5 Things to Do Now If You Want to Fabricate Big Glass

By Ellen Rogers

Fabricators are a lot like kids at Christmas and jumbo glass is a lot like the hottest new toy of the holiday sea-son—everyone wants it, but not everyone will get one. Some fabricators might feel the same way about big glass. They see other companies starting up jumbo lines and the excitement and opportunities that follow, and wish that they could do the same. Some of those companies will, and they’ll be successful; others may not be as fortunate.

There’s a lot of research and planning that must take place before entering the jumbo glass market. Considerations revolve around logistics and the unique steps a fabricator must take to get the glass from the floor to the jobsite. These changes can disrupt a company’s entire operation if not executed carefully.

Is your company ready for the jumbo move? Here are five ways to help you find out.

1. Conduct a Needs Assessment

Ask yourself, “Do I really need it?” Jumbo-sized glass is one of the hottest products on the architectural market, and many fabricators are eyeing the possibility of adding it to their offerings. But that might not be the right move for everyone. Take the time to stop and research your current market and customer base and ask yourself if it’s a smart business decision.

According to Seth Madole, director of sales operations with Viracon in Owatonna, Minn., it’s critically important that fabricators understand their own market demands, as well as their customers’ needs and capabilities. For example, are the fabricator’s contract glazier customers equipped to handle jumbo glass?

“There are certainly those contract glaziers embracing oversized glass and there are those who are more reluctant,” he says. “As a fabricator enters the market, it’s important that they help educate the customer base regarding logistics, quality standards, warranties and benefits of big glass.”Brian Savage, product manager with Viracon, says that includes understanding the capabilities of your customers.

“For example, do they have the necessary logistical equipment?” questions Savage. “We travel around the country talking to contract glaziers about what big glass is and what to expect from it as far as capabilities, sizes, weight, etc. and how it will be packaged as it shows up on jobsites. Providing education is important.”

Glasswerks LA of South Gate, Calif., added jumbo fabrication capabilities to its operations within the past year. Vice president of sales John Medel says there’s quite a demand for jumbo glass in Southern California, which made it an easy decision.

“I think the most important thing to consider is demand. Architects are designing with larger sizes than ever before and there are a limited number of jumbo fabricators here in North America. That means there’s plenty of opportunity, but how much of it is in your immediate area?” he says. “The logistics are important to consider, since it can be difficult to manage projects from thousands of miles away.” Medel says his company is in an ideal position, as it’s currently the largest glass fabricator in Southern California. “The region has a huge variety of large-scale projects, and jumbo glass is just part of our product portfolio, which gives us great flexibility.”

2. Make Sure You Have the Space

A company that fabricates jumbo glass will need a whole lot of space. Viracon’s investment included a 1.5 million square foot facility, where it can coat glass sizes up to 130 by 236 inches. Investments also included a new warm-edge spacer technology for insulating glass units called Viracon Thermal Spacer (VTS). VTS replaces a traditional spacer, desiccant and primary sealant with a single component spacer—and it’s available in glass sizes up to 130 by 236 inches.

“Everything from the overhead doors to aisle ways to the rack sizes, conveyor tables and suction cups are a consideration,” says Savage. “Everything that goes into processing a standard insulating glass unit needs to be, in some cases, exponentially larger.”

He continues, “You even have to think about the direction you’re going to transport the glass through the aisle ways. How do you move the glass through the facility? As the weight of the glass goes up you will need even more rack space and storage … through every fabrication step [the equipment and space needed] increases in size and number.”

In addition to the large amount of space needed, Medel says figuring out the flow of the facility is also important, from the trucks that bring in the glass to the finished product leaving the plant.

“Jumbo glass brings a whole new set of challenges that need to be overcome, from building the factory to transporting the glass, and each step in the process has to be carefully addressed,” he says. “It’s not just another new product, and the organization really needs to shift their entire frame of reference to handle it. Think everything through step by step … you have to have a facility prepared to deal with jumbo glass efficiently. Maybe you can construct a new building to house new equipment, but how is access at that location? Is that the most expedient place on your campus for trucks to get in and out?”

