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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The practicalities of the characteristics of glass 8

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

This characteristic is that glass can only be manufactured economically on a very large scale. Float lines cost from 70 million Euros to 200 million Euros to build and can be over half a kilometre long. There are around 370 float lines globally, each of which produces around 6000kms of glass sheets per year.  They run non-stop for 15-18 years before they are stopped and rebuilt. 

Because floatlines are so massive, they become distribution points for supply of flat glass to a large geographic foot print. Glass is costly to transport in bulk, so processors tend to source from the nearest float line. Distribution and transport costs account for 10-15% of the overall costs of the float line.

For those of us who live in a country or island where there are no float lines, we are completely dependent on containerised seafreight bulk glass supply. The transportation often involves land freight, sea freight, then land freight to the processor, so there are plenty of opportunities for delays, breakages and damage. The timeframes for seafreight means that damaged stock cannot be quickly replaced. 

The Glass Racking Company trucks are used for transporting packs and cases of glass from a main processor or warehouse facility to the processor or smaller glass company. The external ledges of the trucks have slots to allow packlifter feet to get under the packs of glass for loading and unloading. The glide-top roof of the trucks is canvas and pulls forward to the front of the truck body to allow crane access into the main body of the vehicle. These are very specialised trucks.

The practicality for glass companies anywhere on the planet is that transportation of bulk glass to their facility is a major challenge and massive cost. Getting it right is vital to the efficient running of the facility. Oh how much easier this would be if glass could be manufactured in smaller factories (miniature float lines).

The practicalities of the characteristics of glass 7

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

This characteristic is that glass has poor heat insulation properties. Fortunately this can be addressed by double glazing, triple glazing, and interlayers. What this practically means for the glass and window industry is that in most worldwide markets glass is heavily processed before being installed into a house or commercial building.

Over the 25 odd years we've been supplying the glass and window industry we've seen processes which were at one time very manual and very expensive become far more automated and far less costly. Examples are double glazing and laminating. Nowadays in most large factories only a few staff are hands on with the glass during the processing. This automation leads to cost savings. The issue of the cost to improve the insulating properties of the glass have been addressed. 

Looking forward the desire for improved sound and heat insulation properties in glass will drive new forms of multiple-glazing and new and improved interlayers. 

The cost of providing bullet proof glass (high priority in US schools), solar interlayers (trendy globally), and interlayers to reduce bird strike are coming down as demand soars upwards. What may seem a costly investment today will become commonplace in a few short years.

At the Glass Racking Company our primary focus is on factory handling equipment and transportation of glass and windows. We assist our customers to save time, reduce damage to product (and hence reduce rework), and address health and safety. Looking forward its an exciting time for the glass and window industry where we believe our focus and solutions will be increasingly relevant.

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!

The practicalities of the characteristics of glass 5

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

This characteristic is cost. Glass is a very expensive flat panel product. During processing it can be cut, arissed, toughened, printed, and maybe made into a double glaze unit with gas or laminated with a high-tech interlayer. The end result is still a flat panel product, but with a very high cost.

It only takes a small damage to render this costly product useless. It could be cut wrong, cracked in breakout, toughened incorrectly, printed wrong, cracked, scratched, shelled or any manner of other small defects applied to the glass to render it of no value. With other flat panel products like stone, steel and plasterboards small defects do not normally result in the product being binned.

The importance of not damaging the product is higher for glass than in most industries.

Well managed Process and Procedure can minimise most damage to glass. Likewise good equipment built to protect the glass reduces damage. Simple things like trolleys to suit the size of the glass items, bearing surfaces clad in non-marking polymers, full bearing surfaces with no exposed hard surfaces, retention systems which stop the glass from moving and rubbing when in the factory or in transportation. I could go on. The equipment to help reduce damage to glass is readily available from ourselves and others. Given the real cost to the business of damaging glass the investment in good quality equipment and systems is a no-brainer. Add some good process and procedure and you're sorted.

Here's a challenge for you. What did glass damage actually cost you last year? In addition to the raw material costs take into account delays, rescheduling, possible reordering of replacement components, the cost of customer liaison and letting customers down, the resultant late payments, opportunity cost of spending the time more productively etc. Most estimate the actual costs to be 4-10 times the cost of the glass.       

The practicalities of the characteristics of glass 4

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

This characteristic is absorption. Glass is a liquid and will absorb some residues. One of the most challenging for the glass and window industry is the absorption of a residue from rubber.  

Being a hard product which marks easily many of the lifting and storage items available for the industry have rubber bearers. Only a few suppliers to the industry (such as The Glass Racking Company) have developed polymers to avoid this. Much of the equipment which was initially designed for the stone industry uses rubber. The rubber residue gets into the glass and is not usually noticeable until the glass gets moisture on it, such as condensation on a frosty morning. The areas of rubber residue then show very clearly.

The solution is to keep all rubber products away from the glass during processing, transportation and installation. We supply a range of polymer bearers on or trolleys, storage systems, and transport systems for this very reason.  

The practicalities of the characteristics of glass 3

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

This characteristic is transparency. It's a see through product. The biggest challenge this creates in glass factories is protecting glass and protecting people from the glass. 

The biggest risk is cut glass items which overhang the storage or trolley. The structure of the trolley is visible but the overhanging glass is not. This creates a potential hazard for the glass and staff. Two solutions are commonly used to address this. The first is to have markers on the ends of large glass items. Clip on brightly coloured markers work well and don't leave a residue. The challenge is in implementing this solution and ensuring staff use the markers rather than any technical difficulty.

The second is to have a range of trolleys and storage systems available to suit the various sizes of glass item. This means that items can be stored and moved without any overhangs. No overhangs means the challenge created by glass being transparent is reduced.

