Spa (SIV). Pilkington paid about £43 million for its share. The acquisition gave Pilkington a major customer base in the automotive market of Southern Europe, complementing its already strong position in Northern Europe. SIV added manufacturing operations in San Salvo and Venice in Italy, and in Sagunto, Spain. 

While the core business was being expanded, other operations were sold. Notably, the dismantling of the Visioncare operation began, first with the sale of Coburn Optical and then, more significantly, with the disposal for £200 million of the Sola spectacle lens business. This left the contact lens and solutions business of Barnes Hind which had not delivered its earlier promise. 

In the United Kingdom, in a move complementing that with Libbey-Owens-Ford in the United States, the Japanese company NSG acquired a 20 per cent shareholding in Triplex Safety Glass, the Group's UK automotive glazing business. The benefit to Triplex was additional production and technical expertise as well as NSG's relationship with the Japanese carmakers.

1994

More of the same - growth and disposal - followed in 1994, but this time the expansion was in newer, developing markets and against a background of improving performance. 

Plans were announced to build two new float plants in South America together with existing partners. One was to be in Brazil, at Jacarei, taking the total there to three; the other was in Chile where the Group had acquired a controlling interest in Vidrios Lirquen SA. In China, the Group took shareholdings in two new ventures to manufacture laminated windscreens and toughened glass for the local car industry. A shareholding of 45 per cent was acquired in Wuhan Yaohua Pilkington Safety Glass in central China, and a 35 per cent stake in Changchun Pilkington Safety Glass in the north east. These holdings complemented a shareholding in a float glass joint venture, Shanghai Yaohua Pilkington (SYP), which was acquired in 1983. SYP was the first British joint venture to be floated on the Shanghai Stock Exchange - in 1993 - with the proceeds used to build a second float line. Elsewhere the Group acquired the 29 per cent minority holding in its Finnish float glass subsidiary, Lahden Lasitehdas OY. 

Major disposals of non-core businesses continued with the sale to Owens Corning Fiberglas Corporation of the Pilkington Insulation business for £73 million cash, plus the assumption of £7 million of financial leases. In becoming part of Owens Corning, it was argued, Pilkington Insulation joined a company whose core business was mineral wool insulation, which owned leading technology, had major research and product development resource and was determined to develop its business in Europe. 

The results of the Group now began to recover, with Sir Antony Pilkington able to say that 1994 had marked a return to growth of many of the economies in which Pilkington manufactured and sold. Profit before tax and exceptionals rose to £72 million from the low in 1993 of £46 million. By the end of 1994 there had been further improvement with the Group reporting growth in demand in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Southern Hemisphere. Attention was drawn to the contribution from the Group's technically advanced products, including the energy-saving Pilkington K Glass™ and Energy Advantage™. 

Two further landmark events occurred in 1994: Pilkington reached agreement with the United States Department of Justice on the proprietary nature of its float bath technology under which existing licensees could use early technology, in confidence, worldwide, but current and future technology would continue to be treated through normal licensing arrangements. Secondly, Nigel (later Sir Nigel) Rudd, chairman of Williams Holdings PLC was appointed to the Pilkington board as a non-executive director.

1995

In 1995, the Group's trading strengthened further, a rights issue raised funds for acquisition and expansion, and the beginnings of a fundamental change in the organisation structure took root. 

The Group reported that 1994/95 was a better year, with margins rising and plants operating at higher capacities. Improved demand, increasing sales of the Group's advanced products, better plant efficiencies and continued concentration on cost reduction all contributed to operating profits of £170 million and profit before tax and exceptionals doubled at £144 million. Pilkington announced a six year contract from General Motors worth $750 million. Sir Nigel Rudd succeeded Sir Antony Pilkington to become the first non-Pilkington chairman, in a non-executive capacity. 

