BLOG: Only the Beginning

Guardian Industries welcomed USGlass on a tour of its Carleton, Mich. plant and Science & Technology Center.

Guardian Industries welcomed USGlass on a tour of its Carleton, Mich. plant and Science & Technology Center this week.

Time flies.

I’ve now been at my current position at USGlass magazine for a whopping two months to the day. In that span, I’ve delved into an industry—check that, a “world”—I knew very little about as recently as the beginning of April.

It’s been a great learning experience, as I went from zero to 60 from Day 1 and have slowed down on very few instances along the way. I did, however, take a bit of a detour this past Tuesday in paying a visit to the Guardian Industries float plant in Carleton, Mich., something I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to do.

During the visit, I met with plant manager Gautam Misra for a briefing, was taken on a tour of the plant by ceramics engineer Larry Southerland, sat in on a presentation by a few members of the company’s Science & Technology Center and had a tour of that facility.

In a way, it was sort of my unofficially official initiation into the industry. So I thought I’d use my first blog post to discuss some takeaways from the trip.

The tour got off to a hot start.

The tour got off to a hot start.

It’s Hot—Who Would’ve Thought?

Let’s just get this out of the way. Prior to the trip, I had occasionally asked around to my colleagues a pretty simple question about what to expect on my first visit to a glass manufacturing plant. I received a simple answer: “It’s going to be hot.” So when I made my way to the massive, brick-lined furnace at the beginning of the plant’s first float line, I wasn’t surprised. But I was hot. Thanks for the heads up, Jenna, Tara, Jenna, Ellen, Jenna, Deb and Jenna (that’s only one Jenna. She said it a few times).

24-7-365

There’s always someone, somewhere telling someone, somewhere about their work habits or rigors of their job. “I’m working 24-7, 365 days a year,” they say. Spoiler alert: They’re lying. That is, of course, unless it’s Guardian’s Carleton plant. It operates every day and every week of every year, which means plenty of “proactive” maintenance by the 420-plus employees of the facility. It also means tons of machinery operating non-stop, which brings me to my next point…

If you’re looking to move, don’t let the realtor talk you into taking that big, beautiful glass manufacturing plant. It may have a nice fireplace, but the utility bills are massive.

Guardian's Larry Southerland stress the importance of "time, temperature and consistency" in the float line.

Guardian’s Larry Southerland stresses the importance of “time, temperature and consistency” in the float line to USGlass’ Deb Levy, Nick St. Denis and Lisa Naugle.

“Time, Temperature, Consistency”

I figured if I didn’t include that, Larry would question whether I had even learned anything on the tour. He said it a few times. It’s somewhat self-explanatory but also far too complicated for my mathematically-challenged brain. I could, however, wrap my head around this one: “We’re going from 2,930 degrees to 75 degrees,” Larry said of the glass produced on the float line. “There are literally hundreds of things we have to do to get it out in one piece.” Add to that the 70 people working at a given time to make sure it gets done, and it’s even more impressive how much of a well-oiled machine the line is.

Exciting. No, Really!

One thing that really stuck with me after leaving the company’s Science & Technology Center was how excited those with whom I spoke were about what they were doing. Kevin O’Connor, director of the project management office, led us on a tour of the facilities, bringing us in and out of close to a dozen labs and rooms where Guardian does its testing and troubleshooting. “I know it’s not that exciting,” O’Connor repeatedly said with a grin in about as unconvincing a way possible. You could tell O’Connor was in fact very exciting about what Guardian is doing. And that alone made me excited to hear about it, even if some of what he was talking about may have seemed “dry” to the average person in a sleep-inducing college lecture hall (is there any other kind?)

One thing Guardian's Science & Technology Center isn't lacking: patents. (photo provided by Guardian)

One thing Guardian’s Science & Technology Center isn’t lacking: patents. (photo provided by Guardian)

That excitement was evident throughout the place, from Gautam’s overview of the plant; to Larry’s colorful explanations of the ins and outs of the float glass line; to the presentation by VP of glass innovation Dr. Sheldon Davis, VP of systems innovation Robert Vandal and director of marketing Christopher Dolan regarding the company’s direction; to O’Connor’s excitably-“unexciting” explanation of the labs’ various machines and gadgets.

Taking Glass For Granted

“People take it for granted because they look right through it,” Vandal said during our meeting. At first, I thought it was a joke. It sounded like a pun. Maybe it was. But then it sparked a discussion about how the average person doesn’t realize how important glass is in their life. I can’t speak to any specifics for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, but from what I saw on my tour of Guardian, glass looks to be becoming more and more important in our lives as technologies that are very much in motion—technologies I saw firsthand—begin to make their way into the mainstream, whether it’s in the residential, commercial, automotive or electronic sector. So if people are taking it for granted now, they won’t for long.

To wrap it up, I honestly didn’t know where this post would go. I’m still allowing little bits of my tour of the Guardian plant to fall into place in my head, and there’s a whole lot I didn’t bother to put onto paper. Regardless, I look forward to learning more and more about the industry as I continue to settle into my position at USGlass.

And if there’s one thing I took away from my visit to Guardian, it’s this: there will always be something else to learn. Especially when it comes to glass.

We’d like to give a special thanks to Guardian’s Amy Hennes for helping arrange our visit and accompanying on the tour, as well as Paige Coates for her hospitality throughout the visit.

-Nick St. Denis is the assistant editor of USGlass magazine and the editor of USGNN.com.

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2 Responses to BLOG: Only the Beginning

  1. Jerry Anderson says:

    I had a rare opportunity in the early 60’s to tour side by side in PPG Cumberland . MD the old fashioned polished plate glass plant and next door was the new float line and both were still operational
    One could readily see why float would take over as there were hundreds of workers in the plate glass plant with all the polishing equipment etc and the ribbon of float glass next door had a very few workers just watching the endless ribbon.

    It made a huge impression on me

    • Nick St. Denis says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Jerry. That must have been a great experience. The float line is a pretty amazing process, and the great thing is it still requires many, many people working to keep it running efficiently–albeit maybe more behind the scenes. It’s a great combination of utilizing technology yet still creating jobs that require real people.

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