Volume 44, Issue 6 - June 2009

Feature

Packing a Protective Punch 
Fabricating Disaster Glass Proves Successful for One Northeastern Company

by Megan Headley

The layman may view glass as a delicate object easily subject to breakage, but those in the know are well aware of the strength that this incredibly versatile material holds. Employees of Dlubak Corp. in Blairsville, Pa., may know better than most just what kind of impact and abuse glass can take. 

Although the company was founded in 1947 as Dlubak Studios to produce stained glass, pure aesthetics are no longer the focus (in fact, the stained glass division was phased out in 1982). While the company still does have occasion to incorporate decorative elements, today’s focus comes down to protection. 

“We do what I call ‘disaster glass’ products,” says president Frank Dlubak. 

Dlubak explains that this focus “really started about ten years ago in Florida with the hurricane [market].” Now you can just about name a disaster and the fabricator is producing a glass product that can withstand it: hurricane-, tornado-, earthquake-, bomb- and bullet-resistant glass all come pouring off of the three laminated lines and out of the five autoclaves at the company’s Blairsville, Pa., headquarters. 

For these safety and security capabilities, the company has eight bending furnaces, four water jets, a high-speed tempering line and a high-speed insulating line. It is renowned for its innovation in curved glass, as well as for aluminum bending. 

“We’re starting to focus more on our laminated products,” says vice president of sales Mark Kearns of that reputation for complex bending. “These products are still going to be there, but we’re going to focus more on the security—and there’s a lot more stuff coming.” 

A walk through the 125,000-square-foot facility in Blairsville will show stacks of glass up to 9 ½ inches thick, some in custom shapes and all providing the highest visibility. 

“Laminating glass is relatively simple,” says Damon Dlubak, vice president of operations, “[if] it’s just two pieces of glass. But as that thickness increases and when you’re also laminating with polycarbonate to glass, it becomes a lot more challenging."

Luckily, the company seems to thrive on challenges.

“You can never let your guard down, when you’re producing the parts,” says David Bazzano, chief executive officer. “The tiniest misstep can be cause for that piece to be thrown in the dumpster."

With a strong team behind them, and some unique machinery in place, the company is able to provide its protective packages to meet just about any requirement. That’s not easy when it comes to working with massive laminated lites—as shapes alone can throw a curve. 

“[Customers] come up with unusual shapes,” says Frank Dlubak, “which may take weeks to figure out how to do.” He adds, “Picture things going in a … trapezoid shape, which are laminated and you have to go through all of the technology of lamination and make sure nothing slides, and how to hold it together and maintaining optics and all of that. So a shape is a big issue …” 

Military Might
A great deal of Dlubak’s glass is the direct result of the company’s focus, within the last six years, on providing protective glass for military clients. 

“We deal with the all types of federal government applications,” Frank Dlubak says. 

Most of its work comes through contractors with connections in the various branches and necessary security clearances. 

“We actually started to make glass for the military in 2003,” Bazzano recalls. “We were dealing with a contractor that called us and placed an order. At that time he was asking us for 100 parts a week and … 100 parts a week was like, we’re never going to make it. After a couple of months of doing that and figuring a way out to make these parts for them, this customer calls me and says, ‘Look, I have an order for 1,800 parts.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s great, that’s wonderful.’ And he said, ‘I need them next Friday.’”

With a week and a half in which to produce more than ten times more parts than was the norm, the outcome should have seemed doubtful. 

Bazzano continues, “I got our supervisors together and I said, ‘we have an opportunity. We have a challenge. Can we do this? We can get this 1,800-piece order. If we can’t we’re going to have to turn him away.’

They stepped out on a limb and took the job. A week and a half and some new “techniques and processes” later, “we got the 1,800 done—and now it’s not a problem to do that on any given day. Now 1,800 pieces is a small order for us.”

In one month, Bazzano says, the company ships more than 25,000 pieces of glass for its military clients. 

Meeting a challenge like this would cement a relationship with an architectural client and it turns out that a government contractor is no different. 

