January 2009

Decorative Discussions

A Job Well Done?
The Glass May Look Good, But How do You Avoid a Failure?
by Kris Vockler

Fresh from glasstec 2008 in Germany and excited about what I see in the world of decorative glass, I have a vision of what may be coming our way from Europe. New glass types, processes, coatings and colors are on the rise. This is good news for those of us in the decorative glass world, but this explosion comes with a few caveats. For one, how do you know the coating or technology you just ordered will at least last the life of a building or the application? Can you trust the manufacturer? In an ideal world you should be able to trust the manufacturer, but in todayís age, fabricators, architects and designers must do their homework and ensure they are using and specifying products that will do what they want them to do.

Truth Be Told
Marketing speak can feel so real and tug at your emotions ... why would you not want to trust the message being conveyed? The job of a company or marketer may be to sell a product, but not everyone follows a code of ethics (just look at the tobacco and alcohol industries). If it sells itís a good program, right? But why does this matter in the glass industry? For one, we periodically see a new or old product have a rash of failures or a wholesale failure, yet still the product is accepted because of all its other possible benefits. Sometimes the fad of these products washes away as the troubles outweight the benefit; other times we put up with the negatives because we need those benefits.

Such issues could occur to many elements of glass processing and fabricating, but being a chemist, Iíll focus on the glass coatings end of thing. During glasstec I saw more glass coatings and colors than I had ever seen in the past. We knew this was coming, or at least I did; the thirst for color by architects would eventually lead to more colors than one could imagine. 

In a fervor for color, some manufacturers have gobbled up coatings at a rate that has not allowed their technical minds to wrap around one simple question: will this coating last? The spandrel cavity, for instance, is a harsh environment, with temperatures and humidity swinging up and down wildly in a given day. Interior areas are also affected by ultraviolet (UV) light, and every installation element touches another component where it has been glazed.

Many players in Europe have struggled from time to time with poor performance during application or over time. The same thing is occurring here in North America, although we are a bit more conservative and guarded.

Need to Know
So, how does one ask the questions and do the research? From a fabricator level, ask for certification testing by an outside source or seek complete testing results from performance criteria, test methods and standards created by organizations such as the Glass Assocition of North America or ASTM Internationl. Then ask the manufacturer for results of UV testing, boil tests, humidity cycling, solvent/chemical resistance and possibly any compatibility testing with sealants and other materials to be used in the glazing plan. Double check that reported results based upon standards are presented in their complete form. There have been cases where information was omitted in order to ensure passing test criteria. Itís not only the ethical responsibility of the manufacturer to produce complete reports, itís the ultimate responsibility of the fabricator to ensure completeness and the architectís responsibility to ask for the data.

Making the Grade
One last bit of safe-guarding: everyone must understand that not all coatings are created equal. In the categories of acrylic, urethane, epoxy, silicone and ceramic (just a few of the possible chemistries I saw at glasstec) each has a grade or difference in how it performs in the presence of UV light, water, solvent, humidity and chemical resistance. As my grandfather always said, ďYou get what you pay for.Ē He was right. Purchase a lower-performing product at a cheaper price and you may get failure that costs you more in the future. Relatively inexpensive and expensive coatings are available in all of the categories mentioned above.

Not all products are created equal. Understanding what you are using or purchasing is the first key, yet it is most important to know what organizations have standardized performance testing for a given application. Match those standards to performance reports from a manufacturer, dig deeper and seek performance testing in UV, water and solvent exposure. Being prepared will mean all the difference between success in the market and utter failure.

Decorative Glass
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