Will a New Argon Detection Device Force Window Manufacturers to Improve Their
Will it Just Spurn an Onslaught of Lawsuits and Liability Issues?
By Tara Taffera
Argon-filled. Argon-enhanced. Everyone involved in the window
industry is familiar with these terms. Today, Argon filling is almost a standard in the
industry. While many window manufacturers may be producing Argon-filled units, in many
cases thats where the similarities end, as different plants utilize different fill
methods and manufacturing processes.
Practical Measurement Tool
While window manufacturers may be putting Argon in an insulating glass (IG) unit, there has never been a practical, non-destructive way to measure how much Argon is in a unit. Until now, many manufacturers have been using the Gas Chromotograph (GC) method where a syringe is used to remove airpsace gas from a unit. It is then injected to a device that reports Argon, Nitrogen and Oxygen levels. Or, they may use the Oxygen analyzer method which takes a sample from the unit and looks for the amount of Oxygen. Both methods require a gas sample which means the unit is somehow punctured (more on these methods later.)
This lack of a practical measurement tool ended when Sparklike Ltd. of Finland introduced the GasGlass (see fall 2001 DWM, page 58). Now, window manufacturers can test exactly how much Argon is going into a unit without destroying the unit. Some industry experts believe in the product so much that they feel it should be placed on the end of every production line so each unit can be tested. It is too soon to tell if this will become a reality, but one thing is certain. The GasGlass will have a profound effect on the window and door industry in the years to come.
This is the first practical, non-destructive test method used to determine Argon content, said Jim Plavecsky, vice president of marketing and sales for Edgetech IG. Its the methodology weve all been looking for.
Hes not the only one making these kinds of statements. If we could all have our dream come true it would be to zap some units and get an accurate Argon measurement, said John Kent, administrative manager of the Insulating Glass Certification Council (IGCC).
Kent says the IGCC has not yet purchased the device so it hasnt been able to test the GasGlass. The concept of what it is supposed to do is exactly what weve been looking for, said Kent. Time will tell how it plays out.
Mark Toth of GE Silicones, and vice chair of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) Insulated Gas Retention Task Group, has not seen the equipment either, but said, this will separate the cream from the milk.
One individual who truly believes in the GasGlass device is Randi Ernst, president of FDR Design Inc. in Buffalo, Minn.; FDR now serves as the U.S. representative for the product. Ive been a proponent of this type of product for 20 years, he said.
According to Ernst, the GasGlass is now available for window and door manufacturers to purchase, and he says there are about a dozen of the devices floating around.
According to Plavecsky, the GasGlass has huge implications for the industry. Prior to this invention no one could tell if a unit was gas-filled because you cant see Argon, he said. So, some companies may have been promoting that their units were gas-filled when they were not.
Toth compares manufacturers who may stretch the truth about Argon filling to a prospective employee trying to spruce up his resume. Its like someone applying to be the coach of Notre Dame football and saying they have a Masters degree, said Toth. Anyone can say that but there is no way to tell. Now each manufacturer will be held accountable.
While Joe Almasy, senior technical service representative for Truseal Technologies, believes the GasGlass device is good for the industry because it will make manufacturers more aware of how much Argon is going in a unit, he says, its even better for the
According to Plavecsky, the GasGlass is going to force window manufacturers to choose whether or not they want to promote their units as being gas-filled. My guess is that if theyre not doing it right, they probably wont do it, he said. Thus, the amount of companies doing gas-filling will decline.
While Ernst believes the GasGlass will force companies to improve their manufacturing operations, he doesnt believe it will cause any of them to stop producing Argon-filled units. If they choose not to Argon fill they will get their hat handed to them by their competitor, said Ernst. If a manufacturer has promoted high-performance windows heavily for ten years how can that manufacturer now say, No. Im not going to do that.
Does Ernst believe that Argon not getting in the unit at all is a major problem?
