Todd Stahl Explains How Clear Motion Glass Makes Commercial Building Windows Into Active LED Displays

April 3, 2024 by Dave Haynes

There is a lot of glass in public and commercial spaces, and the pro AV and digital signage industries have been applying all kinds of technologies to turn things like windows and dividers into part-time or full-time displays.

In most cases, those jobs have come with compromises. There are films that might start curling at the corners, or discolouring. Mesh systems that look pretty good from the front, but terrible from the rear. And most recently, super-thin foils that need to be adhered to one side of glass panes.

So what if the LED display was actually part of architectural-grade glass?

That’s the premise of a company called Clear Motion Glass – a Pennsylvania-based technology start-up that comes at the business from the angle of commercial glass. Clear Motion is a spin-out from William Penn Performance Glass, which has for many years been making and supplying laminated and tempered glass for commercial buildings.

Unlike other products on the market, Clear Motion’s LED displays are sandwiched inside sheets of laminated safety glass – so when a building goes up or is being retrofitted, the glass panels that go in are also active, highly-transparent displays.

I had a good chat with Todd Stahl, a glass industry veteran who runs both the established and start-up businesses.

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David: Todd, thank you for joining me. 

Todd Stahl: Hey Dave. Yeah, I appreciate you having us on. It’s going to be a pleasure to talk about some LED glass with you. 

David: Yeah, tell me about the company. I saw you guys at DSE back in December. You were busy almost the whole time. So I didn’t really have the time or the chance to have any kind of a detailed LED conversation, but I know that the company has not been around that long, but it’s grown out of a pretty well-established “performance glass company.”

Todd Stahl: Yeah. A little bit about the history there. So, at Clear Motion Glass, we’re making the LEDs inside of the glass. I came across the LED glass around June of 2022, so I’ve had it for just about two years. The parent company is William Penn Performance Glass, and that’s another company I started in 2011. We deal with high-end architectural Glass. 

So, a cliffnote version: We go to the top architects in the country, and they’re like, “Hey, who are you designing for?” And they’ll say to us, “Hey, we want some really cool glass to go in the elevators for the Empire State Building.” So we got into the architectural space with glass, and actually, we’ll William Penn, who was just voted one of the top 50 glass producers in North of North America. So something that we’re definitely pretty proud of around here. 

Then I came across LED glass around 2022, I thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen put inside a glass, and I wanted to be a part of it.

David: So when you say you came across it, what do you mean by that? 

Todd Stahl: So, there’s another product in glass, another glass product that’s been around, I’m going to say right around since 2000. It’s a glass that goes frosted to clear from the turn of a switch, Switchable glass. So there’s a company called Smart Film Blinds, and they were an applied film company that would actually take that, what we would call switch glass, but they just took the film and applied it to existing glass, and it was owned by Alan and Tracy Ackerman, and then they had this connection with LED Glass they weren’t quite sure what to do with it. They knew it was really cool. And it had a chance to be really something big, but they were more of a film company, and then he and I got introduced, through a need that we had for some smart film, the switchable film, and then eventually we had a partnership for a while.

Then we decided basically that I’ll stick with the glass part, what I’m best at, and he’ll stick with the film part, which was what they were best with. But that’s how I got introduced to it, right around two years ago. 

David: What you’re marketing now is Clear Motion Glass. Is that your own product or are you reselling somebody else’s manufactured product? 

Todd Stahl: We have partners overseas, such as a company called Filmbase. That’s where we get the actual LED grid or LED mesh. We bring that to my facility in York, Pennsylvania, which is in the south-central Pennsylvania area, we’re 20 minutes south of Hershey, close to Harrisburg, and then we actually fabricate everything as a finished panel here. So we’ll make the glass, we’ll get the interlayer components. We have a laminating machine that actually works by pulling a vacuum and heating it up to certain temperatures. After that, it comes out, and we have a clear LED glass display. 

David: So laminated glass is something that’s been around forever. So this is just basically sandwiching the mesh in between sheets of laminated glass? 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, absolutely. We’re definitely making a sandwich component. We start with a piece of glass, say that’s your component number one. Then, we start with the inner layer materials. 

