In the Switchable Smart Glass industry, one of the questions we are asked most frequently is ‘what are Smart Windows?’, which is a broad question that has just as many answers as there are ways to ask it. Once a customer has ascertained what Smart Glass windows actually are, questions pertaining to how Smart Windows work begin to surface, however, to get any meaning out of these questions, the customer first needs to understand what a Smart Window is and how the different options involved can impact the answers. In this post, we will be looking at various types of Smart Glass Windows that Intelligent Glass offers and the differences between them in order to help you find the right product for you. For the purposes of keeping this post relevant, we will be looking at PDLC Switchable Smart Glass products and their window-based applications rather than wider definitions of ‘Smart Windows’ that may include electrochromic or photochromic glass. This post will instead focus on ‘Smart Windows’ as a term derived from Switchable Smart Glass technology.
So, what are Smart Windows?
Smart Windows, Switchable Smart Glass Windows or even Switchable Windows are all broad terms used to describe a PDLC Switchable product installed in a window application. As you may appreciate, this doesn’t really narrow much down with all the Switchable product variants available and the numerous potential window applications they can be used for. Widely speaking, Switchable Glass is used in a window application for privacy requirements, as privacy is often an issue with transparent glass windows that can easily be seen through – as is the traditional point of windows. Conventionally, window privacy has been dealt with using the likes of blinds and curtains, all bringing their own set of limitations and challenges. Switchable Smart Glass on the other hand, offers a far superior solution to privacy, often being described as ‘The Future of Window Privacy’.
Smart Windows help to open up worlds of possibilities when it comes to creative interior design that can be practical, functional and stylish. With applications ranging from incredible rear projection retail window displays to ‘smart home’ innovations that transform your living space, Switchable Smart Glass windows are a versatile and effective solution to a range of needs.
How do Smart Windows work?
Smart Windows work in the same way to most Intelligent Glass products, which function by integrating a PDLC layer into the product that covers the glass surface. Unlike our competitors, this coating covers the surface edge to edge with no gap via a proprietary manufacturing process developed exclusively by Intelligent Glass. The various ways in which the PDLC coating is bonded varies from product to product depending on the level of layer protection needed, with some products encasing it inside the glass product, such as with our Switchable Smart Glass Double Glazed Units, whereas other products are manufactured by coating the layer down directly onto the glass. This layer is then wired up to a power source, which can vary from mains power to battery power depending on the requirements, allowing the product to change its state from frosted to clear on command via an activation method of the customer’s preference. When an electrical current is sent through the film, it changes from frosted to clear instantly as the crystals in the PDLC layer polarise, allowing more light to penetrate the surface as the glass changes to transparent.
How much are ‘Smart Windows?’
This is perhaps one of the more complex questions we are asked by customers, especially when they do not fully understand their own requirements in context of what is offered. The difference in cost between the potential Switchable Smart Glass options are vast, with various products to choose from that fall under the ‘Smart Window’ category, so it is of critical importance that customers work with the Intelligent Glass sales team to figure out the best option for them.
Ranking as one of the least expensive products would be Switchable Smart Glass Vision Panels from Intelligent Glass. These window options are incredibly popular mainly for their effectiveness and obtainability both in terms of price and installation. Smart Glass Vision Panels make use of the space for glass window vision panels often seen on interior doors in environments such as offices, hospitals, schools and banks. Our PDLC product turns a seemingly innocuous door window panel into a privacy marvel, building the power and electrical components that operate it in the door itself, with minimal cabling and disruption. Push button operated, this small window allows the occupants to benefit from privacy without being disrupted by someone entering the room to check if it is occupied, enabling those wanting to enter to simply press the button and discreetly look into the room without interrupting the occupants.
Whilst on the surface, this product is ranked as one of the least expensive Smart Glass products, there is an issue in the way of comparing it to other products. Smart Glass Vision Panels are built for a specific purpose that fulfils specific requirements, so to draw comparison with, for example, a Double Glazed Smart Glass window, could be misleading due to the differences in their functional properties. However, this could be argued as just the very reason that these products need such an assessment. Understanding not only the comparative cost of these products but also their applications, functional differences and specification strengths is an integral part of making sure you have the correct product for your project.
Double Glazed Smart Glass Windows (or Smart Glass DGUs) are potentially one of the more expensive Smart Window options, with a complex manufacturing process required to produce it. The PDLC layer encased inside the unit is fully protected from outside threats such as weather, moisture or physical damage. As one of the most protected Switchable Glass window options, this product offers all the benefits of a standard DGU, such as increased insulation and UV protection, along with the benefits of Switchable Glass and truly demonstrates the risks of comparing Smart Glass products on price alone. Smart Glass windows made from double glazing offer far more benefits that are appropriate for an external window application than, for example, Toughened Switchable Glass, which, as standard, would not offer any UV protection or insulation that would likely be necessary for an external window. Whilst Toughened Switchable Glass would be the cheaper option, it would not be appropriate for this window application.
Due to the overwhelming benefits seen with Smart Glass DGUs, the window applications it can be used for are immense, including but not limited to External Smart Glass Windows, Smart Glass Bi-Fold Doors and even Smart Glass Skylights. In fact, most external window applications can accommodate Smart Glass DGUs to their benefit as the most appropriate Smart Glass product for the application.