“The government looks at suppliers and they give them a degrees of value, like 1-10. So far I think we’ve been at the 10 [end]—we’re always ahead of the order,” says Frank Dlubak. 

“Not just on time, but ahead,” points out project manager Sunghoon Kim. “It’s very rare to find that.”

In addition, Bazzano explains, when working for these large government contracts, “You have to be standing by ready to produce on a moment’s notice.”

Although the plant is running around the clock, things can move from 0 to 60 in a snap, since there’s no well of “custom inventory” from which to draw once that contract comes through. There’s just those stock low-iron and float glass lites—from PPG, primarily, as well as Pilkington—as well as polycarbonate from Sheffield and Sabic to laminate into the latest project. 

“They are specialty products and something could change, so we have to jump in and get ready to work whenever the works hits us,” Bazzano says.While the work has been steady, Frank Dlubak is well aware that this focus may change during the next four years of a new administration.

“You listen to the news and we listen to some of our customers that there’s a reduction in military applications,” he says. “But who knows …” 

Taking Control of Quality
According to Bazzano, one of the big differences Dlubak Corp. faces in dealing with military clients versus its architectural glass customers is that the “quality is a lot more stringent.” That demand for quality went up a notch recently. 

“We had a mandate from one of our contractors on the U.S. Army … that we follow through with ISO compliance,” Kim explains. 

The company has drawn on a variety of resources to accomplish the task, spearheaded by Kim.

“We have consultants working with us, we also have students from the University of Pittsburgh School of Business,” Bazzano says. 

In addition, a government agent visits the facility on a weekly basis to review the products.

“He inspects the glass for the government here before it goes out the door,” says Frank Dlubak. “It’s good for us because once he inspects it they take ownership, and then we have an accepted product right here.”

Beyond the client’s inspections, the company follows the adage that everyone must do their part when it comes to quality control. 

Bazzano says, “When it’s cut, it’s inspected; when it’s seamed and washed it’s inspected again; when it’s laid up, it’s inspected. The final inspection is in the factory plant where we have the zebra board set up and the fluorescent lights …”

Should customers find some problem during their tests or once the finished product is provided, careful records can show the process—and inspections—that occurred each step of the way. “We keep good records of what we do,” Bazzano says.

“We try to maintain traceability of parts so we can actually trace back to a specific autoclave load and see when something was made, and go back and make sure that all the right parameters were followed during the processing of that part.” 

Family Matters
There’s something else about the employees at Dlubak that clearly stands out—and that comes with the Dlubak name itself. 

Charles Dlubak founded the company in 1947, and Frank Dlubak began working in the family business at the age of 12. Today the family ties run throughout various levels of the company, and the family members say the benefits far outweigh any challenges that may come in working with family.

 “It’s nice having everybody work together with us,” Bazzano says. Bazzano shares the Dlubak family ties through his sister, Ave Bazzano Dlubak, Frank Dlubak’s wife of 40 years. 

“It feels good. Frank’s always there with a phone call; you can reach him 24 hours a day. The family thing makes it that much easier.” 

Daughter Alyssa Dlubak Bodiford has handled marketing for the past 10 years, having worked in estimating and customer service for five years prior to that. Three years ago Damon Dlubak joined the company, and two years ago Kim, who is married to Amy Dlubak Kim, came onboard. 

Not that there’s any pressure to join the family business, Frank Dlubak says. Still, he talks of his children’s roles with pride. “I’m very proud of them,” he says simply. Having trusted family members onboard has helped shaped the company’s success today. 

“That bond is extremely strong,” Kim says. He adds, “I see that pervasive throughout everybody here. The average length of employment for the salaried employees is around 17 years. And then out there in the plant … it’s around 7 years. So you’re looking at a tremendously loyal family base—not just this immediate family but all of us.”

“We even have 30+ year employees,” Bazzano adds. 

Again, quite a feat, although as Frank Dlubak boasts he’s just three years shy of marking his 50th anniversary in the glass industry. 

Fifty years has brought a number of changes to the company—but innovation has been a constant. 

 

Megan Headley is editor and Debra Levy is publisher of USGlass magazine.

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