Volume 47, Issue 8 - August 2012

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Saved by the System
Scratch Removal Grows in Helping
Architectural Glass Companies to Reduce Costs

by Penny Stacey

Scratch removal—it makes sense; it saves both money and glass; and it’s a green process. But how common is it? Industry experts say it has grown in prevalence among architectural glass manufacturers and fabricators.

“Every glass manufacturer and window fabricator that I’ve talked to has glass issues and, when the economy’s down, the last two years it’s seen some pretty decent growth,” says Brad Plumb, director of sales and business development for Bend, Ore.-based GlasWeld, which manufactures a scratch removal system.

Kerry Wanstrath, president and CEO of Durango, Colo.-based Glass Technology, agrees. “I don’t know of any fabricator or glass manufacturer that doesn’t have waste as a result of scratched glass, whether it’s in the glass handling process or storing it.”

The goal of scratch removal is to not only remove the scratch, but also maintain a distortion-free piece of glass, according to industry experts in the field. “When first introduced our product, it wasn’t distortion-free, but it was clear that that was the concern of manufacturers and fabricators that the results be distortion-free,” says Wanstrath.

While manufacturers and fabricators have removed scratches for years with the use of cerium oxide, today’s scratch removal system manufacturers say the industry has come a long way from the past. “They’ve all got their brown cerium buckets in the plant,” says Dennis Garbutt, general manager for GlasWeld.

“That’s where we come in,” adds Plumb. “We’ve got to show them that it’s quite a bit quicker to do it our way than the old way and to get no distortion.”

Where to Find
As the industry moves toward the future, most scratch removal suppliers offer training and supplies to manufacturers and fabricators in need of this service. “We had originally thought about a contracting division,” says Garbutt. “We’ve been more successful selling equipment and training, though.”

Wanstrath echoes Garbutt. “Our focus is on producing a quality system and tools and solving the problem,” he says. “We don’t have an interest in performing the service.”

What Glass Technology will sometimes do, though, is put together a team of scratch removal experts in a given area to help out on a project when needed. “We try to group them together so we create a service force,” he says. “Typically that might be a large high-rise building where hundreds of windows have been damaged in construction. They want the problem to go away, and we’ll put them in touch with actual service providers. Typically that requires a pooling of resources because the [glazier or project manager] wants it done tomorrow.”

The savings can be large, whether it’s done in the field or in the plant. “I would say [a manufacturer or fabricator] can save 5 to 6 percent [annually],” says Wanstrath. “It depends upon the value of their product. If it’s a product that has a lot of cost associated with creating it, or there’s a lot of labor going into producing it, then the profitability of the service has greatly increased. If it’s a simple, residential single-pane, it’s not worth it.”

Plumb says the savings likely vary by company. “We’ll go through a return on investment with [the company] and show them how quickly the system can be paid for,” he says.

Adding It In
The way scratch removal is integrated into a fabrication or manufacturing line varies. “When I visit an [architectural glass] facility, I’ll walk the plant and look at how they’re currently handling it,” says Plumb. “In many cases, those people who do the final inspections handle [scratch removal] right there.”

“It’s part of the quality control process,” adds Garbutt.

The process usually just takes between five and ten minutes, so manufacturers and fabricators have to consider whether it’s worth it to remove the scratch or let the piece of glass go. “What I’m finding in most facilities is they’re in the five-minute range and they’ll go up to ten,” says Plumb. “But if they’re going above that they may go to the end of the line and throw it in the trash bin.”

There are still misconceptions, though, about the scratch removal systems of today. “There is an idea that has been around that if you can feel a scratch with your fingernail, it can’t be fixed,” says Wanstrath. “That was true in 1990 but it’s not true any longer. It’s amazing how much progress has been made in the last five years in what can be done.”

And some fabricators are aware of scratch removal as an option, but not of the advancement of today’s systems. “If they’re fabricating glass, I think they’re aware that it’s an option, but I don’t know that all of them have seen the various processes and the differences and the results,” adds Wanstrath. “The methodology of doing it is much more structured than simply grabbing a wheel and some cerium oxide, which typically has been done.”

Also, fabricators must remember that there are limits, according to Plumb. “Everyone wants something to work for everything, but it doesn’t work that way,” he says. “Most manufacturers understand that time is money and, if you can take a scratch out fairly quickly, it’s definitely something worth doing. In some cases it may be better to make a new window or a new piece of glass, though.”

At the Plant
While scratch removal systems manufacturers say their systems are in widespread use among glass fabricators and primary manufacturers, few are apt to go on record regarding the process.

Viracon officials advised USGlass magazine that the company does utilize a scratch removal process in its plants, but declined to comment further.

PPG Industries spokesperson Rob Struble says his company prefers to locate the problem rather than fix it, when it comes to scratches. “PPG does not use a scratch removal system or rework damaged glass. This is true in both our float glass operations as well as in our branch network in Canada where we manufacture insulating units for residential window customers,” says Struble. “For PPG, it is more economical to invest in eliminating the causes of scratches than adding labor and handling to ‘fix’ them.”

Shop Savings
While the most savings, of course, can likely be obtained by manufacturers and fabricators producing a large volume of glass, many architectural glass shops have found the process worthwhile for them as well.

“Why wouldn’t you want to restore a piece of glass if you had spent four to five hundred dollars on it?” asks Kerry Wanstrath, president and CEO of Glass Technology in Durango, Colo. “Why wouldn’t you put half an hour of labor in there to salvage that?”

“It’s definitely growing quickly among architectural glass shops,” adds Dennis Garbutt, general manager of Bend, Ore.-based GlasWeld.

Drexler Shower Door in Atlanta has been utilizing scratch removal in the shop for the last five years.

“We use it the majority of the time to save products that we’ve received that have small damage,” says company vice president David Drexler.

Drexler says the company utilizes the process approximately two to three times a week.

When it comes to savings, he says the scratch removal process results in a savings of both time and money for the company. “If I have to back-order glass it could take two to three extra days. If I can salvage something, it takes 20-30 minutes to do it and it helps us be better service-oriented,” he says.

Penny Stacey is the editor of USGlass magazine. She can be reached at pstacey@glass.com. Read her blog at http://penny.usglassmag.com, follow her on Twitter @USGlass, and like USGlass magazine on Facebook to receive the latest updates.


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