Change the  
Way You Think  
Automation is the Next Big Thing  
in Glass Fabrication  
b y E l l e n R o g e r s  
veryone in the glass industry has On the Plus Side  
the same goal: happy customers. When it comes to automation, there  
What makes customers happy? In are a lot of benefits. Michael Spellman,  
its simplest form, that’s pretty easy: cus- president of IGE Glass Technologies in  
tomers want a quality product, delivered Jupiter, Fla., represents a number of ma-  
on time, and they want it within their chinery suppliers. He says automation,  
budget. Yet, despite the promises made, along with good software integration  
sometimes it’s hard to deliver all three— and innovative new equipment,will help  
E
The Top Drill M-RX 130 CNC  
allows TriStar glass to type in,  
for example, “shower door” in its  
software, scan the label at the  
machine and place the glass. The  
machine automatically mills, drills  
and countersinks without any  
operator input; no tool pathing or  
tool selection is required.  
on time,high quality,within budget.  
For some companies, automation as increase production and profits.  
may be the answer. After all, the less a “[Labor] is expensive in most of  
process has to rely on manual operation, the industrialized world with all the  
the more productive—and safe—a costs associated with added benefits,  
company can be. Of course, it’s not insurance, etc. It’s also a [challenge] in  
as simple as ordering the equipment, terms of finding good people and then  
reduce labor,handling and waste,as well  
plugging it in and boom—you’re auto- keeping them,” he says. Glass handling fabricator will see less waste due to  
mated. There’s a lot a company needs to can be reduced greatly with good auto- scratching and mistakes,” he says.  
consider and questions to address—in- mated equipment.  
Hal Strait of Glass Machine Sales based  
cluding“do I even need to automate?” “With a reduction in handling, a inCleveland,afirmthatrepresentsanum-  
Mistrello’s Telescopic loader shuttle (left) as well as its aerial loaders (right) are designed for automated storage and  
handling, helping to improve storage and production efficiencies.  
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USGlass, Metal & Glazing | December 2016  
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berof machinerysuppliers,agrees.Hesays ical engineering with Tristar Glass, a to integrate all processes was starting  
thereareseveralthingsdrivingfabricators fabricator in Tulsa, Okla., sees three with our software platform. The soft-  
toward automated storage and handling things driving the move toward auto- ware allows us to communicate with  
different equipment from order entry  
systems.  
“One is the space savings you can  
mation: quality, cost and safety.  
“As an example, we installed a Top- to bill pay, processing and automation.  
get,” he says, explaining that a lot of drill CNC machine. By integrating with We want to know how the equipment  
companies start out in a factory, add our Fenevision software, we can control will communicate with our software.”  
on, expand and run out of space. everything starting with order entry …  
Automation, however, isn’t necessar-  
Sometimes half a factory is taken up There’s no programming you have to ily something all companies need.  
“We’re so customized from one job  
by A-frame racks/storage. We also see do on the shop floor, so there’s no room  
a lot of companies that store lots of dif- to accidentally put a hole in the wrong to the next. The automated loaders  
ferent glass types, so they have larger place,”says Carlson.  
are a wow, but for us they aren’t prac-  
tical since there are so many different  
paths for glass to travel. Sizes also vary  
There are a lot of options when it piece to piece,” says Jim Gulnick, vice  
and larger requirements for storage.”  
Another major plus for automation Where to Start  
is the increased level of safety because  
there is far less manual glass handling. comes to automation. There are no president, director of operations with  
[Production] is also much safer with right or wrong answers in terms of McGrory Glass in Paulsboro, N.J. “The  
an automated loading system,” says where to begin. Instead, it depends on biggest opportunity is in having some-  
Strait. “You get improved quality and the needs of each company.  
one really good at what they do. You  
consistency, because if people are han- “It goes from simple technology to want their job to be as easy and safe  
dling, they inherently make mistakes. increasingly advanced systems. For as possible so they can do it for years  
The glass can be scratched or chipped someone doing insulating glass by to come. So for us, even that step, from  
as opposed to with a machine. If a shut- hand, even a basic [automated] line is lifting manually to a lift assist, we con-  
tle or crane has to receive the glass, it a step forward,” says Carlson. “I think sider that a mini-step in automation.”  
always takes the same amount of time. for us a big part of any automation is  
So you get improved overall efficiency.” how it integrates with the order entry  
Rob Carlson, who works in mechan- system. Our first step into being able  
Where Gulnick says he does see a  
continued on page 80  
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December 2016 | USGlass, Metal & Glazing  
79  
CcohntainnugedefrtohmepWagae y79You Think  
on it, because if [the machine] goes  
down, there’s no manually doing it  
anymore,” says Carlson. “Taking regu-  
lar maintenance breaks and doing the  
preventative maintenance is critical.”  
