Volume 49, Issue 3 - March 2014

The Cutting Edge

Tech Tools Help Glazing Contractors Manage Increasingly Complex Products
By Megan Headley

It’s a chicken-and-an-egg type scenario, you might say. Are architects demanding that glass do more, leading manufacturers and fabricators to rise daily to the challenge of producing glass that, for example, lets in the maximum amount of light while reducing glare and keeping a building’s interior nice and cool? Or are glass producers becoming savvier at creating, as another example, glass in extra wide expanses that’s lighter than ever, inspiring architects to adopt more and more glass into their designs?

Whichever way you look at it, the secret is (fortunately) out: glass can do it all. To keep up with these challenges, or stay ahead of the curve, glazing contractors and design engineers are turning to technology to help manage the design and production of today’s complicated new products.

Software with a Twist
Many glass companies use “custom” as a differentiator, much like their customers.

“We definitely see an uptick in demand for more customized glazing systems and glass products,” says Stewart Jeske, president of JEI Structural Glazing in Kansas City, Mo. “We had a project come through for engineering custom insulating glass in a beach fitness facility with no mullion supports, just butt-glazed vertical joints and the insulating glass spanning 92 inches vertically,” says Jeske.

Nick Bagatelos, president of Bagatelos Architectural Glass Systems Inc. in Sacramento, Calif., offers his own example of an atypically complicated installation. “We renovated the maintenance facility at the Miramar Marine Base in San Diego with a complete retrofit of all glass in the building with [an] electrochromic glass,” he says. “This project is a prototype for the Department of Defense, and it is a precursor for the energy-efficient installation that will happen within the government sector in the short run, and the commercial market in the near future.”

This multitasking, hard-working glass is becoming more the norm, and as such, often requires additional design and engineering work to ensure that supports are adequate and wires are routed appropriately, among many other factors.

To rise to this particular challenge, JEI turned to an old favorite, but employed it in a new capacity. “We needed to use finite element analysis software and the insulating glass units ended up with 1-inch laminated outboard/½-inch AS/¾-inch laminated inboard to resist hurricane wind loads,” Jeske says.

As he explains it, “The software used for finite element analysis is not new, but normally not used in the analysis/design of typical insulating glass units. Usually for insulating glass design we will use a small ASTM E-1300-based program, but in this case the client’s needs for a customized product went well beyond the capability of ASTM E-1300 and required a unique method of analysis/design.”

Other companies are pushing software programs to new limits to assist in the design and installation of these increasingly complicated glass products.

“The use of 3D tools is very valuable to our design process,” Bagatelos says. “We use Revit by Autodesk, because it is the choice of the architectural community. We find that developing our drawings in Revit enables our firm to communicate the architects’ intent.” The glazing contractor now pairs its Revit drawings with Autodesk’s Navisworks project review software to detect clashes prior to the jobsite. As Bagatelos puts it, “It’s not just [about] buying a package; it’s about becoming adept at using these different multiple platforms.”

The BIM Connection
Navisworks is one building information modeling (BIM) solution available, solutions to which more and more glazing contractors are turning as architects encourage subcontractors to partner early on in the design process.

“We definitely have been seeing a demand for the design-build partnerships,” says Dirk Sayre, CSI, business development manager of BCIndustries, an engineering and installation firm based in Tampa, Fla. The company has partnered with architects on a few such projects in Washington, D.C., and Florida. “3D and BIM tools are playing a big part of the designing stage because it gives architects a better perspective in how products will fit within the building envelope,” Sayre says.

"I don’t think architects are expecting installers to be more fluent with BIM, but they are definitely pushing harder for installers to learn more about it." —Dirk Sayre, BCIndustries

“We’ve seen that architects want that,” says Craig Carson, regional preconstruction manager for Alliance Glazing Technologies in Englewood, Colo., of the trend toward BIM. However, he says it’s more common to see it being used higher up the chain. “It’s different if you’re going to use a [manufacturer’s standard] part and you can go in and pull from a library they’ve already generated, but if you have to generate a new [model] then it’s not cost-effective,” he says. “But, we are seeing an awful lot of BIM on almost every job with mechanical and structural and electric to make sure those items go through.”

