Seeing Clearly

Recession! What recession? As one of the world's leading manufacturers of solar control window film, Commonwealth Laminating & Coating Inc. (CLC) makes, markets, and sells a complete line of automotive, residential/commercial, and safety and security window films under the SunTek brand worldwide. Although worldwide demand for window films has declined precipitously along with the global economy in the past two years, CLC grew 26% in 2008 and expects “healthy” gains this year as well.

President/CEO Steve Phillips attributes those gains to a significant overseas presence, which accounts for 50% of total sales, as well as the $15 million investment made in new equipment and technologies in the past year. A low-cost, flexible corporate structure that rivals even its Asian competitors also has contributed to the company's considerable success. As a result, CLC enjoys a nearly 10% share of the approximate $600 million world market for window films, a market share Phillips confidently expects will grow even as the economy likely remains stagnant at best in the coming months.

“During these economic times, there's a contraction going on in just about every market in the world,” observes Phillips. “Window film has been and will be a growing business worldwide. It's traditionally grown in the single digits, along with the automotive industry and the home and commercial building industry. But in some overseas markets where the products are just starting to take hold, such as China, Eastern Europe, and Russia, the growth has been double digits in recent years.”

China, in particular, is an area where Phillips sees dramatic growth potential. By 2020, for example, it is estimated China will have between 70 and 100 cities with more than 1 million people — and obviously some that are much larger. Growth in housing, transportation, and commercial buildings will lead to a subsequent increased demand for quality window films.

Phillips also notes that because of this low-cost, flexible structure, CLC can compete with many Asian-based manufacturers in their markets. Price, combined with the higher quality product it can deliver, actually makes CLC a preferred supplier of window film, says Phillips.

“We don't manufacture in China; we sell into China,” says Phillips, citing a new distribution center CLC recently opened in Shanghai. “Manufacturing window films is relatively high tech, very knowledge intensive, and labor ‘unintensive.’ So, we're an example of a manufacturing company in the US that actually is growing worldwide and exporting to countries that enjoy a large trade surplus with the US.” (China, for example, had a $12.1 billion dollar trade surplus in January 2009 alone. The trade surplus with the 27-nation European Union was $13.7 billion at the same time.)

Phillips notes CLC also made capital investments of about $15 million in equipment and technologies last year alone, which he estimates is more than all other window film manufacturers combined. Chief among them was an $8 million project that included a 72-in. Black Clawson Converting Machinery tandem coater/laminator and a $6 million new 72-in. dyeing line project that not only helped Commonwealth meet its current production requirements but also “put us in a strong position for growth in the next five years,” comments Phillips.

“We're positioned in our industry as a very good value for the money,” he explains. “One of our strengths is that we are a very technically intensive company, and we leverage that technical strength in new product development, process development, and manufacturing effectiveness. As a result, we are able to produce window films of equal or better quality and performance at a lower cost than our competitors.”

With its new, fully operational dye line (pictured above and below), Commonwealth Laminating & Coating now has the capability to impregnate high-performance dyes into PET films. A 72-in. Black Clawson Converting Machinery coater/laminator enables Commonwealth Laminating & Coating to produce window film with greater quality control and more efficiently than ever before.

Coater Improves Film Clarity

The Black Clawson Converting Machinery coater/laminator has two Series 4000 Cartridge Coaters that are capable of multiple coating modes. The modular series is designed for maximum flexibility, allowing for quick, easy changeovers by one operator in 10 min or less. Coaters also are enclosed, providing safety, improved cleanliness, and total solvent capture. The modular design allows for off-line cleaning and system modification, eliminating contamination within the coating room.

Among its benefits, Phillips says the new coater/laminator “dramatically” improves the optical clarity of CLC's window film. That is particularly important “in Asia in general and China in particular,” where window films are used on windshields and have to be as clear as the glass it protects.

“It's one thing if you're talking about side or rear windows on a car or the windows on a home or office building,” explains Phillips. “Windshields are at an angle, and things like angular distortion become much more critical. It was our feeling that even the best window film manufacturers, including ourselves, are not quite meeting the needs in markets like China when it comes to the angular distortion of front windshield films.”

The new coater/laminator complements a 72-in. Black Clawson Converting Machinery tandem coater/laminator purchased in 2003 and a 62-in. single station coater/laminator purchased in 1995. Overall, CLC also specializes in thin, optically clear, solvent-based polymer coatings on high performance polyethylene terephthalate (PET) films.

“I do think the fact that we invested $15 million last year in new equipment and facilities is newsworthy, especially in these economic times,” says Phillips. “This new equipment, technology, associated operations, and technical staff should give us a very big competitive advantage moving forward.”

Converter Info

  • Commonwealth Laminating & Coating Inc. | 345 Beaver Creek Dr., Martinsville, VA 24112 | 276-632-4991 | www.suntekfilms.com

Contributing Editor Edward Boyle, based in Reading, PA, has covered the converting industry for more than 24 years. Contact him at EJB Communications; 610-670-4680; ejbcomm@aol.com.

Supplier Info

Adding Film Dyeing Capabilities

Commonwealth Laminating & Coating is investing $6 million on a custom-built film dyeing line that will make it only the second US window film manufacturer to have that technical capability in-house. The company decided to build its own film dyeing operation in November 2007 when CPFilms, the world's largest manufacturer of solar control and safety window films, purchased ATI and became the sole supplier of 48-ga deep dyed film.

“In response to that, we developed, designed, and built our own dyeing operation in cooperation with Black Clawson,” explains Steve Phillips, president/CEO, “because, among other things, we would have been single-sourced in a critical intermediate raw material.”

The new film dyeing line, which began operation in March, impregnates clear polyethylene terephthalate films from suppliers such as Mitsubishi, DuPont, and Toray with high-performance dyes. Layers of dyed films then are laminated in combination with other types of clear, metallized, and sputtered films to create a final solar control window film product in different configurations with the required visual esthetics and solar performance, Phillips explains.

Supplier Info


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