Parts consolidation, systems integration, simplified assembly and customer satisfaction are phrases one normally doesn't associate with windshields, yet automotive glass suppliers are focusing intently on each.

Glass suppliers are looking at their products as part of the exterior system, participating in vehicle design, supplying glass-based modules and integrating radio antennas into windshields and rear windows.

Guardian Industries Corp. is using the strategy popularized by seating suppliers that hope to offer complete interior systems. Guardian bought Windsor Plastics (now Guardian Automotive Trim) in 1980 and Automotive Molding Co. in January of this year to expand its exterior systems capability.

"We look at glass as a major component of the vehicle exterior system, and we've put together a collection of all exterior components other than sheet metal," says Jack Sights, president of Guardian's Automotive Products Group. "That strategy is being extremely well received by the car guys."

Guardian has the ability to manage an entire exterior project, says Mr. Sights, and supply a good percentage of it, including body-side moldings, rocker panels, grilles, fascia, badges, exterior mirror housings, wheel covers and tail-lamp bezels as well as glass.

Before a glass supplier can manage an entire exterior, it will likely be called upon to deliver windshields and other fixed-glass panels with moldings, acoustical strips and adhesive already in place.

One example of parts consolidation in the glass market is the incorporation of radio antennas in windshields and rear windows. "By 2000, external antennas will go the way of the buggy whip," says Richard Sahler, director of OE marketing at Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. In addition to simplifying assembly, in-glass antennas give vehicles cleaner lines and improve customer convenience (particularly at the car wash).

Although much improved from the in-glass antennas of the '70s, today's versions still require added signal amplification to equal the performance of external antennas. Mr. Sahler says he envisions amplifier miniaturization to the size of a coin by 2001 or 2002, which would allow an amp to be incorporated into the glass itself.

PPG, in association with Ohio State University's ElectroScience Laboratory, has developed a fully integrated rear window that incorporates the AM/FM antenna into the rear defroster grid and includes cellular telephone and global positioning satellite GPS antennas hidden behind the fade band.

Presently, PPG has a front windshield with integrated radio antenna going on the new 1997 General Motors Corp. minivans.

LOF's Mr. Sahler says there are other noteworthy trends in automotive glass.

One is the industry's conversion from tinted glass to solar-control glass, which either reflects or absorbs sunlight to keep the vehicle interior cooler. Fifty percent of all North American 1996 vehicles are equipped with solar control glass. By '98 the percentage will be up to 80, and by 2000, virtually all U.S. vehicles will have solar-control glass, Mr. Sahler predicts.

Another wave of the future is side windows that offer more protection against random break-ins. BMW's 750iL incorporates a standard break-resistant technology that the automaker says provides protection against break-ins, noise, heat and ultra-violet radiation. The glass, used for all side windows, has two separate panes of glass bonded to an impact-resistant laminated film. The final, inside layer is made up of a special anti-lacerative film.

Mr. Sahler predicts it'll be 2002 or 2003 before a North American vehicle will have this type of glass in the side windows.

Guardian's Mr. Sights points out that to-day, more than anytime in the past, glass is a major contributor to automotive styling. "The (Chrysler) LH's cab-forward design could not have been done without our ability to press-bend the glass into dramatic shapes," he says.

Farther into the future, glass could be getting thinner and less organic. Mr. Sights says Guardian also is working on a thinner windshield (3 mm instead of today's 4.3 mm), which would save 3 to 4 lbs. per vehicle.

Bayer AG offers its Makrolon polycarbonate as a replacement for glass in automotive applications. When the polycarbonate sheets are sealed with a transparent, 8-micrometer-thick clearcoat, they become virtually scratch-proof, says the company. This material has been used successfully in German police and Federal Border Patrol vehicles for many years. Among polycarbonate's advantages are its weight (half that of glass) and its resistance to fracture.

"There are many non-glass vision applications outside the auto industry and the time will come -- probably around 2002 to 2005 -- when you'll see non-glass inside, fixed window applications," Mr. Sahler says. He adds, however, that cost and plastic's relative lack of torsional rigidity will keep it out of windshield and rear-window applications.