For sure, the use of BIM is growing. Adoption of these modeling tools grew from 17 percent in 2007 to more than 70 percent in 2012, according to data from McGraw Hill Construction.

Currently, Sayre says, “I think architects have led the way and guided glazing installers to use BIM because of the benefits it has. I don’t think architects are expecting installers to be more fluent with BIM, but they are definitely pushing harder for installers to learn more about it.”

"75 percent of our contracts require some level of BIM, and we do all of our projects in a 3D environment, whether it is required or not." —Nick Bagatelos, Bagatelos Architectural Glass Systems Inc.

However, since surveys show that contractors currently are the leading users of the software, architects may soon be expecting their design-build partners, at least, to adopt the technology.

Bagatelos, one of those glazing professionals who has jumped headlong into BIM, cautions that the significant investment required isn’t for someone looking to dabble in the technology. Upfront costs for software start around $10,000. For smaller contractors considering in investing, Bagatelos advises dedicating a position to handling and mastering the modeling aspect of the business. “For a small company, it could be a little bit of an investment but if you have one person who is adept, that would probably be sufficient to get started,” he says.

For this company, it’s an investment that has paid off. “We have used Revit for six years. When we started, five percent of our projects required some type of BIM. Today, 75 percent of our contracts require some level of BIM, and we do all of our projects in a 3D environment, whether it is required or not,” Bagatelos says. He adds, “Ninety percent of our work is design-build, but we have invested heavily in design talent, and BIM tools that communicate directly with our manufacturing equipment.”

Sure there are times when it seems that implementing new software is more difficult than muddling on without it. It does take a time investment. However, putting in that investment can give a company an edge by streamlining any number of processes.

“My company believes that staying on top of software developments will allow us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. We’re avid technology followers and we’re picking this stuff up as rapidly as possible to make sure we’re ahead of the market,” Bagatelos says.

It’s a good business practice, but advice that Bagatelos wishes someone had offered him about 15 years ago. “When we went from drawing by hand to AutoCad, we didn’t adopt right away,” he says. “By the time we did adopt I think we lost a lot of ground.” When Revit came around, Bagatelos’ company was quickly onboard. “Now we’re adept at it and I think it’s been an advantage and we’re trying to do that with all of our software,” he says.

Of course, he’s not adverse to sharing his “edge” with others in the industry.

“I think it’s good to get information about technology out in the industry because it raises the level all around,” Bagatelos says.

Megan Headley is special projects editor for USGlass magazine. She can be reached at mheadley@glass.com.

Tracking Product Off-Screen

Tools such as BIM are intended to help ease the installation process by ensuring that any potential problems are smoothed over before product ever shows up onsite. While glazing contractors adapt to this new way of tracking products in the design phase, some are turning to technology to keep track of product parts and tools in between production and installation.

Alliance Glazing, for instance, is investigating the possibility of using barcoding to track tools and equipment (see April 2013 USGlass, page 28). Craig Carson, regional preconstruction manager for Alliance Glazing Technologies in Englewood, Colo., says the company sees these tools as a way to track which equipment is in use on the jobsite versus back in the job, what is in need of repair, inventory control and other considerations.

Bagatelos Architectural Glass is using the tools in the job, although not on the jobsite. “When we do our manufacturing we use bar codes on the parts and pieces as they go together so we can identify where they are in the facility but we haven’t done anything to tag the walls and specific units that are going into the wall. That’s something that I would like to do, we just haven’t done it yet,” says Nick Bagatelos, president.

Although many fabricators have found these tech tools to be of use, more contractors are beginning to implement barcoding. It’s not that the tools have become more affordable—as Bagatelos points out, the tags and guns are themselves fairly inexpensive—it’s more about management learning, and then convincing employees, that this is a tool that can save time and money in the long run.

“It’s about the ability to make it part of your procedures and processes, that’s the expensive part,” Bagatelos says. “It’s not as much about the materials as it is getting your company to use them. People are adverse to change.”

Carson adds that it’s still tricky to find information on the effectiveness of barcoding, one reason that glazing contractors are still unsure of how to implement it company-wide.

“Speaking for myself and not the company, we just didn’t know where to get the information. Once you find it you find out it’s not as expensive as you thought, and maybe not as difficult to implement. But it’s like ‘where do I start?’” Carson says.

© Copyright 2014 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.