Staying on Trend, Safely and Practically

Some of the biggest recent trends in commercial construction have placed increasingly tough demands on the glass community. Think about it: striking architectural designs around the world increasingly utilize glass as a major design element, and lots of it. Making those designs a reality means making, delivering and installing bigger, higher-performing units that stand up to today’s stringent building codes and deliver the architect’s intended aesthetic impact.

This was something I was thinking about at the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance (IGMA) meeting in late January, one of several meetings I’ve attended in recent weeks. Lisa Rammig, a senior associate at the global design and engineering firm Eckersley O’Callaghan, gave a presentation at the Annual Conference about future technologies and glass trends the firm is pursuing, along with some predictions for the future. Eckersley O’Callaghan loves glass, and it’s evident in their work, from striking structural glass features to high-performance facades.

One of the trends Lisa touched on was increasing transparency in glass designs—be it by utilizing larger individual panels, new glass fastener technology or silicon structural adhesives. Others included 3D-printed glass elements, super-thin glass, photovoltaic glass and more. And all of these things, of course, are driven by the increasing need for long-term sustainability and high performance.

Some of these more innovative designs used to be more of a niche in the glass fabrication community, but that’s changing. Glass design and manufacturing are growing more complex, and that complexity is also becoming more commonplace.

It’s one thing if your company is specialized and set up to fabricate oversized units because you’ve invested in the technology to do it right. But increasingly, the entire market is being asked to take on bigger demands and tougher challenges. There’s plenty of opportunity here for the average fabricator—but plenty of new things to consider too.

Executing increasingly complex projects and capitalizing on new trends require more than what can be contained in the scope of this single blog post. But it got me thinking about a few critical areas that any fabricator should focus on when taking on bigger and more challenging glass projects:

Minimize your manual touchpoints. When it comes to larger architectural glass, movement throughout the plant floor is one of the biggest challenges. Successfully transporting massive glass units down the line can be physically taxing and create additional safety concerns on your workforce, and your risk for potential quality defects can increase as more hands touch them.

Automated and semi-automated technology can be part of the solution. Those looking to get into bigger jobs should absolutely consider investing in additional automated equipment to help transport glass down the line, reducing the need for additional manpower and the potential for quality issues. The same goes for other critical processes in insulating glass (IG) manufacturing—glass cutting, breakout, edge deletion and spacer application are all easier, and safer, when automation is utilized instead of traditional physical labor.

Select complementary components. As units grow in size and complexity, take stock of the components you typically use for IG fabrication. Suppose you’re handling a 16-foot glass panel for a project—application of a rigid spacer system might pose some physical difficulties, while flexible options can be automatically applied for easier fabrications. Likewise, larger panels can have greater structural demands. Make sure you’re choosing the right components suitable for the job at hand.

Take advantage of the knowledge of your component’s suppliers too. For a fabricator that’s just starting to get into the business of bigger and more complex glass, learning by trial and error can be difficult and expensive.

Stay in tune with the industry. One of my other takeaways from my recent run of industry meetings is this: we’re in this together.

We know that oversized glass, specialty bent glass and other demands are increasing in frequency. And as we settle on some of the best methods to meet those demands, it’s important we’re all speaking the same language. For example, I was heartened to hear that IGMA and the National Glass Association (NGA) are working together on an upcoming technical bulletin on best practices for oversized glass.

So, stay in tune with what’s happening from some of our industry organizations and associations. It’s a good way to keep your finger on the pulse of the best way to take advantage of new trends and opportunities. I’m confident that no matter where the future of glass is headed, we have the products, the technology and the expertise to do it right. Let’s continue making glass the material of choice in construction.