For an industry newcomer like myself, stepping into the fabrication facility at Vitrum Glass Group, located in Langley, British Columbia, is a little like stepping into a new ecosystem. Or rather, several ecosystems. Some parts of the 130,000-square-foot facility are balmy, others cool. And, like any eco-system, sustainability is the ideal.
The facility is an impressive operation for a company that celebrated its 20th anniversary on June 15, with a festive day that included education sessions, facility tours and an outdoor party. Attendees, many of them first-time visitors to the facility, included members of both the design and glazing communities.
Vitrum kicked off the event with four educational sessions covering current topics in glass and glazing. I attended “Glass Production, Processing and Performance,” presented by Andre Kenstowicz, architectural manager Pacific Northwest, Vitro, vitroglazings.com. Kenstowicz offered a condensed overview of glass manufacturing and fabrication, including a focus on energy performance in the face of consistently increasing energy costs.
The seminars served as good preparation for the facility tours, and indeed many participants were clearly looking forward to seeing fabrication in action. “We want to get a sense of the production process,” says Lindsay Gallo, partner/regional manager, Novus Glass, novusglass.com, a customer of Vitrum. “We want to know how it’s made.”
Industry veteran Mike Trussel, sales representative, Vitrum Industries, vitrum.ca, guided tour participants on a step-by-step journey through the fabrication process, from stock sheets to shipping. Part-way through, the tour jogged across the lot to Vitrum’s younger sister company, Apex Aluminum, an aluminum extrusions facility, now nearly eight years old.
The theme of the tour was automation. In May 2014, Vitrum instituted enterprise resource planning software throughout its fabrication facility. This custom software solution was designed to increase automation, and thus reduce the amount of material damaged by human error.
At Apex, a facility that extrudes about 23 million pounds of aluminum per year, the product is almost never handled by humans. The plant’s automated inventory system also allows the company to keep 3.2 million pounds of extrusion in stock, which significantly reduces lead times on orders, according to Apex representatives.
One byproduct of automation is sustainability. Less lost or damaged product means less waste. Apex also recycles the 15 percent waste that is inherent to the extrusion process, and Vitrum cleans and reuses the 100,000 gallons of water it uses daily in the fabrication process.
Tour participants took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions relevant to their individual specialties. Stephanie Fargas, specifier, Dialog, dialogdesign.ca, was especially reassured by what she learned about Vitrum’s heat-soaking processes. “I’m glad to see Vitrum has it -- it means the glass will break here, and not onsite, where it will be really expensive,” explains Fargas. “I have to know a little about everything, so plant tours and education are helpful.”
After the tours finished, guests and hosts gathered for a party in front of the facility, complete with band, barbecue and a raffle. Thomas Martini, president of Vitrum, thanked his sister and partner, Gemma Martini, CEO, as well as the company’s over 300 full-time employees for their hard work and motivation in making the company a success. Overall, the celebration made it clear that the company is proud of its 20-year history…and is looking ahead to the next 20.
Norah Dick is assistant editor of Glass Magazine. Contact her at email@example.com.