Solution-based Manufacturing

Alpen High Performance develops a process for thin glass IGUs
Emily Kay Thompson
October 17, 2019
| Materials & Components

Editor’s Note: Window + Door did not receive enough entries into the Most Innovative Manufacturing Process category of the Window + Door Awards (formerly, the Crystal Achievement Awards) to make the category truly competitive. However, we received an entry from a company worth recognizing for its efforts in innovative manufacturing. The following article details how Alpen High Performance Products started manufacturing insulating glass units for its own windows and for other residential window manufacturers. 

Most narrow North American style residential market-oriented frames can’t accommodate wider triple glazed units in sizes necessary to optimize argon gas performance. Nor can these frames often handle the weight of traditionally built triple glazed units, sources report. Fortunately, lower krypton gas prices and the sudden ready availability of affordable ultra-thin glass in commercial quantities and sizes have combined at the perfect time to permit access to inexpensive thin glass triple insulating glass units, according to Alpen High Performance Products.

In collaboration with the Department of Energy, the company tested thin-glass, lightweight high-performance triple- and quad-pane windows up to 50 square feet in size and has successfully manufactured and installed products in both its own windows and in third-party manufactured windows in the marketplace.

Through this testing of the product’s strength and durability in larger sizes, Brad Begin, CEO of Alpen High Performance Products, says the company has “further refined and defined the most effective process—not only proving the durability of thin glass units but also higher levels of durability that can be expected of thin glass triples.” 

Finding solutions

Alpen developed a unique manufacturing process to incorporate thin glass into its insulating glass manufacturing operation. The company used a number of high-performance spacer systems in thin glass triples, and developed pressure and altitude equalization systems unique to the product line to allow it to be transported and installed at any altitude or elevation.

“Thin glass is unique relative to how it works its way through many elements of fairly standard sub-processes of traditional IG manufacturing,” explains Begin. “Through trial and error and discussions with component suppliers regarding how to handle it, we learned how to transport IGUs within our existing manufacturing operation efficiently and safely.” 

Simply getting the skinny triples and quads through an existing operation that is accustomed to glass thicknesses more traditionally found in the IG business took some modifications both in transportation and handling processes, Begin reports. Even cutting the thin glass has a unique technique and the tools differ from typical glass cutting. Washing the glass—in both vertical and horizonal settings—also poses unique but solvable challenges. Alongside traditional IG manufacturing, Alpen developed solutions to transport, clean and dry the glass and handle it efficiently through the assembly process.

“Importantly, by working with seven different spacer systems, we learned a lot about the different opportunities to support thin glass pane(s) inside the IGU,” he explains. This provides an opportunity to create more durable and higher performing units than may be available in more traditional insulating glass triple glazed solutions. “We’re also exploring how to automate the application of spacers in some interesting new ways not widely used in the glass manufacturing business.” 

Using thin glass in existing traditional narrow frame designs found in the U.S. window market also may overcome a competitive barrier to the high-performance markets, Begin believes, which he says have been dominated by foreign competition. 

During GlassBuild America 2019, Joe Erb of Quanex Building Products, discussed the impact of skinny triples on the U.S. market. See the video below.

 

Thompson is editor in chief of Window + Door, WindowandDoor.com, and WDweekly. Write her at ethompson@glass.org.