Toughened Switchable Glass is, on the other hand, appropriate for internal window applications. This product, which consists of toughened glass with a PDLC layer bonded directly to the surface, is one of the cheaper options from Intelligent Glass, but its uses are exclusively limited to internal applications. Internal windows are indeed a common application of Switchable Smart Glass and as such, Toughened Smart Glass is by no means an unpopular product. However, even its internal uses are limited to dry environments that do not demand extra safety compliance. It also can leave the PDLC layer exposed to physical damage, which could pose a potential risk to the product. Toughened Smart Glass is a popular best-selling product, but its applications in a window application are restricted due to its limitations.
One of the more innovative Smart Window applications utilises the core product of Toughened Switchable Glass; a Switchable Smart Glass Projection Screen. Often used in retail applications, Smart Windows offer an impressive way to display items and launch new products or offers in store. By keeping the items behind a Toughened Smart Glass window, retail stores have come up with ingenious ways to create a customer journey by unveiling their featured products or craft, operating the Smart Glass via timer, button, motion sensors or even voice commands. Coupled with Pro Display’s projection expertise, Intelligent Glass are able to offer these Smart Glass Windows as interactive projection screens as well, allowing the store to build an immersive and effective product display that wows. However, whilst Toughened Switchable Glass is indeed used to form the foundations of this product, there are additional complex manufacturing processes involved in creating Interactive Switchable Smart Glass Projection Screens, naturally making that particular product more expensive than standard Toughened Smart Glass.
Laminate Switchable Smart Glass serves as a compromise between the ultimate protection seen from Smart Glass DGUs and the cost-effective solution of Toughened Switchable Glass, bringing different advantages and benefits. With Laminate Smart Glass, the PDLC layer is skilfully bonded and encased inside 2 sheets of laminated safety glass, helping it meet safety regulations in applications where this a concern as well as keeping it fully protected from threats such as moisture and physical damage. Cheaper than Smart Glass Double Glazing but more expensive than Toughened Smart Glass, Laminate Smart Glass is a great internal window solution for high traffic public areas or spaces that demand Health & Safety considerations, as by using safety glass, this product is compliant for such applications. Its use in wet room or shower environments also demonstrates its versatility, allowing Laminate Smart Glass to be used as internal dividing bathroom windows, partitions or even shower privacy screens, thanks to its moisture protection.
The PDLC layer protection makes it extremely easy to maintain, allowing you to clean it as you would any other glass and making it perfect for applications involving children, healthcare, or any situation where a high level of cleanliness is not only important but difficult to achieve. Laminate Switchable Smart Glass also offers other advantages over Toughened Switchable Glass, specifically its sound insulating properties, which naturally aren’t as good as DGUs, but due to composition of Laminate Smart Glass, are far superior to the sound insulating properties of Toughened Smart Glass; a significant advantage for a privacy product.
Despite these glowing specifications, one must think very carefully about whether Laminate Smart Glass is an appropriate solution, especially should projection be a requirement, as the additional processes required to make Laminate Smart Glass projection capable are more involved than those required for Toughened Smart Glass, coming in with a higher price tag and representing the significant differences in these Smart Glass window options.
Possibly the cheapest and most versatile Switchable product ironically doesn’t feature glass at all. Self-Adhesive Switchable Smart Film is a revolutionary innovative product from Intelligent Glass that allows customers to retrofit Switchable functionality to existing windows and glass. The benefits of this product are vast, from having its own built-in UV protection to its self-adhesive properties which allow for a simple install. Being significantly more affordable than many of the glass-based options, Self-Adhesive Smart Film makes Switchable windows more obtainable, allowing customers who may not wish to undergo the disruption required to fit a full glass product the opportunity to use this superior privacy solution. Just as with Toughened Smart Glass, Self-Adhesive Smart Film cannot be used in wet-room environments, however due to its retrofit install, it is appropriate for most external window applications as the product is simply being installed over the top of existing glass, which is more often than not double glazing anyway. In an application such as this, the PDLC layer is not granted the same level of protection as a full Smart Glass DGU product, as the layer has been retrofitted to the surface of the glass rather than encased inside. Despite this, the occupants will still benefit from the privacy functionality and the double glazing insulation brought by both these components individually.
In recent years, Intelligent Glass have even developed this product further to be able to offer a dual function which is especially helpful for window applications, really giving credit to the term ‘smart windows’. Self-Adhesive Switchable Smart Film not only features its own UV protection properties, but it also offers users a retrofit rear projection film as well. Operating in a similar way to Switchable Smart Glass Projection Screens, Self-Adhesive Smart Film can allow retail stores and corporate offices to convert their existing windows to rear projection Smart Windows, offering them the ability to project media content onto the window. Switching the glass to transparent to unveil the items behind it at will or via a controlled schedule helps to build tension and hype around the focus. Ideal for innovative window displays, product launches and special features, Self-Adhesive Smart Film has truly helped to revolutionise retail window displays. As this functionality is inherently built-in to the product itself, Self-Adhesive Switchable Film for projection applications costs no more than it would for privacy, making it a real contender in considerations for businesses that could make use of it.
If you would like further information, a pricing quote, or to discuss ideas for using our Switchable Smart Glass and Smart Film products, please get in touch using the form below, or call us on +44 (0)1226 351 759.