• The Glass Association of North America’s Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) division wwill meet March 17-19 in Las Vegas. There’s a lot more that will come out of this event than just the annual meet and greet. For one, the Technical Committee is writing a “Curtainwall Fenestration Systems Manual” that’s meant to be a primer for new architects and industry newcomers on exterior glazing. We hope to have the first three sections published later this year. If you’ve been looking for a way to contribute to the industry, this is only one of many opportunities. Please contact Urmilla Sowell (usowell@glasswebsite.com) or Sara Neiswanger (sara@glasswebsite.com) if you’d like to contribute — even if you’re not going to Vegas.

    And, now for some random thoughts …

    BIM and Communication 

    According to one blog, BIM usage today is three times greater than what it was in 2010 – that’s a big change in only three years.

    And, the lawsuits are already starting to hit the courthouses. Check out this interesting post about a suit involving BIM and communication.  As good as BIM can be, the architect in this instance allegedly made an assumption about the construction sequencing and didn’t pass that on to the general contractor (GC). The GC sequenced the HVAC work differently than the architect envisioned, and the HVAC contractor couldn’t complete his work. Now, I don’t begin to understand how that scenario is possible, but it must have been pretty serious if it ended up at the courthouse. You can have the latest gizmos, whiz-bangers and ultimate software, but if communication doesn’t occur, it’s all a waste.

    As my boss frequently points out, “it’s like talking to your wife: nothing’s ever communicated by osmosis.” Give it another couple of millennia, and maybe our species will evolve to a higher level of communication where, “Forget what I did or didn’t say, you know what I was thinking” will work. For now, that response doesn’t cut it with spouses or the architecture industry.

    A similar point comes to mind when wrestling with the Third Rule of Customer Relationships:

    First Law:  The customer is always right.

    Second Law:  When the customer is wrong, see Rule 1.

    Third Law:  What do you do when the customer is wrong, punt?  Lord knows, telling them they’re wrong isn’t the easiest thing to do. What if they ask for something that really is not in your company’s best interest?

    My bet is most of us would try, to the best of our ability, to give the customer what they are asking for, within reason. But on occasion, a line is drawn that cannot be crossed when it goes against company standard operating procedure. In a case related to me by another project manager, the customer thought they knew the cause of a glass stain, but had made incorrect assumptions. Their claim was not even remotely possible.

    Again, the key here is communicating the situation to the customer in what I can only describe as “the most polite manner possible.”  Not that I’m the one to give lessons on this, but I’ve been fortunate to have worked for project managers or sales guys who are really good at doing this, and they’ve helped smooth the way through difficult situations.  Take advantage of those resources; they are priceless.

    So, too, are your suppliers, if they can lend credibility to the discussion regarding the matter in question.  Don’t squander their technical expertise; they are most willing to help.

    One past employer had the quintessential in-house communication form; they called it an “AVO” for Avoid Verbal Orders. You may have talked to everyone about a problem and the resolution, or given clear and concise verbal direction, BUT if it wasn’t put in writing, it never happened. Copies of the AVO went to all concerned/involved in the matter. It was great documentation; it never resulted in one of those, “he said/she said” conflicts.

    Quoted in a previous blog is the classic line said by the warden in Paul Newman’s movie, Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here …” Our spouses will hopefully forgive an occasional “failure to communicate,” but it is an essential problem to avoid in the glazing/construction industry.  Don’t let a lack of communication lead to disaster.

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  • In past blogs I’ve reflected on the use of glass in some very strange conditions:  the Willis (Sears) Tower observation booths, the bottom of a gondola on hot-air balloons, and the walkway over the Grand Canyon that allows a one-mile straight-down view. This amazing material our industry works with is remarkably adaptable to changing human needs.

    I’ve always been amazed at what architects ask us in the industry to do with glass, and our ability to innovate and deliver is remarkable. We now use glass in combination with other materials to protect people from fire, bomb blasts and hurricanes. All this from something that’s been around since the Mesopotamians came up with it (credited in 3500 BC). No other building material I can think of, except wood or stone, has been around as long. Artists also have used glass in everything from medieval rose windows in cathedrals to glass bowls that are almost 40 inches in diameter, according to Guinness.

    Glass can be tinted, filmed and used in a myriad of constructions:

    • By itself as “clear” glass (even that definition has changed, now a.k.a. low-iron glass);
    • Laminated with other lites;
    • Made into double- and triple-glazed units to provide wind, water and thermal protection; and
    • As a shading device (with frits and patterns).

    I could go on ad infinitum: it’s used as handrails, keeping occupants safely on balconies or overhangs; as a touch medium on smart phones and pads, etc.

    Adding to the wonders, glass keeps getting thinner, stronger and is asked to do more and more in the evolving tech world.

    I’m no engineer, but one of its fascinating characteristics is that regardless what you do to strengthen it, it deflects the same under load.  Annealed to heat-strengthened to tempered, the relative strength ratio is 1:2:4.  But under a uniform load and a constant thickness, the glass deflects the same. I don’t know of any other material that behaves that way. With any other material, if you strengthen it, it deflects less.

