Welcome to Glass and Window blog. This blog has had weekly entries since April 2010, making it one of the largest, longest, and most verbose blogs ever, with specialist focus on the glass and window industries.

The Glass Racking Company, a specialist supplier of glass and window factory handling and transportation solutions, with customers across the globe. Over time we have enjoyed working with clients to create solutions for them which save time, reduce rework and hence costs, and address health and safety requirements.


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Window Fabricator van frails

Almost 25 years ago we developed a glass frail for transporting glass on the outside of a van. This development was for glaziers who worked for glass companies.

Nowadays many of the glass frails we sell, install and service are for vans owned by window fabricators. The size of the glass units in their joinery has increased over time and they can no longer glaze in their factories, and have chosen to purchase glass frails (and other glass transporters) to get the glass from their factories to their customer sites to be site glazed.

For many years the industry knew it had to do more site glazing but was reluctant due to the extra time and cost incurred which would need to be passed to the end customer. The end clients wouldn't accept it. The workaround was to struggle and continue with factory glazing (and moving very heavy units to site), or do the site glazing and somehow absorb the cost. Fortunately this has mostly changed, and the costs of site glazing are an accepted part of the build cost.

There are still many window fabricators who contract out their site glazing, but increasingly we see the window fabricators employing glaziers and buying vans with frails to do the work themselves.

And that's how we came to sell more frails to window fabricators!

How do you size your next glass or window transportation vehicle?

Over the years the average size of windows and glass units has got bigger and heavier in all dimensions – taller, wider and thicker. End customers want more glass in their houses and architects have responded by designing and promoting houses with more floor to ceiling glass with wider dimensions. Views are more important than they've ever been. Easy to use indoor outdoor living is a key requirement for many homes. This is good for our industry, and although it also creates challenges, more is generally better than less. 

Our glass and window transportation solutions have a life expectancy of over 10 years. When planning the designing the dimensions of a new glass and/or window transporter today we need to predict what the likely requirements will be during the life of the vehicle, and size it accordingly.

Will the houses of the future have less glass and smaller units?

Overtime we expect to see the average size of glass transportation vehicles to increase. This means that small companies will buy vehicles that have traditionally been purchased by medium sized companies. This doesn't necessarily mean that the business is growing, just that the transportation requirements have changed. 

Another change we predict is more medium sized glass and glazing companies taking on a range of vehicles. Many in the past have standardised on vans. Vans will still have their place but many businesses will compliment vans with light trucks.

I could be wrong of course. End customers might decide that houses with less glass are more appealing, but I don't think so.

Vans and newsletters

Thanks to all the readers that wrote to me last week and confirmed that I'm not old, that 49 years classifies me as middle aged, and how I'm in extremely good shape for my age. I appreciate your support and words of encouragement as I count down the months, weeks and days to my half century.

This week I'm writing a newsletter about the suitability of vans for transporting glass. The newsletter will most likely be read by more glass and window industry participants than this blog, so it's important to get it right. The challenge is that the news is not good – the design of each new release of vans makes them less and less suitable as glass carriers. There are solutions but they require change and they're not all easy.

It will be interesting to see how the industry reacts. I expect some will think we are trying to upsell them into more expensive trucks. Some will think we are overstating the changes and that there is no real issues. Some may think we're skirting our responsibilities and warranties (which we're not). Hopefully, many will call or email to say "Thanks for the heads up. I understand what you're on about. The issues are relevant for my business. I'd like to sit down with you and plan our way forward".  

Van structures

In recent years we've seen a whole new range of vans with Euro style roof systems enter the market. These vans are typically more stylish (rounded in shape) and have no gutters. Instead they often have channels on the roof and factory supplied roofbar fixing points (like a rivnut set into the roof to allow a roofbar fixing to be threaded into it). Unfortunately these fixings are on the horizontal part of the roof (not at the top of the side panel) and hence have little strength. Many of the suppliers of these vans realise this, and provide a maximum loading figure for the roofbar fixing points which render them useless for mounting external glass frails.

One option we've explored is to strengthen the structure of the van by installing posts in the van to prop up the roofbar fixing points. Another is to create heavy duty underbody brackets for the van frail to sit on – the disadvantage being that in an accident the collision impact is transferred to the core of the van, to an area which is difficult and expensive to repair. 

Fortunately years of installing van frails has shown us that damage to vans only occurs in collisions. 

The challenge for us is in what we take responsibility for. Are we as van frail suppliers to the industry responsible for the structural integrity of the vans? Are we responsible for the damage to a van in a collision?      

I'm currently dragging information out of the van suppliers about the structural strength of their vans. Many have this information hidden away in their files, never read by van salespeople, and most often never read by the product managers or their technical staff until I push the issue.

Watch this space.  

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The practicalities of the characteristics of glass 6

This is the sixth blog is a series on the practicalities of the characteristics of glass.

This characteristic is transportation. The nature of glass is that it's processed in a factory and installed on a site. It needs to be transported between the two. Because its heavy, fragile, scratches easily, breaks into dangerous shards, its sharp, its expensive, and it's often an awkward shape (large flat panels) it's one of the more challenging items to transport. That's why only a handful of companies around the planet have chosen to specialise in glass transportation. Most truck body builders have chosen to specialise in something easier!

Fortunately most glass transportation nowadays is on specialist vehicles. Most glass and window companies recognise the benefits of investing in specialist transportation equipment rather than general carriers or truck bodies from general manufacturers. We at The Glass Racking Company are one of those specialists, and like the others, we think our systems are the best. 

Glass transportation is all about the speed to load and unload, reducing transit damage to the glass, adherence to health and safety laws, adherence to road usage laws, acceptance of process and procedure by staff, and image to clients. Some of these are a "must have" for compliance, while the biggest difference between the global offerings is how they reduce transit damage to the glass. Each supplier has their own theory and a proprietary solution.  