With the larger fabricators, no. They realize that in the long run, they will only get burned if they take shortcuts, said Ernst. The small shops are also very conscientious. I have only stumbled across a few that havent made an effort.
But, many agree that some manufacturers are doing Argon filling simply because they want to market their products as Argon-filled or Argon enhanced. A lot of companies are doing Argon filling just because it is a buzzword, said Kent. Its more of a marketing tool.
So why have many in the window industry opted to Argon fill their IG units? According to Robert Spindler, director, product development for Cardinal IG in Minneapolis, Argon filling offers a variety of benefits including: improved center of glass and total window U-factor, reduced potential for roomside (number four) condensation and improved comfort levels.
Most industry experts agree that the GasGlass will have a positive impact on the industry. Companies that Argon fill will be forced to do it right or not do it, said Plavecsky.
The GasGlass may be just the device the industry has been looking for to ensure window manufacturers do it right. Many in the industry say the GasGlass could be placed at the end of a production line to test the fill levels of IG units. In fact, Cardinals Spindler and Truseals Almasy are a few people who say they are investigating this.
But Spindler does say, it is up to the manufacturer of the IG unit. Youll find that reputable companies know how much Argon is going into a unit. Almasy added, If I were a manufacturer I would have one in my shop.
Toth also thinks having the GasGlass at the end of a line is a good idea but says there are a variety of questions that need to be answered such as, Would every unit be tested or just a representative sample?
Ernsts opinion is that each unit does not have to be tested. You could have the GasGlass at the end of a line but you dont have to, he said. This would increase the cost of a window. Other industries have found success in statistical process control, testing each tenth unit for example instead of each unit coming off the line.
However, Ernst says that one European window manufacturer is considering putting the GasGlass at the end of a Bystronic line and testing every unit.
According to Kent, testing all Argon-filled units is prohibitive simply from a cost standpoint. One of the reasons it wont work now is because it is pretty expensive, said Kent. To test a coating on a lite of glass it only costs about $100. The GasGlass costs about $10,000. We have ten inspectors, so to give each of them one of these devices would be a sizable chunk of change. Ernst concedes that it would be expensive to outfit all inspectors with a GasGlass device. If the certification process means field inspectors all need a GasGlass, sure that will add some cost to the process, he said. But $10,000 is pretty minor when you consider that the device is being shared by dozens of companies undergoing inspection. If an inspector can do one plant a week that is 50 inspections a year. The costs just dropped to $200 assuming you throw the GasGlass away at the end of the year.
While the IGCC, and other testing organizations, may not be able to afford it Kent says many window manufacturers may also be unable to do so. For some manufacturers it wouldnt be a problem, said Kent. For others its a huge expense.
Test results are displayed on a Palm "PDA" style device called an iPaq.
Looming Liability Issues
While window manufacturers will be able to purchase the GasGlass, Mike Burk, GEDs productivity solutions program manager points out, manufacturers can get them but so can the lawyers. This makes many in the industry fear that a host of lawsuits and other liability issues will arise.
Class action lawsuits dont help the industry, said Ernst. Quality is the real issue. You really have to make an effort to make a quality product.
Ernst also believes it is unfair to judge a product that was made ten years ago, for example. We know a lot now that we didnt know earlier, he said. Its not fair to judge those manufacturers who didnt have a lot of the knowledge we now have. There should be a moratorium because we didnt know some information then.
Ernst drives this point home by pointing to the automotive industry. For example, ten years ago many cars didnt have air bags, while today they are almost standard. Were manufacturers malicious by not putting air bags in all vehicles? Of course not, answers Ernst. But, using the knowledge they have today, the makers decided to make air bags commonplace.
Ernst said that a consultant in Quebec has obtained a GasGlass directly from Finland and received a contract from a builder to check all incoming units on a commercial project. Checking for gas fill is just one of the many things he will check on, said Ernst. It would be in the industrys best interest to make sure they know what they are producing. Things have been done in such a sloppy haphazard way in the past that consumers are starting to lose faith in the industry to provide what was ordered. While perhaps this is good for consultants (and lawyers) this is not the reputation we want our industry to have. One where we will only provide you what you asked forif you make us.
