UBV Vidro Design leads the Latin American market in the manufacture of flat patterned glass. Located in Brazil, the company is the largest producer in the segment and its brand is synonymous with unique design and style. Reuben Ford gets a glimpse of business through UBV designer glass.
It was 51 years ago that a group of Brazilian investors, after looking for an alternative to the limited glass options available on the market, decided to establish their own company. They founded Vidros UBV in São Paulo, a 100-percent Brazilian company. Over the following decades the group invested heavily in the infrastructure of UBV, increasing its size and productivity as well as product ranges.
In 1995 the original founders passed control of UBV to the current board, who resolved to continue investment in the company and sustained its status as the South American market leader. In 2007 a $35 million kiln was purchased for the manufacture of UBV’s flat patterned glass. The kiln is not only the largest of its type in Latin America, but also the most modern in the world.
Patterned glass is a translucent glass made through an industrial system that uses two rollers at the kiln’s exit to create its surface design and thickness. The upper roll is smooth while the lower one imprints the desired pattern onto the glass. The spacing between the two rollers determines the thickness of the glass.
UBV uses German technology to guarantee the quality of its glass. The kilns and furnaces, made by Horn, are recognized internationally for their quality. Once printed, the flat glass, not yet completely hardened, is conducted through the refining and annealing processes, where the glass is cooled and stretched slowly. Rurex equipment, which is the best in the world in this area, controls the lamination and finish of the glass.
In the final part of production, the glass is cut into plates. Once again UBV has invested in the most up-to-date machinery available, using Grenzebach cutters that have revolutionized the programmed sizes of glass sheets, allowing larger measurements. “Previously, glass was supplied in sheets of 2.2 by 1.8 meters The new cutters perform more efficiently and produce 3.21 by 2.2 meter plates,” explains Chief Executive Officer Sérgio Minerbo. The machinery has been invaluable in reducing production time and increasing productivity.
Today, UBV is characterized by its superior designs, many of which are patented. “Our patterns are classic and unimposing; they add to the decorative environment and do not interfere with existing design schemes. Clear glass does not participate in the decoration of an interior; our glass does,” says Minerbo.
The company separates its product lines into four groups: windows, shower doors and partitions, furniture and coverings. Each division has particular design requirements and patterns, although some patterns can be manufactured in more than one line. UBV’s sales staff is qualified to advise on specifications and positioning.
UBV produces windows with higher and lower transparency grades that assure the ideal privacy for spaces such as bathrooms and laundry rooms. They also offer the necessary seclusion and refinement for other rooms such as living rooms and bedrooms. Among the types of uses are sash windows, French doors, door and window fanlights and facades. The window division of the company is the largest, accounting for 70 percent of total sales.
The shower doors and partitions product line, which represents 10 percent of business, includes shower cubicles, room dividers, office partitions, shelves and sinks. The glass is easy to clean and resilient, and can be integrated into the decorative scheme of the room.
The furniture and coverings lines are also available in different designs, thicknesses, colors and even in mirrored finishes. For furniture, glass can be used as inside shelving, or for cabinet doors, or protective tops. Glass coverings are used for wall linings. The range also comprises safety glass that is wired, and whose mesh prevents falling glass in case of breakage. Together the two divisions contribute 20 percent of UBV’s turnover.
The products are manufactured at the UBV facility in São Paulo. The 18,000-square-meter factory employing 220 staff is located in an industrial park of 100,000 square meters, the perfect environment with the necessary space for handling sheet glass. Natural gas fuels the kilns, and a closed circuit system allows the recycling of water used in the processes.
Ecological issues have always been important to UBV and in recent years heavy investments made by the company have promoted the return of disposable glass shards as a raw material. A kilo of glass is made from another kilo of glass, with zero waste and no pollution for the environment. Apart from being 100 percent recyclable, glass shards allow saving of the natural raw materials, such as sand, barilla and limestone. Glass production itself also uses less energy and releases very low levels of carbon dioxide, which also helps to preserve the environment.
The environmentally friendly nature of glass is one of the reasons for its rising popularity among architects and interior designers. “Glass is no longer just a commodity but a great looking, and modern design alternative,” says Minerbo. “The big difference between Brazil and the international market, is that here glass is a relatively new material to be used in interiors.” A team of designers and researchers at UBV has combined these market changes with aesthetically pleasing designs to capture a growing market.
In 2008, UBV increased its infrastructure by 2 percent and revenue by 8 percent, equating to a pre-tax figure of $32 million. The company projects a turnover of $40 million for 2009, primarily due to the increase in the use of glass, and the continual rise in the success of its designs. In 2008, UBV changed its company logo to UBV Vidro Design (UBV glass design) to emphasize this success.
Another important factor responsible for the company’s positive outlook is a new project to be launched in July 2009. The Brazilian Federal Government is constructing one million homes for underprivileged families. The compact, closely constructed houses will require windows that allow privacy without restricting the natural light. The Habilitação Popular (Popular Housing) (HP) project involves high quality economic glass products aimed at such houses. UBV predicts that the simple, yet effectively designed glass will boost sales and account for 20 percent of window sales for the company.
Other UBV customers include glass factories, retailers, distributors, and international clients. The glass is delivered in sheet form, and cut, treated and converted into specific products by the client. At present overseas sales amount to 10 percent of revenues, a figure that Minerbo predicts will increase in the future.
Competition in the market is tough. “We must compete not only with other glass manufacturers, but also with the plastics, resins, curtains and textiles, construction and metal industries, as all provide alternatives to our product,” explains Minerbo. UBV is extremely competitive on price: for example a client will spend more per square meter on fabric curtains, than on patterned glass.
There are other advantages, which also set UBV in good stead for the future. Even the international economic crisis that is affecting all businesses does not seem to be taking its toll on patterned glass. “Of course, there is a macroeconomic impact of the crisis, but our sales volume has been sustained. In spite of our sensitivity to the success of the construction industry, orders have continued,” says Minerbo.
The fact is that the modern architect is using more glass in interior designs and the consumer prefers natural light. “Glass saves on electricity bills, which not only benefits the environment but the consumer’s pocket. Our patterned glass is a fashionable, sophisticated and practical solution,” says the chief executive officer.
The increase in popularity of double glazed windows has also promoted the sales of glass. The two panes not only act as noise insulators, but heated or cooled atmospheres also. “The market for glass is growing faster than the economy. With over seven million homes in Brazil being below standards, we have our work cut out,” adds Minerbo.
Even so, with a clear vision, UBV Vidro Design has a unique quality that makes it the leader in the industry. Its patented designs enhance the decoration of interiors in Brazil and abroad, and sales are rising. Looking ahead, the continually evolving designs and new projects certainly promise a shining future for UBV.