Having the right trolleys and storage systems is the best option as operationally it's far easier to safely implement.

The practicalities of the characteristics of glass 2

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

This characteristic is weight. Glass weighs 2800kgs per cubic metre, making it one of the heavier materials lifted around factories and construction sites. A stock sheet 3660x2440 of 5mm glass weighs 112kgs and is a common item in glass shops.

Most factories have cranes, packlifters and other equipment for lifting and moving packs and cases of stock sheets. The challenge for the industry is once sheets are processed. Over time the average size of glass items has got larger, with double and triple glazing adding to each items weight. Add to this health and safety laws which define and often reduce the weights allowed to be carried by staff and we have a problem!

The solution is an easy one. There are plenty of equipment options for lifting glass items around factories. Light cranes for lifting on and off machinery, improved trolleys for storage and movement, glass robots for lifting and carrying, manual lifters, and so on. Add some good training on process and procedure and most challenges can be met. The biggest challenge is funding the equipment.

As a supplier to the industry we have a range of glass lifting, carrying and positioning products. Most of the large glass companies are investing in these solutions as they want to, they have to, and they can't afford not to. It's the smaller companies where the challenges are biggest. Investment in equipment is often more difficult for smaller companies, and harder to justify as the hours used per day for the equipment are usually less than in a large factory. 

In my opinion the key is to get started. Have a plan for lifting equipment. Don't try and do it all at once, but have a plan to invest in some new item each quarter. Show your staff your rollout plan and make it happen. Investments could be as simple as Carrymate lifters to assist with gripping glass when lifting, or a new trolley with some new features for a particular area of the factory. The key is to get started and make it happen. Don't get so far behind that its feels like climbing a mountain of work to catch-up. 

If we can help put that plan to together we will. Just ask!

The practicalities of the characteristics of glass

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

The first characteristic I want to cover is that glass breaks. The result is shards of glass and many sharp edges. So, what are practicalities of that characteristic from an operational perspective?

Firstly glass is a liquid and it does bend, but it breaks and shatters when jolted or bent too far. It also breaks when impacted on a hard surface. When handling glass we need to understand how and when glass breaks so we can avoid that happening.

Let's take those one at a time. To avoid jolts we need to make factory handling equipment (such as trolleys) and transport systems (trucks, vans, utes/pickups, trailers etc) with bearing surfaces and designs which minimise jolting. For trolleys we have a soft non-marking polymer that we use on the top surface of the base blocks which the glass sits on. When combined with a trolleys castor which has some give we can provide a soft ride for the glass and avoid breakages.

With transport systems we use the same bearing surface. In addition vehicles have suspension which can also be setup to avoid jolting. Many years ago when trucks were predominantly leaf sprung we would upgrade the suspension to air suspension (pimp my truck ….) to create a vehicle which provided the glass with a softer ride. The cost of the new suspension was more than recovered through lowered glass breakages over the life of the vehicle. 

To avoid bending glass too far we make factory handling equipment and transportation systems which have a small amount of flex and movement but not so much as to bend the glass to the point of breaking. Small movement is better than none. Small movements reduce a tendency to crack, as can be the case with transportation systems which are fully welded (ours use mon-bolts or hucks fasteners). We also build structures which are strong enough to withstand the weight of the glass load and the pressure exerted from the retention system without distorting. This may seem obvious but with transportation especially, the sideways load create by a loaded truck speeding through a sharp corner or round-about are enormous. These forces have the potential to distort poorly designed and manufactured racks to the point to over-bending the glass. Over-bending causes breakages.   

And lastly, hard surfaces. The bearing surfaces on our products are covered in a non-marking material, usually a purpose designed polymer. This ensures that glass avoids touching hard surfaces which leads to less breakages. Furthermore the design of our bearers and extrusions means that the bearing surface slots into the base material so it doesn't peel off as glued bearers can. The goal here is for the bearer to be in place for the long term. (A bearer which changes with use or is affected by UV and subsequently pulls off is no use. We understand that keeping equipment maintained is difficult and expensive, so aim to supply equipment which requires less maintenance and upkeep). 

And here ends my first blog on the practicalities of the characteristics of glass.

And another thought on things which haven't changed in the glass industry ……

Glass is still fragile, still scratches easily, is still dangerous when broken, still weighs the same, and is still difficult to lift. The very same challenges faced by glass processors and installers, and by those who supply equipment to the glass and window industry decades ago are just as relevant today. 

Sadly the breakages of glass and injury to staff while handling, processing, and installing glass remain far too common. Many of the systems in place are now safer for staff and glass than they've ever been before, but we can do better!

Industry supplier such as The Glass Racking Company are continually coming up with better solutions to address these challenges. Our company and those we compete with invest in improved designs, better tooling, new dies, and better components. Our solutions continually get better at addressing the challenges faced by the industry.

I look forward to the day when glass factories no longer sing to the sound of breaking glass, when wastage is an inconsequential cost, and when injuries are eliminated. That's the day I'll retire!

To finish off this series of blogs on changes we've seen in the glass and window industry I want to make comment about one of the things which hasn't changed. The cost of the glass.

The dollar value of glass and windows being installed in an average house or commercial building has increased dramatically. More glass meterage, more double glaze, more structural glass, new coatings, solar, more larger items and features, more partitioning, etc. These have all upped the total cost, but the cost per linear metre of the raw material of glass has remained around the same for at least a decade. 

So is this typical of other building products? Timber, concrete, wall panels, carpets etc. They've all increased in cost considerably over the same timeframe.

Yep, the glass industry is unique!