    Glass is heat-treated (heat-strengthened or tempered) for strength to meet several loading criteria. For thermal needs, primarily to be able to absorb direct sunlight, or because of other things done to the glass, such as tinting or filming. Thermal loading can come from adjacent, reflected loads, as well.  When reflective films are added to glass, and then placed on inside corners where direct and reflected sunlight can result in high loads, treating the glass to resist that load requires that it be strengthened.

    Its ability to absorb wind or impact loads also requires it to be heat–treated.  It serves double-duty in these instances: when tempered and used in doors, tempering can provide safety to users. And even here, there’s an alternative, but still that alternative involves glass: it can be laminated, instead.

    Bending, warping and forming glass into three-dimensional configurations is coming into vogue.

    So, amid all the concern about how people use glass in handrails, all the glass geeks out there looking at the glass, not through it, and the limits being put upon the architects to cut down on it, let’s not lose sight of the fact that, like wood and stone, glass has been successfully modified to do other things for us.

    I hope the public realizes, as the folks at the GANA’s Annual Conference recently learned, that glass is essential for human wellness. Namely, basking in sunlight directly affects our well being, yet since most of us are often indoors, we rely on glazing for access to full-spectrum light. We can’t all sit in the sun every day with one of those drinks with the tiny umbrellas in them, but instead have to work in what we tell our kids is the “real world.”

    In both our personal and professional lives, we obviously have a vested interest in making sure we do all we can to get smarter about how glass can and should be used. Hopefully, the storm clouds surrounding glass will motivate us all to do more with glass, not less.  I think we have a friend in the architects, as I don’t see them willingly accepting the efforts of those who would limit the use of glass.

    As the song says: “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.”  The clouds may not be entirely gone, but here’s to more light and vision using glass. I’m betting on something that’s already been around for 5,500 years hanging on a lot longer.

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  • I attended the Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference in Las Vegas this week. One thing I picked up was about the new turtle codes for glass. I’m told this has been all over the industry publications, but I’m having a hard time believing we have to now design glass for turtle safety. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We’re using glass to create electricity, protect occupants during storms and bomb blasts, etc. But I think I have now heard it all. It’s true that learning is a lifelong process.

    This got to me to thinking about all I have learned over the years. Bill Swango hired me straight out of college and told me it would take five years to teach me everything I needed to learn about this business—to know what glass strength is; how annealed, heat-strengthened, and tempered glass respond in loads; and their relative strengths, along with all the thousands of things about aluminum, gaskets, sealants, fasteners, and other components that go into curtainwall. I had to learn about finishes, coatings on glass, compatibility and adhesion, building movements—all of it in those first formative years.

    And then came the other side of the coin: it would take another five years to see if I could properly apply what I had learned the first five years before it could be determined if I was going to be a “keeper.” The “apprenticeship” was going to last ten years. And that’s why, in hindsight, I wasn’t going to be getting paid the same as the guys who had done their time. As young as I was, I thought I could do anything they could, and should be paid the same. Ah, the folly of youth. I was wrong, but I had to get older (which, by the way, also takes time) before I learned how wrong I was.

    It has also occurred to me that the “apprenticeship” program is probably true of any profession. College can teach you how to think like a (fill your major in here), or you can learn it by jumping right into it as a glazier or ironworker. But the time has to be spent. There’s no way to go from kindergarten to graduation immediately, the time has to be put in. Some may be better/faster learners, but time must pass in some quantity before you can learn a subject in depth.

    How do we pass this information on? If you’ve got a keeper in your organization, send them to BEC to interact with others in the profession and see how much knowledge and expertise is out there. Mentor someone in your organization.

    Where do you draw your talent from? Here are a couple of ideas:

    There are a lot of good college programs teaching project management and/or construction. Seek recruits from their ranks of graduates. Bringing them in after graduation, they can learn it without the “habits” of having already worked in the industry.

    Speaking from personal experience, I learned in school I wasn’t going to be an architect, but completed my degree and sort of fell into something related. Fortunately, I’ve never regretted working in the glazing profession, and have not looked back once.

    There have got to be people with that same background in the architectural schools who could be involved in the one construction trade that deals everyday with what they learned in school. Plus, the draw that the glazing biz pays better than architecture has to have at least some attraction, right?

    And get involved in the trade. One of the technical issues we dealt with at BEC this week was to try to determine how clearance distances between glass and metal came about as listed in an industry standard. Some of this has been around longer than the “long-in-the-tooth” guys can remember. And there doesn’t appear to be anyone who sat down and put all their notes in a form that someone can use all these years later.

    Because of the time taken to teach me the business, and for the joy and happiness being involved in it has brought me, I’m going to take this on as a passion, to take what I know and pass it on, somehow. I know I can do that participating in the technical committees, but there are probably other ways, too.

    I learned about having passion for our work this week, too, at BEC. It hasn’t all been turtle codes and Vegas stucco. Plus, there was golf yesterday afternoon, and that doesn’t happen very often in Seattle this time of year …

    In your own career, what actions do you take to keep learning, and to share your expertise with others?

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