Ernst admits that a class action lawsuit against the window and door industry truly scares him, especially since it has hit almost every other industry. Its frightening to think about, he said.
Putting it to the Test
Hopefully, lawyers will not be the ones using the GasGlass. In the hands of the right people (window manufacturers), the GasGlass can be a valuable tool. While it can test IG units to see how much Argon is in a unit, it can also take a unit through accelerated aging and can project out how long the seal will last. For manufacturers thats an exciting thing, said Ernst.
A few different companies in the industry are testing the GasGlass. Edgetech used the device to test a variety of IG units that had been Argon-filled. These units were obtained from a third-party commercial fabricator who had no knowledge of the test program, according to Plavecsky. Edgetech tested six Intercept units, six Super Spacer units and six Swiggle units. The units were then checked each week using the GasGlass to determine the Argon content.
After ten weeks of high humidity testing for initial Argon fill and retention, Edgetechs Super Spacer and TruSeals Swiggle maintained well over a 90 percent fill rate. However, the Intercept units started at an 88-percent fill rate and after ten weeks dropped to a 74-percent fill rate. The units were also subjected to ten weeks of P1 tests. All units dropped to under the 90-percent rate: Super Spacer hit a low of 82; Intercept 70; and Swiggle 58.
Plavecsky did add, though, that workmanship issues could have played a role in the test results.
In fact, Burk disagrees with these results. He says the companys Intercept spacers pass the DIN1286 test which uses the GC method to determine Argon loss over time. The gas loss of Intercept IG units has been determined to be less than 1 percent per year, said Burk. I do not believe that the comparisons shown on the Edgetech presentation are credible or valid.
Ernst, of course, has also used the GasGlass to perform his own tests. He admitted to being a little nervous before testing the windows at FDRs headquarters in Minnesota. I tested three units in my office first and breathed a sigh of relief, said Ernst. The windows, which were 10 to 11 years old and purchased at a lumberyard yielded results of 90/92/94 percent fill levels. After 11 Minnesota winters, the average is 90.6 for all 40 units, said Ernst.
Spindler said that Cardinal has also been conducting tests with the GasGlass for more than a year in an attempt to determine the repeatability and accuracy of the equipment. Spindler said Cardinal took known gas concentrations that were certified. He then measured the accuracy of the GasGlass with those fill levels and compared that to the GC. The GasGlass was found to be fairly accurate at levels of 80 percent and above with an accuracy of 2 to 3 percent, he said. There is still a lot of work required by the industry to make certain that this measuring device is reliable, accurate and gives similar readings from instrument to instrument.
Certification Programs/Argon Standards
So what do the different associations and their corresponding certification programs and standards say about Argon? At IGMA, manufacturers must achieve a 90-percent average Argon fill level. Ten samples are tested every four years. If a manufacturer does not meet the requirements they cannot use the IGMA label on units.
Were [IGCC] taking a different approach, said Kent. Were asking companies what their targeted fill level is and we validate that target. The IGCC tests four production units and the manufacturer must be within 3 percent of that level for Argon certification.
While Argon has been a big issue for organizations such as IGMA and the IGCC, Toth feels that AAMA is a latecomer to the dance. He said that while at one time Argon filling was an option, it has now become more of a standard in the industry as more window manufacturers choose to Argon fill. For this reason, Toth said AAMA is starting to take a close look at the issue.
Our intent is to look at existing studies and corroborate testing, said Toth. So far, the testing we have done has been voluntary. He said AAMA testing thus far has looked at the correlation between construction and short-term performance. Toth said the committee may now look at other types of testing. Were exploring alternative ways of Argon fill and retention, he said. Ideally, AAMA would come up with an Argon standard that addressed issues such as fill rate and test methods.