In a case like this, we use a couple of different techniques, but we use EVA, which is ethyl vinyl acetate. Then we’ll actually put the LED mesh grid on top of that, then we put another piece of EVA, then we go with the finished component of the sandwich, another piece of glass, and we stick them in an oven, we run a certain cycle, and about four hours later, we have a laminated piece of glass, exactly how you described. It’s a sandwich makeup for sure. 

David: Was there a lot of R&D work involved in it? Because I would imagine if you’re putting an LED mesh inside of an oven, then going to a very high temperature and all that, I’m thinking if I didn’t know much about this stuff, I’d be wondering, what’s all that heat going to do to this thing?

Todd Stahl: Yeah. You know, we have to make sure that it can withstand certain temperatures, obviously, and if you don’t heat, and just in general, if you don’t get laminated glass hot enough, it doesn’t bond, it does not bond correctly. What you have to achieve is cross-linking and cross-linking is basically the interlayer material to the glass itself, and that happens at a temperature of around 110 degrees Celsius, so it’s not getting hot enough to cook a Turkey in there, so we’re not really dealing with extremes.

I think a lot of people might think when you’re actually making glass out of what we call a batch, you know that’s where the glass is heated up to 2000 degrees and you’re really dealing with some extreme temperatures. It’s not quite the same extremes at all when you’re dealing with laminated glass. 

David: So tell me what performance glass is, and what high-end performance glass is because I don’t know the glass world terribly well. 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, sure. So, so what William Penn performance glass is the performance name kind of all started because our glass looks great and it, but it’s an all safety rated glass. So that’s kind of the performance part of the glass. So, if you’re looking at our glass, say that’s used for glass handrails, that’s a very specific glass that’s chosen to withstand the certain load requirements of a structural application, and typically most of our handrails are tempered, and laminated glass.

So there are two ways on this planet to make a piece of glass safety-rated. You either temper it or you laminate it. We happen to do both of those things in a lot of our projects, and it’s kind of funny like obviously safety-rated glass is strong, but the only thing that’s really taken into consideration when you’re referring to safety glass are you automatically assume it’s going to break and what happens when it breaks, right? So with tempered glass, you put a lot of stress on the glass itself through a heating and cooling process, and whenever that glass breaks, it breaks into small panels that would not be able to potentially cause a life-threatening wound, and then you have the exact opposite with laminated where if a rock hits your car, if that’s ever happened to you the rock doesn’t come through and the pieces of the glass, the shards don’t come through, they stay together. So you got those two things to the requirements when you’re thinking about what is safety rated glass. 

David: With the Clear Motion product, is it an indoor product only, an outdoor facing product, or what are the use cases? 

Todd Stahl: So what’s really cool about our LED glass is that almost wherever you’re using architectural glass right now, you can now use our LED displays. So it can be used in exterior applications, a building facade, glass canopies, and railings that may be exterior. All of the components are kind of encapsulated inside that glass, and that glass is making a nice, really safe, cozy home for the LED display inside of it.

David: And it’s bright enough that it can be on a glass curtain wall like an auto dealer? 

Todd Stahl: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think that’s one of the really cool applications for it. In fact, you had mentioned at the trade show and boy, were we busy? I think I was just talking about this yesterday. We scanned around 450 people in that short show. Our voices were a little strained by the end of the evening.

So, the brightness of our display at the show, Dave, was only running around 4%, and I thought that was one of the more amazing things about the product because it was still kind of bright at 4%. Later we started bringing that up because a few potential clients wanted to see it at 50-60% brightness. So yeah, you can totally use this as an exterior sign and get whatever brightness you need. I think some of the products are well over 10,000 nits depending on the needs, and I think one actually lasted up to 15,000 nits, so plenty bright for the outside. 

David: Yeah, once you get to 3,500, you’re good. 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, exactly.

David: On transparency. I see on your website that it says there is up to 90 percent transparency. 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, so when you get to some of the pixel pitches that are viewed from say, a distance of around a hundred feet, I think the pixel pitch at a 20, I believe that one may allow up to 90 percent of light to come through. It’s really cool. I mean, you have this really great display, and then you’re just getting all this, and you’re not cutting off any spaces so if you have a traditional LED display, you can only view that from one side and I think that’s kind of what’s really amazing about this product and a lot of times when you’re looking at the product, you don’t even realize that it’s transparent until the image would say it’s rotating from one image to the next. And you’re like, Oh, wow, that’s clear, there are people behind there. So I think, yeah, it’s really cool in that application. 

