Volume 49, Issue 3 - March 2014

NewsAnalysis:Trends

Heavy Lifting: Glass Gets More Complicated, Handling Gets Creative

There are many challenges to producing complex glass—whether that means unusually thin, oversized or complicatedly connected—in between finding the equipment big enough to make it and installing it onsite. Fabricators must get creative in how they have to package and ship these materials.

“It’s common to create special packaging and use different modes of transportation for larger glass sizes,” says Seth Madole, director of customer service for Viracon in Owatonna, Minn. “Most of our packaging is custom-made. Therefore, we’ve been able to adapt this process to accommodate the complex and larger glass sizes.”

Kevin Nash, sales and marketing for Architectural Glass North America (AGNORA) in Collingwood, Ontario, puts it, “Customers invest thousands of dollars into their heavily fabricated prestigious glass. However it only retains its value if it is received at the jobsite in pristine condition.”

As a result, AGNORA’s shipping and packaging crews custom-build crates that can be easily forklifted, each crate is unique to the dimensions of the order. “Customers offload crates via their forklift or crane/sling attachment. The fully enclosed self-standing crates provide protection until the customer is ready to glaze,” Nash says.

Madole notes that Viracon’s shipping options can range from open-top containers for international shipments to custom trailers for domestic deliveries. AGNORA works with a group of key transport partners that are experienced in transporting high-value, tall glass and extra-tall crates, according to Nash. “We have freight partners who have invested in extra-long trailer beds,” he says.

Viracon, too, works closely with equipment suppliers who can provide automated lifting and safety equipment.

“[It’s crucial to work] with staff that is very experienced at safely handling this type of product,” Madole adds. “Safety is of the essence.

“When handling glass, safety is always the first concern,” agrees Ian Patlin, managing partner of Paragon Architectural Products LLC in Scottsdale, Ariz. That goes double (or triple) for oversized glass. He adds, “You can’t just handle them [jumbo glass lites] with a standard lifting cup.”

Instead, fabricators and glazing contractors alike need to invest in equipment that takes into account the added weight. As Patlin explains, “As architects design using larger lites of glass, it is necessary to have the proper lifting, rigging/manipulating equipment that can handle these cumbersome lites of glass. There are many companies making machinery and devices for the glass processor, transporter and glazing professional to handle jumbo lites of glass.”

For many companies, this means creating custom solutions, since oversized glass is still a relatively niche product.

“We’ve augmented our insulating glass (IG) line crane/suction cup assembly with handling or supporting ‘feet’,” Nash says. “A just-assembled, heavy, large IG unit needs extra dead-weight support at its base to move the unit while the secondary seal silicone is curing.”

Fabricators also have to account for loading this extra heavy glass into machinery. AGNORA uses unique forklift equipment for the “safe, careful and gentle manoeuver of what may be multiple days’ worth of fabrication work into the autoclave or heat-soak test oven,” Nash explains.

Transporting glass within the fabrication facility can be just as challenging as moving it offsite, Nash adds.

“Work-in-process big glass is unforgiving. It cannot ‘bump’ into things while in transit between work stations. Jumbo glass needs room to move as it goes from production step to production step, between fabrication methods on the shop floor,” Nash says. As he explains it, shop floor crews routinely move, for example, 20-foot-long IG units or 275-inch-long laminated fins. “We supplement jumbo size transport dollies with 28 crane systems. Our ceiling mounted crane systems have capacities up to 7,500 pounds.”

Nash further notes that simply rotating 20-foot-tall glass during fabrication can be a challenge, and the company consequently has had to custom-manufacture specialized equipment simply to rotate the glass and move between vertical and horizontal handling positions. Various suction cup crane attachments also have been modified to accommodate jumbo glass.

Patlin points out that, with bigger glass, reliability becomes an especially important quality in handling equipment. “You have to make sure that if you’re processing these jumbo lites of glass that your machinery can handle the weight. If you’re tempering some giant lite of glass, does your oven have the capacity to handle the glass? Can the rollers handle the weight of the glass? And so on,” Patlin says. “It’s risky when you temper these lites of glass, too, because they’re so heavy the possibility of little burn marks or imperfections are more than with a ¼-inch lite of glass because that goes right across the rollers easily.”

Madole notes that Viracon has focused internal continuous improvement resources on solving the throughput and efficiency challenges that accompany these complex glass products. “The difficulty in fabricating these more complex/larger glass sizes leads to a significant challenge in safety considerations, production yield losses and production efficiency,” he says. “Managing your business to have the right mix of business is critical. This can be accomplished by accurate forecasting, pricing methodologies and overall sales strategy management.”

Not everyone is forced to get creative with their oversized glass solutions: some find that the old standards work just fine even on a bigger scale.

Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based fabricator GlasPro promotes on its website that it is able to offer laminated, tempered, curved and IG units as large as 10 by 15 feet in one piece. That doesn’t mean they need to make special accommodations for handling their oversized glass.

“We use traditional vacuum technology,” says Joe Green, GlasPro president. The company’s products typically are packaged in wood crates and are shipped on drop deck trailers directly to the jobsite.

—Megan Headley


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