ASK THE EXPERTS: Developments in Bullet-Resistant Glazing

By Joshua Huff

Many local officials are rethinking security measures due to increased attacks on schools and other institutions throughout the U.S. The push to install bullet- and blast-resistant products has forced glass companies to adapt and provide stronger, lighter and more aesthetically-pleasing frames and infills.

To better understand the latest developments in bullet- and blast-resistant products, USGlass magazine reached out to industry experts who discussed how the sector is evolving to meet changing needs.

Brad Campbell,
President of Riot Glass

Brad Campbell is no stranger to security glazing. The president of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Riot Glass heads a team that manufactures security glass solutions, including those for forced entry, bullet-resistant protection and blast mitigation. His company installs security products for various industries, including education, health care, retail and commercial buildings and government facilities.

Campbell is well-versed in the sector’s newest developments. His company is actively creating new processes to enhance security glazings, such as developing polymers resilient to high-level attacks from multiple attackers with heavy tools and firearms.

“That manufacturing process requires slower extrusion speeds to allow the molecular make-up of the infill to maintain a level of rigidity, but with enough elasticity to withstand forces far beyond standard polycarbonates,” he says. “This virtually unbreakable material is lighter weight, yet stronger, so we can retrofit buildings more cost-effectively than heavier glass-clad polycarbonate solutions normally needed to thwart such attacks.”

Retrofit is core to Riot Glass’s business, which is essential as more local governments pass legislation targeting security upgrades for institutions, allocating funds for bullet-resistant glazing and security hardware. Campbell says that, while Riot Glass has several off-the-shelf extrusions designed to fit most commercial window systems, it spends considerable time and energy
developing custom-fabricated systems for government, historical buildings and ultra-high-end properties.

Gerry Sagerman,
Sales Development for Insulgard Products

Conventional security glazing products are a thing of the past, says Gerry Sagerman, who’s responsible for sales development at Brighton, Mich.-based Insulgard Security Products. He explains that customers seek thinner security products that provide protection and meet energy codes.

“Ten years ago, we would get a call for ballistic windows, and there was no mention of the framing systems needing to be thermally broken or the glazing needing to be insulating or have special low-E coatings,” he says. “Now, that is a requirement. It used to be that if it was ballistic, it met the requirements. Now, it has to be ballistic and meet today’s energy codes.”

Balancing the need for thinner security glass and optimal performance is challenging, says Sagerman. He explains that while thin system design improvements have slowed, thermal upgrades have advanced rapidly. Sagerman says that to make security glazing thinner, companies have to add more polycarbonate, which, while cheaper, lighter and stronger than glass, is still plastic. Insulgard focuses on glass first, which improves durability and maintenance.

“We are always trying to look into new products that don’t have exposed polycarbonate but have glass so that the maintenance and longevity is a little better,” says Sagerman.

Sagerman explains that Insulgard typically provided security glazing to police stations, banks and government buildings. He says applications have expanded to buildings with customer service windows and schools.

Wade Arnold,
Commercial Sales Director for Specialty Fenestration Group

The newest developments in the field of security glazing encompass more than just advancements in materials technology, says Wade Arnold, commercial sales director for Houston-based Specialty Fenestration Group, a subsidiary of Quikserv and U.S. Bullet Proofing. Developments also include a growing understanding and acceptance that bullet- and blast-resistant glass saves lives.

“The states are finally recognizing that something needs to be done [to protect schools],” he says. “In the past, you had states like New Jersey, Texas, Colorado, and certain parts of California that took notice of the situation, such as the attacks on Sandy Hook Elementary, Robb Elementary School and Columbine High School, scenarios of that nature. After the Nashville Covenant School shooting, that certainly sparked the interest of the educational community again.”

As a result, Arnold says there has been a surge in funds placed aside for school security. This includes legislation passed in states, such as New York, Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri. In fact, The Show Me State passed a public safety bill in April 2023 that states all schools must have bullet-resistant doors and windows on first-floor entryways and bullet-resistant glazing for each exterior window large enough for intruders to enter.

When it comes to the bullet-resistant products themselves, Wade says they are becoming more robust.

“You see more flexible interlayers being utilized,” he says. “You see systems that are becoming lighter but still more robust regarding protection levels.

Jim Richards,
CEO of Total Security Solutions

Jim Richards, CEO of Michigan-based Total Security Solutions (TSS), explains that his company is focused on removing the polycarbonate interlayer from bullet-resistant systems. The issue with polycarbonate, he says, is that it crazes and “does things that are not great for the makeup of ballistic materials.”

He adds that TSS has “a couple of makeups that we are getting into the market now. We’re in the early stages of it … We’ve been working over the past year to get that polycarbonate layer out of there but still have a thinner material. We’ve partnered with some new glass makeups to be able to achieve that.”

Richards says that while the company’s overall goal is to develop a thinner bullet-resistant system, it seeks to find a balance between the appropriate thickness and the durability and longevity of its ballistic products. He says that TSS aims to thin out the systems over the next five years, which will help with freight costs and improve the installation process as the systems get bigger.

“As a business, if we can take a quarter inch out of each level, that would be a huge advancement for us,” says Richards.

As for installing bullet-resistant systems, Richards says TSS has seen more installation diversity in recent years. He explains that corporate security is a big focal point now, along with more everyday applications focused on protecting people more so than property.

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