David: From what I saw, because it’s this mesh material, with super thin wiring in between each of the LED lights. 

The challenge I’ve had with a lot of trans or “transparent products” is that they look good from the front side, particularly at a distance, but when you look at the back end of the things, there’s a mesh, like a metallic mesh or something like that, a grid system that kind of makes it look like crap.

Todd Stahl: Yeah. With a lot of the applied films that have been out there before, and there’s not a whole lot of them, but there are a few, certainly from that backside, it doesn’t look at all like the front, and the same thing, with the LED actual metal meshes, again, they look phenomenal from the front, and you get behind, and you’re like, man, what am I looking at here?

So with our product, what’s really cool about that is you get a little bit of the halo effect, from the image that’s playing on it, that you can see from, say, the view side of the glass, and then you get a slight reflection off of that front piece of glass that kind of bounces back through. So you see a little bit of a glow or a halo in the background, but it is not an eyesore, and it looks pretty good. You can see out, and you have a very clear picture of the people that you’re looking through or whatever object you would be doing from the back of the product. It looks really good. It’s a good look from the backside. 

David: Yeah, there are numerous products out there that now do this kind of foil mesh effect, and you have to adhere it to the inside of a sheet of glass, which is all fine and everything else, but it doesn’t look that good from the inside, does it?

Todd Stahl: No, it really doesn’t. The concept here, we touched on hockey a little bit, earlier, but you know, we have, you have all these hockey nets in the arena to protect the fans that a puck doesn’t hit them, and most of those meshes are black. It’s harder for our eyes to kind of pick up the black mesh than it is for white. There are some that have whites, but not many, and the black is blended in a lot easier. I’m a big hockey fan, so I’ve been to a few arenas, and the white ones are a little harder to, I think it takes away from the image more, and that’s why we’re using a black LED mesh. 

When we first started, it was white, and it just didn’t have as good of a; again, I thought it took away from the product from the backside. 

David: So presumably there are limits in terms of the size of a glass panel that you can do because you’ve got a laminate in an oven of some kind and that they’re only so big.

So if you have, to use the example I mentioned earlier of, an auto dealer’s glass curtain wall where the sheet of glass might be pretty darn big. How do you put multiple units together? And what does that look like in terms of cabling and everything? 

Todd Stahl: Yeah. So we’re always kind of limited in size by a couple of different things. Sometimes it might be the actual raw product glass that we’re using. Some sheets are available to us, bigger and smaller, the width of the laminating materials, and then our oven as well. So basically, in our oven here in Pennsylvania, we can laminate an LED panel roughly about 6×10 feet.

You know, that’s a pretty sizable piece of glass, and then what we can do, if you’re doing a glass facade it kind of gets into a little bit more of how the glass is installed, but you’re basically stacking the panels. there’s a control unit. That attaches to each panel of glass, and then those control units are all tied together and then that gives you one cohesive image plane from one panel to the next. 

David: Do you have much of a seam in between them? 

Todd Stahl: So, if you remember, at the trade show, I think we had two panels out there and we had a seam in the middle. So I’ll see the seam, you’ll see the seam, but when the image is playing, you really don’t even notice it’s there. A lot of times, depending on the application, a glass facade is a little different, because you’re going to have all most likely all four edges of the glass covered, but, we have a lot of applications where the panels are being butt jointed together and it’s a nice polished edge there. So, yeah, with the image running and stuff, you really don’t even see it unless you get within a couple of feet of it. 

David: So we’re talking millimeters, not inches, in terms of a gap. 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, absolutely. You know, a gap’s going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of three, three-sixteenths of an inch, plus or minus.

David: So not much at all. 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, not much at all. Like I said, it’s pretty cool. When that image is going, you’re like, it just looks like one big piece of glass. 

David: And there are technical limits, like if, let’s say, an airport curtain wall that might be like 80 feet high for the side of a terminal or something like that. Can you do that? 