The Group's acquisition and expansion plan in flat and safety glass manufacture led to a rights issue to raise net proceeds of £303 million. The issue coincided with interim results in which profit before tax for the first half of 1996/97 rose 70 per cent. The additional funding was required for the acquisition of the remaining 50 per cent of SIV, for £128 million, and consolidation of the company's net debt of £64 million; for the acquisition of the Swiss, Danish and Norwegian glass processing and distribution businesses of the Interpane Group for £58 million, and assumption of debt of £20 million; and for accelerating investment in high growth, developing markets, particularly to strengthen the automotive glass business. This latter was to support expansion in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Poland and China. The issue was a success, with 96 per cent take up of new ordinary shares. 

Additional acquisitions in the year included a 40 per cent shareholding in Guilin Pilkington Safety Glass in south west China, to serve the domestic motor industry; and the purchase in New Zealand of building and automotive glass suppliers, Smith and Smith Glass. 

Acquisitions in Europe meant that this single part of the Group now accounted for sales of about £1.7 billion and 24000 employees. Pilkington Europe was judged to have reached a size and complexity that required a different organisation structure. In a division that was to be the model for the rest of the company, Pilkington Europe was split into three business lines - automotive products, building products and technical glass products (the latter including specialist mirrors, photovoltaic panels and glass for electronics and optical markets). The shift from operations identified with flat and safety glass to businesses identified with their markets had begun. 

In 1995, long running disputes between Pilkington plc and PPG Industries were settled. Pilkington had alleged violations by PPG of certain licensing arrangements for glass technology. PPG had alleged that Pilkington violated the United States anti-trust laws with respect to float glass production technology and sales. 

The year saw the death in May of Sir Alastair Pilkington, the inventor of the float glass process. Recognised as one of the major industrial inventions of the twentieth century, the process had become the universal method for the manufacture of high quality flat glass for buildings and transport. It had transformed a major capital industry, revolutionised architecture and enabled new energy-saving and safety glass products to be developed. At the time of his death, the process had been licensed to 42 manufacturers in 30 countries and there were more than 170 plants in operation, under construction or planned. 

At the end of the year, two more Pilkington Visioncare businesses were sold: the worldwide lenscare operations of Pilkington Barnes Hind went to Allergan Inc for £50 million and Paragon Optical was sold to a US investment company.

1996

Following the acquisition of SIV and the reorganisation of Pilkington Europe, the Group embarked on a major restructuring programme in 1996 to improve efficiencies and yields and to reduce overhead costs. The acquisition of SIV presented the opportunity to consolidate and optimise automotive glass production facilities. At the same time, a parallel move was underway in the United States to rationalise automotive glass fabrication plants. In Europe, the Group said it would restructure its German building products business to remove excess capacity and improve its competitive position in a trading environment which was "expected to be more difficult in 1996." The restructuring entailed a progressive reduction of about 1900 jobs in Europe and North America. It resulted in the write-down of £82 million of assets and cash costs of redundancy and restructuring of £73 million over three years. Pilkington also warned that market conditions had become more difficult but said it expected further progress. 

The Group's results for 1995/96 showed profits before tax and exceptionals increasing to £212 million, led by an improving building products business, particularly in the first half. The Group, however, reported a weakening price trend in Europe in the final quarter. In transport products, demand and sales volumes remained high, but price pressures affected profits in most markets. 

By mid-1996 the reports were of difficult trading conditions continuing in Europe, but of responses including the restructuring programme, the adjustment of output levels to accommodate a slow-down in activity, and price increases. Trading conditions outside Europe, however, continued to show relative strength. At the half year, profit before tax and exceptionals fell to £82 million from £104 million. The results were affected by continued price weakness in the European building products business, but by good performance in North and South America. The restructuring programme had already begun to take out additional costs and the Group remained focused on its strategies of new product development, increased downstream processing, cost reduction and cash generation. It was expected that there would be an improving trend in the second half of the year. 

