Volume 44, Issue 2 - February 2009


Building IG from the GroundUp
Barber Glass Sets up an IG Line and Invests in its Customer
by Tara Taffera

When Barber Glass purchased an existing Alcoa plant in December of 2007 where it would eventually manufacture insulating glass (IG), company personnel didn’t know all the challenges that lay ahead. 

They didn’t know they would have to literally gut the building, as the previous owner had left all of its equipment in the plant—even though that wasn’t part of the agreement. They didn’t know it would take a 120,000-pound autoclave almost ten weeks to get to the plant from California. 

But there were a few things company executives did know. They knew the plant would manufacture products that few others in North America could. In fact, Mike Wellman, vice president of sales and marketing, says this facility houses some of the largest equipment in North America. 

“It is difficult to find 240-inch glass anywhere,” says Wellman. “You have to special order it. We’re one of a very few facilities in North America fabricating jumbo glass.”

At the time of our visit, Barber Glass already had orders and was just waiting on some last minute equipment. The company has been fully operational since January 4. 

Located in Collingwood, Ontario, this new plant is an addition to an existing one in Guelph, Ontario, approximately 80 miles away. It occupies 170,000 square feet of the 270,000-square-foot building. The building site also has 90 acres of land, which allows for future expansion. 

“This plant provides some wonderful additions to the products we already offer,” says Wellman. “Our sales group, based out of our Guelph Location, will now offer more products to the market. For product lines that we already manufacture in our Guelph facility, including laminated and tempered glass, we have simply increased the maximum size and thickness available.” The new facility has increased the company’s capacity overall.

Millions in Equipment Investments

“This plant is all about our next step of capital investment,” says company president John Barber. This next step also coincided with a shift in its core customer. 

“As we evolve, our customer group changes,” says Wellman. “With the recent additions to our offering, we are increasing our focus on the reputable commercial glass installer.”

So it was a natural fit to invest in an insulating glass line to serve these customers, as this was one thing Barber Glass was missing. 

According to Wellman, it wasn’t just that Barber was going to install an IG line. It was crucial that the line had the capability to produce oversized insulating glass to meet the needs of its customers—and produce quality product at the same time, he adds. 

Company representatives spent a lot of time in Europe researching IG equipment. Barber says the company wanted the latest equipment, which is why it looked outside the United States. 

“In order to supply the best quality product in line with future architectural glass demands, we looked to find machines that could produce quality products in larger dimensions,” adds Wellman.“

European equipment usually comes to the United States 5 to 10 years later,” says Barber, which is why the company focused its research there. 

Ultimately, Barber chose Lisec for its IG equipment. The IG line is 364 feet long, about the size of a football field. Since setting up an IG line is not an easy task, Barber says, Lisec had six people in and out of the plant to help with this process such as machine installation, operator training and a formal acceptance protocol. 

“Lisec employees helped employees understand this protocol and exactly what was required,” says Wellman.

Once the company committed to making oversized IG it decided it also needed tempering and laminating equipment, supplied by Glaston and Bystronic, respectively. 

“This is the most advanced laminating line,” says Barber. “Bar none.” 

This is due to the dimensional and weight capability and automation of the line, according to Wellman. The equipment has 16 automatic PVB dispensers, loading capability and an off-line PVB cutter. The laminated line, only a few feet shorter than the new IG line, can hold 3.6 tons of glass. 

“From a quality and throughput standpoint this is as good as you’re going to buy,” says Wellman. 

Barber says the company purchased other “fun” equipment as well, including an 84-inch wide gardenia coating line and a 98- by 198-inch vertical waterjet cutting line. According to Mike Harpell, design engineer, the waterjet cutter has a CNC head and can do a lot more than a standard water jet cutter, such as edge grinding and polishing.

“It is the only machine of its kind in North America,” he says. “There are a few in Europe. In North America no one has bought into this technology yet.”

“We are doing our best to be one step ahead of everyone with the development of this plant,” adds Wellman. 

Other equipment in the plant includes CNC fabrication equipment from Intermac, a Lisec vertical KSR shape seaming line, a roller coater for the coating line and an Eastman PVB cutter located in the laminating clean room. There is also scanning equipment installed on the tempering load bed designed to scan the size and location of the glass as it enters the oven.

“We have the best equipment you can buy,” says Wellman. “It is all fully automated.”

Only 48 employees are needed at this plant due to the high level of automation found here.

Attention to Plant Design Details

Barber points out that many processes also are unique to this location. For example, the company can roll out four layers of PVB at once. 

Harpell, who designed the plant, also constructed a blower room where all the venting is computerized. Computers can monitor incoming and outgoing air and blend it to achieve the desired temperature. Harpell also investigated how to coat the floor, which they ultimately epoxy-coated. 

“Mike designed the plant with structural beams that were all third-party tested,” says Barber, who says Harpell was integral to the facility’s set up.

The IG line was placed strategically to have proper daylighting, which helps from a quality control perspective. The company is also looking at installing higher efficiency lighting. 

As for that autoclave, it had a police escort all the way to Collingwood. 

“It was a logistical nightmare,” says Barber. “In every state you have to call the utilities to manage the process.”

The autoclave is among the biggest in North America and measures 12 feet in diameter. A water-cooling system was designed for it in the basement, and the company had to build a special door to get it in the plant. 

As for that equipment that was left from Alcoa, it cost $3.5 million to remove it. Alcoa paid for a portion of it but Barber Glass was forced to pay between $1 and $1.8 million of that cost, says Barber. The amount of work involved in the equipment removal put the company two months behind schedule. But it was still worth it. 

“There are both positive and negative aspects when working on the renovation of an existing facilty,” says Barber. 

Although the company invested several million in equipment, and is opening at a time when the United States isn’t the strongest economically, Barber predicts U.S. sales will increase due to the products manufactured in this new plant. 

“We were looking one step down and investing while others were retracting,” says Barber. “Our last substantial expansion was during similar conditions of economic recession during the early 1990’s. We have survived for 125 years and are continually working hard to ensure continued success for our future.”

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