Todd Stahl: Absolutely. That can all be tied in. You’d have several zones there, and depending on how you’re handling the programming from a laptop, and something like that, you just say zone one’s the entire thing, and then you might break it down into individual zones if you want different things playing at different times, but yeah, we this is definitely designed to do entire glass facades or, curtain walls.

David: All those little lights generate some heat. How does the heat get out? 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, so we’ve been working with these products for about two years now, and I always expect when I put my hand on the glass to touch it, that it’s going to be nice and warm, but it really isn’t. The heat definitely dissipates quickly. There is some energy consumption, and we have charts for that. So once we get into a building design, we can get in there and say, “Hey, this is what you’re going to need for your power requirements.” But it has very similar power requirements to current LED displays that have been around for a while.

But yeah, it doesn’t really create much heat. You would think it creates more, and I’m telling you, whenever anybody sees it, one of the first things that they almost always do is, “Oh, I expected that to be warm” and they touch it, and it really isn’t. 

David: Well, one of the criticisms or let’s say what a naysayer might say about this, is, “All right, if I buy this, glass panel with the LED mesh embedded inside of it, what happens if there’s a dead pixel? I’m stuck with that forever. It can’t be repaired because it’s sandwiched in between two sheets of glass.” 

Todd Stahl: You know, it was my biggest concern. We spent a good bit of time. 

I think the lifespan of the LED bulbs we’re using is right under 11 years. So we found the biggest problem that we’ve encountered, and this took us a while before we were going to bring it to market because that’s by far the biggest concern; anyone looks at that and goes, it’s not the first time I’ve ever seen a bulb, you know? So there’s a couple of things. There’s been a lot of research and development to make sure when it comes out of lamination that we’ve already caused any bulbs to fail before those processes, and we actually have a little bit of a protocol we’ve developed. So, one of the biggest reasons a light bulb is going to fail is the heat and pressure in that vacuum. It’s not so much the heat, but the pressure because there’s a little bit of movement in there. So if all those connection points aren’t just right, you’re going to get a bulb that may come out after you’ve done all of the work, and then you fire it up, and you know, there’s a lot of bulbs, and a diode and only one is bad, it’s not good. So we actually have a pre-laminating process we run to actually replicate what is going to go through the stressors of the lamination process. And if we find a bulb or a diode that might not be working, we can replace it after that pre-cycle of lamination. 

Now, on the flip side, let’s say it’s out there, it’s in the field. If we use annealed glass on the front surface, so, annealed is not tempered, but the backlight would be tempered, so you’re still dealing with a, fully safety rated tempered and laminated makeup. We actually have a drilling process where we can drill a core out of the glass, and we can actually replace that LED diode. What our experience is that once they come through lamination so far, with all the panels we’ve been working on we have not had one go out and we’ve put them in some areas of our glass production facility near our tempering oven, which is a really cool piece of equipment. It has a 600 horsepower blower that when the tempered glass comes through, it cools it to dissipate the heat, but it draws some dust, there’s some heat back there. We’ve had a panel running there for two years in that condition without any issues. But yes, you can actually replace the bulbs if you need to, if one goes out. 

David: So I’m curious when an architect and a general contractor puts a building up, they’re thinking in terms of being there for decades, with maybe the exception of football stadiums, which seem to need to be replaced every five years or so.

Is 11 years an acceptable operating lifespan for a sheet of glass for a builder or for a building owner? 

Todd Stahl: Yeah. I mean, our interlayers, they last 20-30 years. The interlayers and the glass products, yeah, they’re going to last a very long time. When we’ve been bringing this product to market I think, the event back to the switch light is one of the first times you’re us glass guys are introducing electricity into the mix. And at first that back in 2000, I mean, it was really cool. It had the wow factor, but it didn’t quite last as long for me. I didn’t really get into the product until recently. But you know, that product will last around 10 years as well, and we don’t get a whole lot of callbacks very often with any of our glass products. 

