Handling Techniques: Lifting Curved Glass Calls for Unique Considerations

By Ellen Rogers

The increased complexity of architectural glass has helped give way to more use of curved glass in many high-rise façades and other applications. But working with curved glass calls for different considerations than working with flat glass, particularly when handling and lifting it. And one of the most critical is something that may seem otherwise small: suction cups.

Alan Nudi, director of sales and rentals with Ergo Robotic Solutions in Queensbury, N.Y., explains that curved glass adds an additional dynamic to the installation.

“You have to consider using different suction cups and a different arrangement of suction cups,” he says. “We work directly with customers to find out the weight/dimensions of the glass and we can provide the proper suction cups and arrangements for that installation.”

Rick Bigbee, vice president of sales for Bailey Cranes & Aerials in Muskego, Wis., adds that every application is a little different, so working with the suction cup supplier is important. These companies, he explains, have different products that can be adapted depending on the job. His company connects their engineers with those of the suction cup supplier to ensure proper settings, adjustments, etc.

Steven Brooks, national sales director with SmartLift U.S. in Frankfort, Ill., agrees that while all equipment models have the necessary lifting capability, the suction cups make the difference.

“The cost [of curved glass] is expensive, so customers are looking for ways to reduce the risk of breaking it,” he says.

He says there’s been a definite increase in the demand for oversized curved glass and, with that, the need for the equipment to handle it.

“The equipment does have the capability to do that,” he says, explaining that not everyone is aware of this. “So we have to inform [customers] that they can do it because it’s not something they deal with every day.”

Nudi explains that with curved glass a lot depends on its radius.

“That will determine the suction cups used for that glass. You also want to make sure the curved cups have swivels and you’re minimizing your overhang at all times,” he says.

For contract glaziers working on these jobs, Nudi suggests they stay in communication with their equipment supplier and to make sure they understand what they’re doing and that the machine is cut out for the job.

“There are lots of intricacies involved with moving glass, especially curved glass. For example, the center of gravity will change depending on whether it curves toward or away from you. Make sure your machine can lift the weight, but that it can also [handle it] with the center of gravity being further out than it would be normally.”

Brooks says the biggest consideration is knowing the overall weight of the glass and the curvature radius to make sure the proper suction cups are provided.

According to Bigbee, one of the biggest considerations for contract glaziers is the weight of the material, which he says they often don’t know.

“That’s why it’s critical the engineers [work together] to check the psi and suction settings because they are adjustable,” he says.

Nudi adds that given the changing market demands and trends, his company is continuing to explore new markets for opportunities that can transition into new products.

“We’re discovering other similar products with companies that also install
curtainwall, such as concrete slab installations, which are very heavy,” he says.

Working and communicating with suppliers is one of the keys to successful handling applications, particularly with complex substrates such as curved glass.

“When lifting any material, it’s doable and easier than people think it is,” says Nudi. “But it’s important to follow the crucial steps to make it happen … It’s a matter of following the right protocols and it can be safe and simple.”

Brooks also stresses that utilizing equipment rather than handling glass manually greatly enhances the overall safety of the installation.

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