He adds that given the increasing  
number of robotic systems available,  
having the ability to integrate with the  
software in the plant is paramount.  
“With any type of automation, you  
have to be able to tell the machine  
what to do. If you can’t, then people are  
going to default to the by-hand way,”  
says Carlson.“[Getting] the equipment  
is just the first step.”  
Spellman adds that challenges can  
be reduced once fabricators realize  
they must find ways to reduce labor,  
handling and waste.  
“Once [they do], the search starts  
for the right manufacturers and dis-  
tributors to work with. The automated  
machines can put out a huge amount  
of fabricated glass and must be well  
maintained …”  
All in One  
hen it comes to  
machinery inno-  
vation, glasstec is  
W
considered the show for the  
glass and glazing industry.  
This past September, when  
the bi-annual trade fair took  
place in Dusseldorf, Ger-  
many, many equipment com-  
panies highlighted their latest  
in automated technologies.  
According to Michael Spell-  
man, president of IGE Glass  
Technologies, the industry has,  
The CombiFlex is an entire preprocessing  
plant in one machine.  
for a long time, provided automation for companies fabricating “square glass.”  
That is, four 90-degree corners,” says Spellman. “The trick is automating  
the custom glass fabricator, the one fabricating ‘out of square glass.’”  
Forvet, an Italian machinery supplier that has partnered with IGE for more  
than 24 years, featured a new technology called the CombiFlex, which Spell-  
man says is ideal for custom fabricators.  
As he explains, the CombiFlex is an entire preprocessing plant in one ma-  
chine (minus the cutting) that takes up only 350 square feet of floor space.  
The machine is 12 feet wide, 28 feet long and 14 feet high.  
It will automatically load and scan the glass, grind and polish the flat edges  
He also offers a word of caution.“An  
interested customer must do complete  
and comprehensive due diligence. This  
includes visiting the manufacturer’s  
factory and also visiting other custom-  
ers using automated fabrication lines.”  
Strait adds, “I think sometimes peo-  
and arris with cup wheels, producing a polish as good or better than any  
vertical machine I have seen,” says Spellman. “It can also work as a 3-axis  
CNC center, enabling the machine to process round corners using peripheral  
wheels, water jet cut, drill, mill and countersink, wash and off load.”  
potential need for automation of some the material doesn’t start defect-free  
products is in inspection equipment. there’s no way the final product will be ple don’t fully understand all the op-  
Automating this function, he says, defect-free.”  
tions available. I encourage them to go  
through multiple iterations of the design.  
In almost every situation, you have to go  
When a company does decide to au- through ten to 15 iterations for the opti-  
could help in quality control.  
One consideration,though,concerns Things to Consider  
decorative fabricators. He says that  
while the inspection systems offer lots tomate, there’s a lot to consider before mal system to meet your requirements.”  
of benefits, the drawback is they need making a purchase. The drive toward automation is still  
a lot of flexibility. “Every company has unique needs,” new. Processes and equipment will  
When you’re working with decora- says Strait. “One customer might do evolve, and people will become more  
tive glass, the inspection systems don’t lots of different glass types … so they educated. But like any new technology,  
always recognize what’s supposed to might require a storage system that it’s not a rapid transition.  
be printed versus a pinhole or piece of brings the glass to the table one piece  
As Gulnick adds,“I think all this will  
lint,” he says. “They tend to work best at a time. There are also systems that continue to add value, but it will con-  
on the front end, inspecting raw glass bring the entire rack to the cutting tinue to take time.” n  
rather than the end product.”  
table, called a shuttle system. That’s  
Gulnick sees that as a big opportu- more appropriate for someone  
nity for glass manufacturers.  
We want to know the glass we’re  
doing longer production runs.”  
Carlson says that, once installed,  
getting from our suppliers is perfect there are production and mainte-  
We don’t want to ultimately find out nance issues to be addressed.  
the mirror, for example, has a coating “The more complex the machine,  
defect. With so many layers of mate- [the more] you need a dedicated  
rials in decorative glass, you know if maintenance department to work  
E l l e n R o g e r s is the  
editor of USGlass magazine.  
Follow her on Twitter  
@USGlass and like USGlass on  
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