But it seems like most clients are happy with a 10-year usage. That’s been pretty good for the Switch Lite product. We talk about a decade out there to the architects and designers now that, that’s a number that they all seem to be very happy 

David: Let’s say a car dealer goes in, they’re fine, they’re thinking in terms of the glass that they put in is there for 10 years, and they may switch it out anyways? 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, I think you know that everybody wants to be fresh and new. So we found a lot of these high-end retail stores that we’ve designed with, for instance, a high-end jewelry line, and let’s say they have started in California with a new design. They take that design and they move it east to New York City. By the time they get to New York City, whether that’s been five to eight years, and they redesign the whole thing over again. So there’s a cycle and I think, especially with retail, and a lot of these buildings, they always want to have a new, fresh look, and I think a lot of times they’re redesigning in under ten years for a lot of applications. 

David: I’m guessing I could be wrong here, but I’m guessing that there’s hyper-competition from China for, what I would say is conventional LED displays and so on; you’re probably going to have less competition for what you’re doing because of the sheer weight of, even if they can make glass cheaper over in China, shipping glass panels over here would be just ghastly expensive, right?

Todd Stahl: Yeah, definitely. It’s pretty heavy to air freight glass, so it’s always nice that there’s this thing called the ocean between us and China, especially us being we’ve been a manufacturer forever, and thankfully, it is a little expensive to ship a finished product like that and take some time.

So, yeah, and you know, right now, we’re kind of pretty far ahead of the curve in how to actually laminate this properly. Our feeling was when we got involved with this, all right, we got the LED technology. Now we’ll just throw it in some glass, and we got a home run and it wasn’t quite as easy to just throw it in glass and end up with a finished product, you know?

There are still some areas. We are not the only ones in the world laminating this product, but there are, from what I know, under five; we’re the only ones who can do it with thin and large panels. We’re the only ones that I know of that are actually doing some of the very specific things to make sure it’s going to perform properly in these laminated glass applications. In our process, we are patent protected in our process where I think we’re just like in the first phase, I don’t know all the legal terminology, but we’re going through the patent process for the way we laminate it. 

David: Which will help you over here, won’t help you with Chinese products, but again, there’s that ocean thing in between.

Todd Stahl: Yeah, absolutely. We have a few intellectual properties here and I’m not one to get into too many legal battles, but we would have some type of recourse if someone does come and is trying to laminate in a similar technique the way we do it.

David: I suspect you’re kind of looking around the corner as to where this is going and the types of technologies that are emerging. Do you kind of see this as, what you have right now is Gen 1, and over time the light emitters will get smaller, the wiring will be even thinner and so on?

Todd Stahl: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s exactly the way I see it going. I mentioned earlier: I really am a glass guy, and this is a glass company by people who absolutely love glass. Now, that’s a Will Penn. Clear Motion, we have that same feeling as well, but this is more of a technology company. And what we’re talking about today, like you said, generation one. We’re going to revisit this in under five years, and it’s going to look, I think, a whole lot different. 

David: Who’s buying it right now? And are you in the field with this? 

Todd Stahl: So we’re working on probably over 50 to 60 current projects right now in the design phase. Almost everyone we’re working with has signed NDAs. So we can’t necessarily say the clients that we’re designing with right now. But one’s a high-end fast food restaurant. They want one of these in each restaurant and that’s actually for an exterior application. 

David: Are these proposals or purchase orders? 

Todd Stahl: They are proposals right now, so a lot of verbal commitments. We have a project we’re working on in the Middle East in the design phase right now, that’s 18 months out, the funding has been approved. They’re designing it in the UK and then we’re working with the audio visual company, I think in Texas. So this is really brand new. 

David: You’re in startup mode! 

Todd Stahl: We really are, and this is the third company I’ve started literally from scratch, and I think it’ll be the last one because boy, it is challenging. It takes a lot of energy. There’s this great energy when you’re starting it, and this is a little extra challenging because this is brand new. No one has ever seen clear LED glass displays like they just did not exist four years ago. 

People might’ve thought they saw something similar. Like you said, it was a film or a grid that was put behind the glass. But when people are seeing this now, we’re creating a new market, we’re educating people to that market, and we’re educating ourselves. 

David: I’m guessing when people come to a stand at a trade show, you’re at, the architects and the people who design physical spaces are the ones who are going, this is more like it.