In 1996, the disposal of Visioncare was completed with the sale of the Pilkington Barnes Hind contact lens business to Wesley Jessen Corporation for £51 million. The Group started up the two new float plants in Brazil and Chile and, in the United Kingdom, acquired the business of Plyglass, a glass processing and distribution company. The re-alignment of the Group into business lines continued and, in October, Paolo Scaroni was appointed to the new post of president, Automotive Products Worldwide. He joined Pilkington from the Italian engineering company Techint, having been managing director of SIV when it was jointly owned by Pilkington and Techint. He had previously held senior posts with Saint Gobain, including that of director of its Glass Division.

1997

In March 1997, the Group made a trading statement, ahead of the publication of the results for 1996/97. It said that market conditions in Europe, and particularly in Germany, had not improved in line with expectations. Float glass price increases had not been sustained and there had been a significant fall in prices since the end of 1996. Profits were expected to be below market estimates. The Group was responding by accelerating and extending its restructuring programmes, and additional plant and line closures in continental Europe and efficiency improvements were to be implemented. 

Organisational change continued with a new structure for Building Products Europe; the split of the North American operation of Libbey-Owens-Ford into Automotive and Building Products Divisions; the organisation of the European automotive business into two distinct operations for original equipment and glass replacement; and the structuring of the Technical Function into a single worldwide organisation. 

In March, Paolo Scaroni was appointed to the Pilkington board. In May, Warren D Knowlton was appointed to the new post of president, Building Products Worldwide. In May, the Group Chief Executive Roger Leverton stepped down and was succeeded by Paolo Scaroni. Trading conditions had been difficult in key markets and results had been disappointing. The board concluded that the next stage of the company's development should be handled by a new chief executive. The results for the year 1996/97 showed a drop in profits before tax and exceptionals to £132 million, largely due to under-performance in Europe. The drop masked success elsewhere, particularly in North America where Libbey-Owens-Ford made record profits. The pace of change was to be accelerated. 

By July, the actions to accelerate change had been decided and announced. The major restructuring of the automotive products business already under way in Europe was to be completed; the building products business in Europe, identified as the major problem area for the Group, was to be reviewed with a more selective focus on the processing and distribution activities, and a rationalisation of the network, particularly in the United Kingdom and Germany; there was to be a drive to achieve a step change in the costs of float glass production; and a significant reduction in the Group's overhead costs, then totalling £1 billion or 30 per cent of turnover. 

The actions were amplified in October 1997. Overhead cost reduction would total £100 million by the beginning of the financial year 1998/99; geographically based organisations were being eliminated as structures were simplified; in the Building Products business, plans were made to dispose of, merge or close over 60 processing and distribution businesses in Europe, retaining only those businesses where there was a strategic competitive advantage or where the market structure was favourable to Pilkington; actions to improve competitiveness by becoming a lower cost producer of float glass had been identified; and the Automotive Products rationalisation had continued, accompanied by major reinvestment. The Group announced that there would be job reductions of 6000 over a two year period from April 1997, from a total of about 38000. 

As part of the programme, the size of the Group's headquarters was halved and its role redefined; and the Technology Function was refocused, with a concentration on fewer programmes, more emphasis on manufacturing improvement, and a new structure for managing technical programmes. 

Warren Knowlton joined the board in October, retaining his position of president, Building Products Worldwide, and chief executive of Building Products Europe, the focus of much of the rationalisation programme. The building products downstream operation in the United Kingdom was reorganised into two divisions, processing and merchanting, and the number of branches reduced to 23 from more than 50. 

During 1997, the Group announced a £25 million investment in an automotive glass toughening plant in Poland and a ten per cent holding in Egyptian Glass Company, which was building the first float plant in North Africa. In automotive products, Pilkington was named Glass Supplier of the Year by General Motors.

