Sunday, August 29, 2010

WSJ Throws Stones at Museum

Today's Wall Street Journal claims that the sheet glass used for the Toledo Museum of Glass was actually manufactured in China. There are good reasons for this but the scandal here rests on the fact that Toledo bills itself as "America's Glass City". City Hall may have egg on their face now but if the glass industry continues to migrate to Asia, they may have to find their city a new moniker.

It is hard NOT to use items made in China for projects in the USA. Anybody who has built here knows that, but this industrial migration in the 21st Century could come back and bite the USA later.

WSJ's James T. Areddy writes that "industries where global demand has shifted to China (for construction materials) the pattern is repeated, from steel to locomotives and turbines and specialized glass works."

It does not take an aerospace or economic degree to see that the reason is that's where the right materials are found at the right price. China is now making 45% of the world's total production of sheet glass produced on continuous "float lines" where molten glass falls onto a surface of molten tin; riding on a conveyor until it cools. Float lines run 24/7 for years at a time. China has 150. America has 33 total. Only two of them are in Toledo.

It used to be sheet glass in America meant Pittsburgh Plate Glass. The skyscraper boom of the post WWII period created huge demand and PPG filled it for years. Until the 1970's America made all or most of it's own.
However in the new millennium the sources have changed.

Why was glass made in Toledo, Ohio? In the late 1880's East Coast glass makers such as Edward Drummond Libby were persuaded to come to the area. In Ohio there was cheap natural gas, cheap land and cheap labor. It was close to Detroit and the burgeoning car manufacturing industry. Glass became the trademark of the industrial age in NW Ohio.

American Glass Makers are turning to manufacturing their goods IN China. Owen-Corning is the biggest glass maker in the area today and is set to throw "possible hundreds of millions" into developing their manufacturing in China. "What we bring the market is know-how,"
says Owens-Corning's L. Richard Crawford, president of global glass operations. Ouch. Give away American glass making secrets for profit? Where is your American pride? Not exactly Venice is it?

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