The complex and extremely thin coatings on glass are designed to retain energy. The process, called nanotechnology, allows the glass maker to add 10 to 15 coatings in a stack that is 15/100 the thickness of a piece of paper.
"We're taking glass and putting 10 plus layers of material on it to keep it warmer in San Francisco and cooler in Fresno," plant manager Jeff Booey said.
Booey said the coatings have to be extremely thin or people would not be able to see through them.
"It has to be transparent," he said when the expansion was announced at the Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County's annual meeting Wednesday.
Nanotechnology is a science that combines engineering and chemistry. The basic measuring unit in nanotechnology, the nanometer, is the width of three atoms. Ten nanometers is 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair.
Guardian will add the coatings to 50 million square feet of flat glass each year -- about 20 percent to 30 percent of the plant's annual output, Booey said.
The Kingsburg plant, which has 245 employees, is one of 22 the privately held company operates, but it's the first one selected for the new technology. The Michigan company chose the Kingsburg plant because of the strong home construction in the region, Booey said.
The plant supplies glass for customers, most of them residential, from Mexico to British Columbia and to the Rockies. Tests show the new technology can cut energy bills by 40 percent.
The expansion, which is under way, will increase the size of the plant from 450,000 square feet to 575,000 square feet. The highly automated plant will use robot technology, and some of the existing employees are being trained in the necessary skills. Most of the 50 additional employees will come from the local area.
The expansion will increase Kingsburg's property tax revenue by about $59,000 per year, said city manager Don Pauley. Kingsburg will receive the money because the city plans to annex 250 acres that include Guardian and Sun-Maid, he said. The annexation would allow the county and city to share in a portion of the property taxes generated from the plant.
"Nanotechnology dovetails with our economic development strategy, which is to attract high-tech industry to Kingsburg," said Jolene Polyack, the city's economic development coordinator.
Nanotechnology will grow substantially as an industry, predicts Angelos Angelou, whose Austin, Texas, economic development consulting firm is one of the nation's largest.
Angelou, who spoke at the annual meeting, said nanotechnology will grow from a $66 billion industry worldwide in 2005 to $1 trillion in 2015. California leads the nation in nanotechnology research and could grow.
He predicted nanotechnology could lead to sunscreen that lasts forever, toilets that don't use water, clothing that never needs to be washed and nanorobots that could be inserted into the body and deposit cancer-fighting drugs directly on tumors.
Angelou added software development, health-care innovations, wireless technology, clean energy and the "digitalization of everything" as other high-tech possibilities.
He urged officials in Fresno County to focus on ways to keep workers between the ages of 25 and 45 in the work force because they are willing to take risks and become innovators and entrepreneurs.
"Do whatever it takes to bring that demographic back to your county," Angelou said