1998

At the beginning of the year Pilkington formed a manufacturing joint venture with Glaverbel Group to construct and operate a float glass plant in Spain. The plant, with a capacity of about 150,000 tonnes a year, is being built at Sagunto, alongside the existing Pilkington automotive plant. Coming on stream in 2000, it will supply the Pilkington plant and Glaverbel's Pedragosa network of 20 processing and distribution subsidiaries which serve the Spanish building industry. A further joint venture - between Pilkington, Saint Gobain and the Colombian group, Suramericana - was announced in April, to build a float plant near Bogota, Colombia, also to come on stream in 2000. Pilkington and Saint Gobain formed a holding company to own the majority of the equity of the joint venture. 

In April, Pilkington licensed float glass processing technology to the leading Japanese glassmaker, Nippon Sheet Glass Co Ltd. The technology allows a microscopically thin semi-conducting coating to be applied to float glass while it is being made. NSG required the technology initially for use in photovoltaic cells which trap the sun's heat and convert it into electricity. The technology has also been licensed to other European and North American companies. Pilkington uses it in its own plants in the UK, Germany and the US to make products such as the energy-saving Pilkington K Glass™. 

Pilkington scored another technical success when its 3R™ clean air process won a Queen's Environmental Award. The process cuts nitrogen oxide emissions from glass furnaces by up to 80 per cent to meet the lowest emission levels demanded anywhere in the world. The process has also been licensed to Samsung Corning (Korea), Cardinal IG (US), Guardian Industries (US), and AFG Industries Inc. (US). 

Pilkington was also able to report the certification of the first six float plants in the world to the demanding international standard, ISO 14001. The standard requires not only compliance with a set of measures at the time it is awarded, but also continual improvement. 

In June Pilkington announced its first annual results since the beginning of its major restructuring programme. Operating profits before exceptional items were £191 million and profit before exceptional items and taxation was £125 million. Building product profits improved by 18 per cent to £86 million, with Europe improving strongly; automotive products profits fell, with a particular fall in profits in North America. 

The company said it had simplified the organisation, refocused the building products business, boosted programmes to improve manufacturing efficiency and reduced overhead costs. The total charge to the profit and loss account for redundancy costs, business disposals and closures, contract losses, asset write-downs and restructuring was £225 million - higher than first indicated because the rationalisation programmes were more widespread and job reductions greater than originally estimated. After exceptional costs the Group made a loss before tax of £100 million. By the end of the financial year the number of employees had fallen to 35,400. 

The company reported that, by the end of calendar 1998, a total of 70 processing and distribution outlets would be closed, sold or merged, including half those in the UK and most of those in Germany, eliminating losses of £30 million a year; a short-term target had been set to reduce manufacturing costs, improve yields and productivity, to make savings of £60 million a year; the reorganisation of the automotive glass business in Europe was well advanced; and overheads had been successfully reduced by £100 million. 

Board level changes were announced in July, when Warren Knowlton succeeded Paolo Scaroni as president, Automotive Products Worldwide, relinquishing his Building Products post. 

In August, the Building Products Europe business was divided into a Primary Products business, responsible for glass manufacture - float, rolled, coated, laminated, silvered and fire protection products - across Europe; and Processed Products businesses for central and northern Europe. 

Pilkington appointed three new non-executive directors in September: Bill Harrison, head of investment banking at Deutsche Bank; Jim Leng, chief executive of Laporte PLC; and Oliver Stocken, group finance director at Barclays PLC. The appointments followed the retirement of John Macomber in July and the impending retirement of Sir Michael Quinlan and Lord Simpson. 

At the half year the company reported sales at £1.36 billion and operating profit, including the Group's share of joint ventures and associates of £107 million. Profit before tax was £66 million. Exchange rate movements reduced reported profits before tax by £14 million. At the operating level, building product profits improved by 25 per cent, with a 50 per cent improvement in Europe, primarily as a result of cost reductions and rationalisation. Automotive product operating profits were lower, primarily as a result of industrial action at General Motors plants in North America, and lower exports from North America to Japan. 

The company said that many of the markets in which it was operating were experiencing economic uncertainty, volatility and deteriorating trading conditions. Due to the substantial benefits from restructuring programmes, it would report progress in the year.

