Volume 42, Issue 9 - September 2007

Guest Book
Bent Glass Possibilities
New Technologies Expand Glazing Choices
by James R. Gulnick
 
Bent and large-sized flat, architectural glass products can be used in many applications for both aesthetics and performance. It seems, though, that these products are not used in North America as much as in other areas of the world. Is it the market demand for these products, the design vision of the architects or the limited availability, quality and cost that has kept the application of these products few and far between in North America? 

Setting the Rules
One reason bent and large-sized flat glass products do not have a greater market share here is that the leading architectural firms in North America have not incorporated bent glass in their designs as much as their international counterparts. One architect told me that their (the architectural population) understanding was that a few architectural firms generally set the tone in design, and the others then turn to them for design leadership. 

Another answer could be a simple error of perception. The glass industry as a whole is fascinated by design. Pictures of global buildings utilizing glass in their designs often illustrate the new and interesting. So when we see pictures of large, bent glass applications we assume that the world is moving in the direction of increased use. That perception is real—areas other than North America do use these products frequently.

Architects do not seem to realize the glass fabrication capabilities of North American companies. In fact, one architect even told me that he would be more comfortable with glass from a German supplier because the German company was “used to providing the quality that was needed for the job based on the architectural glazing products that are more typically supplied in Europe.” 

Availability and Quality 
Visit any of the major industry trade shows and you can get an idea of how difficult it is to produce bent and large-sized architectural glazing. I saw curved glass on display at a recent show in one equipment manufacturer’s booth that was near perfect in curve and optical quality. In another manufacturer’s booth the curved glass display showed visible signs of wave and distortion. Both examples came from companies with years of experience in producing equipment for making bent and tempered glass. 

The hopes for a brighter future for bent and tempered large glass may not be certain. It is a case of the chicken or the egg for many. In other words, some people think that when bent glass manufacturers can produce a quality product at a moderate cost, then the market will be more accepting of these solutions. Others think that the market needs to be much larger in order for more companies to make increased investment in production equipment to satisfy the demand.

A Lesson from Tempering
It used to be that if you could temper glass you could sell it. Quality was important but companies did not have the stringent specifications that they do now. Today glass sizes are larger, coatings are more difficult to work with and glass for insulating and laminating demands a high degree of flatness. The same degree of quality and demands of the market have increased the need for systems with greater capabilities and flexibility than years ago for these products.

For example, until a few years ago the only way to create a curved glass wall was to install flat glass sheets in a segmented curve. Though this method formed a curved glass facade, it had protruding edges and frames. The capability to bend and temper large glass sizes has eliminated the need for frames and provides beautifully curved glass sheets.

Bending and tempering technology without tooling has also taken the use of curved shapes to a new level. The ability to utilize more accurate methods of heating, such as high-resolution heating with convection technology, has brought the latest technical innovations into the process of bending and tempering large glass lites. 

Equipment is available today to produce instant U-, J-, V- and S-bend shapes and flat, large-sized, high-quality glass. What’s more, many different types of coated glass can be bent and tempered while retaining its look and performance. The future is getting brighter, if not yet clearer, for bent and large-sized flat architectural glazing solutions. 

the author: James R. Gulnick is the North American eastern regional sales manager for Glaston America Inc. Mr. Gulnick’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.


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