THE FUTURE OF SUPERYACHT GLASS: TRENDS, TYPES AND TECHNOLOGIES
Last updated: 26/03/2019
To say that the use of glass is becoming an increasingly prevalent and experimental aspect of yacht design would be an understatement, with new superyacht concepts continually pushing perceived boundaries, designed for the superyacht owner as well as the peers that he or she wants to impress.
Rather than using glass purely for functional purposes on board - to fabricate the essential windows, doors and windscreens – trends are moving towards daring glass superstructures, providing a new perspective of yachting, from the interior out.
More than simply part of the superstructure, yacht glass is a popular material with yacht designers and owners alike for its ability to seamlessly connect interior spaces with the world outside as a portal rather than a boundary.
Mike Dellar from YES Yacht Engineering Solutions said, “The trend is going towards more angular yacht design and as a result the glass structures, although bigger, are less curved than seen in the past.” He continued, “[Although] one of the drawbacks of these larger glass structures comes from the glass itself becoming more and more part of the structure of the yacht. These glass structures are exposed to torsional forces as the yacht flexes and twists at sea; the bed of polymer that holds them in should isolate the glass from these forces to a degree, however delamination could occur, or cracking if the glass is under strain.”
The popularity of glass, due to its flexibility and aesthetic appeal, has encouraged continued growth in the glass industry, with ongoing research and development facilitating innovation in the industry. It is these developments that have given superyacht architects the opportunity to explore almost unlimited design options, whilst still meeting the practical and regulatory requirements enforced upon them.
Modern glass-shaping technologies, such as sag and press bending, allow for flat glass to be curved and manipulated in order to create some beautiful designs, matching the curvature of the structure of the yacht and fitting to the most awkward spaces on board, or defying it completely to create something unique.
Glass panes are strengthened and treated to fit the specifications of a yacht, with methods such as chemical toughening, thermal toughening and laminating employed.
Fire-rated and bullet and attack-resistant glass solutions are available, and have become more sought-after in the design and upgrade of prestigious superyachts.
Mike shared that yacht glass installation hasn't changed much in the last ten years. He added, “Most yacht windows are still glued into the yacht from the outside, but the biggest change we have witnessed is a shift from polyurethane adhesive sealants to MS polymers. These are apparently less reactive with the glass interlayers.
“Framed in windows are still common on motor yachts, and these usually come with an EPDM rubber U-shaped seal, which is compressed into position with an inner frame, cushioning the glass and acting as a seal. The outer edge of the glass is then sealed with a polymer. Full wrap-around glass windows form part of the common structures of today’s sailing yachts, which has presented some serious challenges with regards to torsion and stress on the glass, possibly contributing to its delamination.”
Yacht glass technology can allow for glass to be produced in multiple formats. For example, double glazing is produced to insulate the yacht – where an air gap is kept between the inner layers and filled with an inert gas, such as nitrogen, to prevent condensation inside.
Mike further explained, “Vinyl laminates are also available and are very effective for heat reduction and the prevention of UV damage to interiors. These are commonly used as a retrofit in older yachts that don't have UV protection already built into the interlayers, while glass tints are used for privacy and glare reduction on board. These either come with the glass actually having a colour, or a coloured foil interlayer in the glass laminate.”
Improving interior comfort with dynamic ‘smart glass’
Recent innovations in glass design have helped to heat and cool the yacht’s interior without the need to ‘open’ and ‘close’ the windows; blocking UV rays, reducing unwanted glare, deterring prying eyes, and even generating electricity to aid the running of on-board systems.
Dynamic or ‘smart glass’ windows are typically made from either thermotropic glass, where colour change is triggered by the heat from the sun, or electrochromic glass, which changes from clear to opaque using an electrical current that’s regulated on board.
Mike noted, “Whilst switchable glass is being fitted to some yachts it still is an unusual addition, more traditional systems such as double glazing are still the norm.”
New glass technologies are also seeing nanotechnologies, such as photovoltaic cells, embedded into glass roof structures, creating highly transparent windows with a soft window tint. These generate electricity, helping to recoup the investment costs.
Mike added, “The concentration has been on ensuring glasses don’t delaminate or stain from chemical toughening, the explosion of big glass structures on yachts has come with new problems and I think the concentration has been on getting those solved.”
Disguising yacht glass fixtures and fittings with glass printing
For practical purposes as well as aesthetic, glass printing can be enlisted to create a ‘border’ that protects adhesives and conceals fittings. High definition images are printed onto glass, with the ability to hide the fixtures and fittings required to hold glass in place on board – enhancing superyacht design.
Furthermore, sand-blasting techniques can be commissioned to hide fixtures and fittings with decorative frosting, and to display logos, graphics and safety signs onto glass for decorative purposes and guest welfare.
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