New products, markets and technology

  • Pilkington announced its participation in a unique solar energy factory complex in Germany. Pilkington Solar International already makes solar panels on the site, and will be joined by Shell, who will build a solar cell factory. Pilkington has a 20 per cent interest in the company operating the Shell factory.
  • An advanced glass bender for making car side windows was successfully introduced in Germany, with its first commercial production going to the new S class Mercedes. A new coating plant for solar control windscreens was installed in San Salvo, Italy. New plant for complex shapes of windscreens and back windows was installed in the UK. In all, eight new automotive glass production lines were commissioned in Europe. A new state-of-the-art windshield bending furnace was installed at the Collingwood, Ontario facility.
  • Pilkington opened an office in Moscow. Pilkington K Glass™ has become the generic term for energy-saving low-emissivity glass in Russia.
  • Pilkington collaborated with BP to construct a solar showcase in Birmingham, UK, to coincide with the G8 meeting of world heads of government. The project showed off British technology - including Pilkington K Glass™ - in an environmentally friendly building.
  • Work started on a new £3.5m centralised depot near Birmingham, UK, to service Pilkington's expanding network of automotive replacement glass outlets in Europe.
  • SIV was invited to assist the Italian government in drafting new laws to conserve energy and cut CO2 emissions.
  • Rebuilding of float glass lines in Weiherhammer, Germany and Rossford, Ohio was completed. The Lahti float plant in Finland came back into production.
  • Pilkington Aerospace began manufacture of bullet-resistant automotive glass in Brazil.
  • The headquarters of the Group's automotive glass replacement business in North America was relocated from Toledo to Columbus, Ohio. Pilkington has a network of about 90 wholesale outlets in the US.
  • More major airlines switched to using CrystalVue™ craze-resistant passenger windows. Pilkington Aerospace has supplied more than 400,000 of the windows to more than 20 airlines.
  • Pilkington won the first windscreen contract to be outsourced by Ford in North America - for the mid-size Lincoln LS luxury saloon.
  • Pilkington won its biggest-ever European automotive contract with an order to supply all the glass for GM's new Opel Astra T3000. It also won a lifetime contract to supply the windscreen for the BMW 3 series.
  • A new electrochromic environmental glass for buildings, Pilkington E Control™, which can automatically switch colour from clear to deep blue, was launched in Germany.
  • In the UK, Pilkington launched a new report, Clear Benefits, illustrating that carbon dioxide emissions from buildings are double those from cars. The report argued the case for low-emissivity glass - such as Pilkington K Glass™ - to play a major role in emission reductions.
  • Pilkington announced an investment of £8m to upgrade the St Helens factory which manufactures wired glass for fire protection.
  • Readers of Automotive Industries magazine in North America voted Pilkington LOF the top glass supplier for delivery, service and innovation.
  • Pilkington announced it would build an automotive glass plant alongside Ford's new Guiaba factory in Brazil. Pilkington is one of 14 Ford module suppliers who will share the site.
  • Pilkington supplied almost 90,000 square metres of glass for new building projects for the Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.
  • In North America, the Group's first blue solar control glass products - Pilkington Arctic Blue™ and Pilkington Arctic Blue Eclipse™ - were introduced.

1999

In 1999 the Group's rigorous cost reduction continued, but the word growth reappeared on the Pilkington agenda. Pilkington also celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the launch of float glass. 

In May, Pilkington Libbey-Owens-Ford in the US announced the results of a review of its automotive business. In order to keep costs moving down and to provide the best quality and service to its customers, the company said it would close the Automotive OE manufacturing plant at Sherman, Texas, while at the same time investing $22m (£14m) to improve processes and make best use of capacity at its Collingwood, Canada and Shelbyville, Indiana facilities. Most of the work at Sherman would be transferred to these plants. The transfer was to take place over 12-18 months.  