Our home market is particularly challenging in terms of roading, geography, road user laws, and customer expectations. In addition we export to many other countries so must comply and meet their needs. Our company's path has created challenges for us, and forced us to find solutions. We've invested in more extrusions and componentry than our competitors. Each fixes a problem or creates a benefit when it works as part of the overall vehicle. That's why we're the best! 

If you think your team take too long to load and unload your products, or you get damage in transit, or you're not meeting health and safety or road user laws and guidelines, or your vehicles don't represent your company as professionally as you'd like, then please contact us!

Changes in the glass and window industry part 2

This weeks blog is the second in a series of changes we've experienced in the glass and window industry in the last 25 years, and changes we've made to our company and its products to suit the industry we serve.

When we built our first glass van frails (external racks) we fabricated them in aluminium to a strength suitable for the weight of glass being loaded and carried by glaziers. Over the years the average size of glass units has increased dramatically, and with double and triple glazing the average weight of each unit has also increased. Around 7-8 years ago we made some major changes to the structure of our van frails to accommodate this increasing payload weight, with the new designs "over engineered" to provide for what we predicted to be the continual increase in average load weights. We were right as the glass loads carried on vans have continued to get heavier.

Clever design of our frails means these changes in design have been easy to implement, and the new stronger componentry is an easy and cost effective upgrade to older frails.

 

Branding and image

A few weeks ago we embarked on upgrading four vans for one of our clients. This client purchased a medium sized glazing company a few years ago and went through a rebranding and image upgrade exercise. The results were very good. Since then he's purchased a number of other smaller glazing companies and done the same. The four vans we're upgrading are for three of his companies.

One of his staff told me that the owner is "very particular about the little details" and this is exactly how I'd describe him. He places a huge importance on getting the branding and image of his company's just right. Just the way he wants it. 

For a glazier their van and glass racks are their biggest assets. They take them to every job so they represent and advertise the company all week. The age and quality of the van and rack, the style and quality of the signwriting, the cleanliness of the vehicle, the state of repair of the van and racks, the way the van is parked and treated, these are all aspects of that glaziers brand. They portray who and what that company is. The customer mentioned above does all of this very well.

At the opposite end of the scale, glaziers who do a poor job with their vehicles portray themselves as something quite different and are likely to have difficulty justifying a higher margin for their work.

Huge vans

Last week I delivered this van to a customer. It's a Mercedes Sprinter and has a 4.4M long x 2.5M tall external frail and full length internal rack. The van is rated for over 2 tonnes of payload. The external frail is the largest van frail we've built and installed in the New Zealand market.

 

Most glazier vehicles are smaller than this. Many trucks we put racks on are smaller than this!

For many years we've been touting our Glazier 3.5M are the logical link between a van and a truck, and promoting that modern fleets of vehicles should have a mix of small vans to larger trucks. So where does this Mercedes fit? 

It's a very big and very capable glazing van. There's ample glass racking for most jobs, its able to carry large items like shop fronts, and its got masses of storage for tools and equipment. Access may be an issue for some jobs, but overall you'd have to say it's a pretty multi-purpose glaziers vehicle.

It's also a capable delivery vehicle. Vans aren't typically used for glass deliveries, but at over 2 tonnes of payload and capable of moving stock sheets it could do the job.

In the New Zealand market we currently have a huge range of these larger vans available. Mercedes, VW, Fiat, Ford Transit, Renault, LDV, and others. We don't see many of these "jumbo" sized vans being used in the glass and window industry but I can see they have a place and we may see more in the future.

The humble Hiace

In my home market in New Zealand there has traditionally been three main van models used for carrying glass – the Toyota Hiace, Mitsubishi L300, and Nissan Urvan. Over the 23+ years we've been supplying van frails these brands have released various models based on a similar design. There's also been a Ford Transit van that some clients have used, but the three Japanese brands have clearly dominated.

In the last few years there has been a huge increase in European van brands being released into the NZ market, plus those from other Asian countries such as the Hyundai. As with all good car company marketing plans each is touted to have its own unique benefits. One by one customers come to us having identified one of these van brands as being the right thing for their business, and one by one we work out a solution to fixing our van frails (racks) to each type of van. Although they're all different there are many similarities and by designing and running an aluminium roof extrusion specific for Euro vans, and in some cases by working with the vehicle manufacturer, we've been able to create solutions which we're happy with and can warranty.

So how many have been sold? Well actually very few. When it comes to putting pen to paper and signing up a glass vehicle the Toyota Hiace wins hands down in both the new and traded vehicle market. Many would argue that the Hiace has old technology, uses too much fuel, and the servicing intervals are too frequent and too costly. But few would argue the reliability, robustness, and trust which the glass and window industry have in this vehicle.

I expect that the same ratio of Hiaces to European vans will continue this year.

Stone transportation

Last week we delivered a solution to a stone benchtop manufacturer to deliver their finished product between their main manufacturing site and one of their remote sales and installation locations. The solution was a trolley with retention poles and a trolley fixing solution for their large van. This solution will enable them to send the full trolleys to the remote site via general cartage, load the full trolley into the van (up to 4 days installation work) and return the empty trolley to the manufacturing site for reloading. The main benefit is a reduction of 10 hours driving per week for the van to collect the stone.

The technology in this solution is very similar to that which we use for glass and window transportation. By understanding the stone manufacturing, delivery and installation process we were able to provide a very tailored solution which will work well for this client, and potentially others.

In terms of manufacturing and transportation solutions the glass and window industry does seem to be well ahead of the stone industry in many of the markets in which we operate.

 Stone trolley and van fitout

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