So while various organizations may test for fill level, Ernst believes the GasGlass could be used as part of the certification process by governing bodies such as IGCC, AAMA, NFRC and IGMA. But, would this raise certification costs? Ernst said it depends on how this is done. He says that in IGMAs case the $10,000 GasGlass would replace a $50,000 Mass Spec GC. Using the Mass Spec GC it takes a full eight-hour day to test a batch of 20 sample units, said Ernst. The GasGlass can do the same 20 units in less than an hour. The GC test also destroyed the unit by plunging a hole through the sealant.
In the case of the IGCC, they use Oxygen analyzers. Using this test method, a sample is pulled from the unit to look for the amount of Oxygen. That number is then multiplied by 4.78 to come up with the Nitrogen and Oxygen. That number is then subtracted from 100 to get the fill percentage.
You can see how a small inaccuracy in the Oxygen reading can swing the results of the calculated fill percentage, said Ernst. The advantage is the Oxygen test equipment is less expensive and simpler to run. He adds that a mass spec GC will cost in the $35,000 to $50,000 range and needs a technician to run it. Conversely, an Oxygen analyzer costs $4,000 to $10,000 depending on accuracy and what options you buy with it, and it is very simple to run. While a GC needs to pretty much stay on the lab bench, Ernst said that the Oxygen analyzers are reasonably portable. Both methods require a gas sample which means the unit is somehow punctured, said Ernst.
ASTM Task Group E 06.22.05 is working on putting together test methods and specifications for the Harmonized Insulating Glass Standard (HIGS). According to Milind Jhaveri, R & D project manager for Edgetech IG, and member of the above ASTM task group, the HIGS standard is a proposed test standard to replace/combine the current ASTM E773/774 and the CGSB 12.8 M-97 test standards. This group has been working on development of the HIGS standard for the past six years. There are three documents that the task group is working on, which Jhaveri said composes the meat of the proposed HIGS standard. These include:
1. Test for IG unit durability performance;
2. Test for IG unit fogging performance; and
3. Test for IG specification.
According to Jhaveri, all negatives have been withdrawn, which moves all three documents forward for a vote by the Committee on Standards to review how any negatives were handled. If there are no appeals, then the documents become standards soon.
The task group is also working on two additional documents, Standard Test Method for Determining the Concentration of Fill Gas in a Sealed Insulating Glass Unit Using an Oxygen Analyzer and Standard Test Method for Determining Argon Concentration in a Sealed Insulating Glass Unit Using Gas Chromotagraphy. Jhaveri said there has been much discussion about the GasGlass device but adds that the product is too new to look at as a test method at this point.
It is also important to note that this task group is only working on a test method on how to determine the fill and or Argon concentration in a unit. How much the fill should be will be left to certifying bodies such as the IGCC, says Jhaveri.
Although the committee is close to adoption of the HIGS standard, their work is far from over. Argon retention is also on the ASTM priority list, said Jhaveri.
Although the GasGlass now offers a practical way to ensure Argon is getting into an IG unit, that does not mean the unit is not flawed. Experts in the industry agree that workmanship issues also play a role. For example, even if 90-percent Argon is put in a unit, the Argon may escape over time due to poor workmanship of the unit. Look to the next issue of DWM/BCM for information from the industrys experts concerning how to design an Argon-filled IG unit properly.
|IG Product Spotlight
|Setting the Standard
Building Quality IG Units with a TPS System
by MARCEL BALLY
Ever since its introduction at the glasstec exhibition in 1996, Thermo
Plastic Spacer (TPS) was riding a wave of success in Europe, even in the face of initially
adverse economic conditions. There are now approximately 30 TPS systems operating
worldwide, making everyone wonder why insulating glass (IG) units were not made that way
all along. Now that there are two TPS systems up and running for well over a year in the
United States (one for residential and one for commercial applications) it is the right
time to explore the concept and its ramifications in greater detail.
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