The results for the year 1998/99 confirmed the Group's progress in its plans to become fully cost competitive in the industry. The targets set in the restructuring programme were achieved and the Group reported profits before exceptional items and tax of £135m. Step changes in the performance of the European Building and Automotive Products businesses outweighed the adverse impact of currency movements, recession and a currency crisis in Brazil, recession in the Far East, a General Motors strike and technical problems in North America. 

Pilkington reported that the European Building Products business - representing 30 per cent of total Group sales - "had been transformed". The benefits of restructuring had come through strongly, with margins, at 9%, more than double the previous year and operating profits up more than 80 per cent. In the European Automotive Products business, too, profits were substantially higher than in the previous year. At the same time, eight new glass fabricating lines were successfully started up and parts for 31 new car models were introduced. 

In North America profits were lower than the previous year and in South America the economic crisis in Brazil hit building and automotive markets. 

Pilkington reported success in its programme to make the Group simpler, more focused, more efficient and lower cost. The simpler business was applying common standards, securing substantial cost reductions. The purchasing function, for example, now globally organised, was able to reduce revenue costs by £25m a year. The Building Products business was refocused and achieved good profitability, meeting initial financial targets. Productivity in the Group's float glass plants was more than 30 per cent higher than two years before, and 25 per cent higher in the automotive business. In two years, the Group also reduced its overhead costs by £160m. 

At the half year the Group announced profits before tax and exceptional items of £78m on sales of £1.36bn and re-emphasised the attention to be placed on streamlining and reorganising the North American automotive business. It would also close the automotive glass plant at Lathrop, California. 

Pilkington reaffirmed its focus on further cost reduction. However, with the competitive position improving, it said it would capitalise on its strengths in technology, new product development and market position to exploit growth opportunities. 

The first evidence of growth came with the opening of a new £25m toughening and laminating plant at Sandomierz in southern Poland. The plant, located close to the company's float glass factory, was expected to reach production of 700,000 units of automotive glass a year by 2002. In Poland also, Pilkington acquired the minority shareholding in International Glass Poland SA which became a wholly-owned subsidiary. The company processes and distributes building glass products from nine locations in Poland. 

In September Pilkington announced it would build a new combined float, laminating and coating glass plant in France, primarily to serve its processing and distribution network in the country. This later became a joint venture with the German glass processor Interpane Glas, with Pilkington constructing and operating the float and laminating plant and Interpane, the coating plant. Capacity of the float plant was to be 700 tonnes a day and the total project would cost £100m. 

Elsewhere a new distribution centre for automotive replacement glass was opened at Redditch in the UK. In St Helens, the company announced it would build a new £5m large-scale mirror glass plant at its Cowley Hill site. 

In a further reorganisation, the Group's R&D activities were integrated into the two major businesses of Building and Automotive products. 

New products were introduced both in the North American market and in Europe. Pilkington Solar E™ was launched in North America as the first hard-coated glass to offer both solar control and thermal insulation in the same product. It also offered the advantage of being virtually indistinguishable from clear glass. Target markets were the southern States, where solar protection is required in summer and thermal insulation in winter. 

In Europe, Pilkington launched the world's first energy-saving window for buildings that can change colour on demand. The new electrochromic product, Pilkington EControl™, changes colour from clear to a pleasing blue as it is adjusted to control the amount of heat and light entering a room. 

Among the landmark buildings supplied with Pilkington products was the Reichstag in Berlin where more than 8000m2 of glass was installed in the dome, the interior chamber walls and parts of the roof. 

New automotive glass business included a six-year, £250m contract to supply glass for four GM vehicles, the largest ever in the US; and a contract to supply 60 per cent of the 5-door Fiat Punto glazing sets. 

In the UK, Pilkington Micronics won a Queen's Award for Export Achievement for exports of ultra-thin glass supplied to the electronics industry, mainly in the Far East. Pilkington also received the American Ceramic Society's corporate environmental achievement award for its 3R™ clean air process, which cuts emissions of nitrogen oxide from glass melting furnaces by up to 80 per cent. 

During the year Glen Nightingale retired as an executive director after 37 years service. He was technical director from 1994.