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Staying Focused on Fabrication Essentials

The performance bar for commercial glass and glazing is always high, and it’s vital to minimize inconsistency during fabrication and installation

two employees in glazing factoryOver the last few years, I have heard that commercial fabricators are spending much more time and money on test labs for project-specific mock-up performance testing on commercial systems for large mid-rise development projects. The testing is often required by the project architect or building owner, who wants to ensure some of the fenestration systems (windows and curtainwall) openings would hit specific criteria. These systems are often installed on a test wall in a full-size representation of the proposed exterior wall system. Structural integrity, air tightness and water performance are all validated through the process, helping to grant confidence that the systems will deliver long-term performance.

This observation illustrates the increasing rigor with which commercial glass and glazing applications are being tested in today’s environment. For today’s projects, you may be certifying your products in a lab for thermal, air, water and structural performance, but building owners and other stakeholders are also paying for field testing to validate those performance test reports.

Meanwhile, increasingly stringent building codes continue to require that commercial glass and glazing professionals enhance the thermal performance of our products. This means more sophisticated glass systems, incorporating new technologies, and the need to put it all together seamlessly and without error.

With all of this in mind, fabricators must not lose sight of the importance of good fabrication fundamentals. Here are some things to think about.

Cross-training matters

Commercial glass professionals are familiar with labor challenges, but those challenges can ebb and flow. For example, when workers are more likely to use vacation time in the summer months, it’s not atypical to see production lines struggling to keep enough personnel on the line, even before we had the labor crunch. In many cases, you see supervisors or managers covering for vacancies, which puts extra strain on the business and may allow other things to slip through the cracks.

Summer also coincides with heightened demand. In such a scenario, a well-rounded staff should be able to pick up the slack with minimal interruptions to expected production. Ideally, workers have been trained in more than one work function and can take up the tasks left behind by one or more vacationers. Production workers with more limited skill sets, though, cannot reliably cover absent positions. Output can suffer and quality can be compromised, which is unacceptable considering the stakes for today’s commercial glass and glazing professionals.

For these reasons, cross-training on your plant floor is critical. It shouldn’t derail your entire production process if you’re short on staff for the day, whether because of someone taking time off or any other reason, but it requires you to invest in broadening the skill sets of all your workers.

Staying on top of preventive maintenance

Everyone knows that maintenance is an important part of maintaining quality. But even the little things can lead to major consequences, and it’s worth proactive evaluation throughout your production process.

For example, modern fenestration manufacturing is an exacting, precise process. As we increasingly implement automated processes and technologies into our operations, ensuring that all equipment is properly calibrated is critically important. Accurate notching and cutting of insulating glass spacers are important for your units’ overall performance. Your spacer applicator (manual or fully automated) must function as intended to make that happen. Look closely at your settings and ensure they’re properly adjusted and notching cleanly. Dull blades or incorrect settings have the potential to impact unit performance. Make adjustments as necessary.

Elsewhere, consider your glass washing station. If you make your own IG, it’s one of the most critical components of your production line. Dirty glass can lead to performance issues like seal failures, not to mention aesthetic imperfections. Ensuring that water quality and temperature are consistent is an everyday task. Once a week, it’s recommended that glass washing machines be power washed. And once per month, the machine should be taken apart and thoroughly cleaned. It can be easy to lose sight of these preventive maintenance tasks when other problems arise on the shop floor, but they should remain priorities.

Always look for new ways to improve

Maintenance and upkeep should be something you’re pursuing year-round. 
It’s a process of continuous improvement—and it’s just as important as any other on your shop floor.

Every so often, take the time to evaluate your established best practices and procedures. Have these processes been working well? Are they being followed reliably by your staff? Is everyone on your floor following the maintenance schedule you’ve established? Does that schedule need adjusting? Make the appropriate changes based on your answers to these questions. 

Maintaining the levels of quality required for success in today’s commercial fenestration market, all while pushing the boundaries of glass performance, isn’t easy. But staying focused on the fabrication fundamentals can go a long way toward maintaining consistent, high-quality, high-performance glass and glazing products. 


Joe Erb

Joe Erb

Joe Erb is national account manager for Quanex Building Products.