They haven’t really liked the idea of films or foils and all that because of how they look at the back end or they’re worried about a film sort of, particularly if it’s exposed to UV light and all that, it’s going to yellow and on and on… 

Todd Stahl: So what the feedback from the A&D community has been? We did an AIA show in San Francisco last June, and we had one or two clients, say, “Hey Todd, we have the budget for this. We have clients who want this product, and we’ve been looking for it for years.” Then we start designing the project with them, and that’s the thing: once I shake hands with an architect, we might not actually have that project begin production for 24 months to a year.

So, depending if the building’s coming out of the ground or if it’s just a remodel of an existing one, it’s a very long cycle until we actually get orders placed, and you know, something I’ve been dealing with for 30 years. It’s kind of the way the industry is. 

David: Infrastructure projects are never quick, are they? 

Todd Stahl: No, they really aren’t, but the A&D world is kind of our background. It’s where we’ve been for a very long time in that space, and we’ve definitely noticed that companies, individuals in the audio-visual world respond to this entirely differently.

This doesn’t have as many questions in their minds. They’re more educated because we’ve been used to dealing with LEDs for a very long period of time. So it’s kind of interesting how the two markets work together, like the DSE show where we introduced the product, I would say more to the audio-visual world if I’m using the right terminology there, it was received just as with that much energy, a lot of more understanding right away, not as many technical questions.

David: It’s a variation on stuff they’ve been seen before, but maybe a better variation.

Todd Stahl: Yeah, absolutely, and the architects, like you were saying, and even in general, I think even though LG makes an applied film. The North American President of, I forgot the gentleman’s name, he was in my shop a little over a year ago, and we were working with his film, and then we showed him our LED glass, and he was blown away by it.

David: “There goes my business” 

Todd Stahl: Well, I think he was like, I’m going to make that too. I don’t think he was worried about his business, but that applied film that they had been using, again, from a very long viewing distance, the product looks great. It’s not yet ready to be viewed in shorter viewing distances, but the fact that it’s applied, I do think that there is something like when you’re buying a high-end product, you don’t want people to be able to come up and pick it off, and I mean that definitely happens with every piece of film, I think I’ve ever worked with in my life.

The first thing people do is take their fingernails, and they try to scrape the edge of it. It’s just something that is instinctual about humans. But I think if you take that film now, I always say, if you put a piece of film on glass, it’s just film. Once you laminate that film inside of the glass, you now have a glass product that protects it. 

It does what you were saying. It prevents it from being yellowed over time because the inner layer blocks out almost 100 percent of the UV rays. So I think it’s a great home for the LED mesh. 

David: So does William Penn and Clear Motion Glass, do they operate separately, or are you kind of in the same office, the same building, and everything else, it’s just different business cards?

Todd Stahl: No, actually, we are in the same overall building complex, but we’re not connected physically. So Clear Motion, basically has the equivalent of its own social security number, which down here in the business and for business, the IRS wants us to have EIN numbers for our businesses.

So Clear Motion has an EIN number. Will Penn has an EIN number, obviously, but they definitely operate as two companies but obviously very close connections. 

David: And you are running both? 

Todd Stahl: I am running both right now, and spoiler alert: two’s a lot harder to run than one. 

David: Yes, I bet. If people want to find you online, they just go to 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, that’s it. They can find us there. There are some emails there. They can shoot an email to us and we’d love to talk to anybody if this product’s right for them we’re really excited about it and definitely creating a lot of energy with it.

David: Are you at a trade show anytime soon? 

Todd Stahl: Yeah, so we’re doing Infocomm, I believe. It’s the middle of June out in Vegas. Are you going to be there? 

David: Yes. 

Todd Stahl: Awesome, man. We get to meet in person, then. We’ll carve out some time for that, Dave. 

David: Absolutely, yeah, and that’s a good show for you. There are tons of pro-AV people there.

Todd Stahl: Yeah, I love that. That’s a new space for us. So we’re a little extra excited cause that’s definitely not like a glass trade show is. 

David: All right. Todd, thank you so much for your time. 

Todd Stahl: All right. Yeah. I appreciate it, Dave. It was a pleasure.


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