3. Be Prepared to Buy a Lot of New Equipment

From the cutting tables to the ovens to the IG lines, Madole says all fabrication machinery and equipment has to increase in size.

“Plus, all internal transportation equipment needs to not only be able to handle the dimensional size, but also the weight of the glass,” he says. “In addition, the inspection process becomes more difficult because it’s a much larger surface area that needs to be inspected.”

Savage says education is another major component, and customers typically expect the same warranty and quality with oversized glass as they do with traditionally sized glass.

“We continue to offer our standard warranty on our over-sized glass. If you’re fabricating the glass the right way, you should expect the same quality as with standard glass.”

According to Medel, one of the first steps is to contact the equipment manufacturers for recommendations and guidelines.

“This is something you want to start planning way ahead of time,” he says. “It’s a major undertaking, and requires a significant investment in money, time and resources.”

4. Plan to Wait

There’s no next day shipping when it comes to jumbo glass machinery and equipment. Fabricators that decide to enter this market need to be prepared for long lead times. Madole says it can take up to 12 months to receive oversize equipment; and it’s not just the major machinery that’s affected.

“It’s so important to think through all ancillary components needed in terms of racks, shrink wrappers, and other supporting equipment,” he says.

“It’s all customized machines and the waiting period for designing and manufacturing could go up to two years,” adds Maic Pannwitz, vice president of sedak. “It’s a long-term process and the price for this type of equipment … goes up exponentially [compared to standard machinery].

5. Know How to Move and Transport the Glass

One of the biggest considerations when it comes to jumbo glass is the enormous requirements for the handling, lifting and transportation equipment—not only throughout the fabrication facility, but also to the jobsite.

“Because of the value of the oversized glass it’s that much more important to handle, ship and deliver it in a safe, high quality manner,” says Madole. “It’s more complex in terms of both execution and planning … These glass sizes don’t always transport well—or at all—on a flatbed truck. You have to think about how you’re going to get that glass to the customer. The customer may assume it’s going to be two trucks in and out delivered, but it ends up being eight trucks. It takes additional proactive training to ensure success.”

Savage adds, “Where you might typically have 200 standard units on a truck, you might only ship three or four oversized units at the largest dimensions on a truck. So you might need more trucks, which can add expense, and you need to ensure you have the proper equipment to load and offload.”

Medel agrees. “Weight, logistics, storage, access to the fabrication facility … you have to think it all through very carefully. That goes for your customers as well. You may be ready to sell to them, but do they have the experience and equipment needed to install the glass? If the glaziers aren’t prepared, they can quickly get into trouble, taking on jobs they aren’t ready to handle. But that also means it’s also a great opportunity for you to help your customers become jumbo specialists and take advantage of new opportunities.”

He stresses the significance of the word jumbo in referring to this type of glass.

“The name says it all: jumbo glass. That word ‘jumbo’ is critical and at our company we don’t take it lightly. There’s a lot that goes into this product. If you’re a small company, be prepared to think ‘jumbo’ all the time, because that word contains everything that’s important about it. The money is big, the material, the undertaking, the trucks, it’s all big. If you don’t think in these terms and make sure you’re really prepared, it could bite you.”

Think You Can Handle It?

Whether you call it big, jumbo or oversized, these mega glass and glazing products have become a highly in-demand element of the architectural glazing industry. And while there’s plenty for a fabricator to think about before beginning production, they also need to think about how they will sell and market the glass.

“One of the issues we work on a lot with glazing contractors and building owners is how you compare the value of big glass to the cost of big glass,” says Savage. “When you’re talking about selling big glass … you have to think through the entire installed façade and building cost and how big glass adds value and not just the per square foot price of the glass itself.”

Medel adds, “Many people who work in the glass industry have been doing it for a long time. This is a conservative business and people don’t always want to be the first to invest in something new. But our company has always been at the cutting edge of the glass fabrication industry, and we knew that jumbo glass would fit in with our philosophy. We’re always looking to add capabilities that increase value for our customers, and it just made sense for us to offer the larger sizes today’s architects are including in their designs.”

Medel adds, “Glazing contractors continue to assume more risk as projects become more complicated and complex. As fabricators, our primary responsibility is to help mitigate the risk of the customers.”

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