March 12, 2020

Applying Elegance and Simplicity in Commercial Fenestration

by Joe Erb

Architects and designers value simplicity. It’s a principle that results in an end product that has been thoroughly considered, but appears effortless in its execution.

Simplicity in this sense might be typically considered in relation to art and design, but I like to think about how we in the fenestration industry can apply the concept of simplicity to our products, projects and services. We face some important challenges in the commercial space right now: How do we address the challenges of bigger glass and glazing under increasing performance requirements, and how do we do all that without making things overly complex, expensive and susceptible to problems?
I think we can answer that question by seeking simplicity. Here are a few ways to think about it:

Elegantly balanced performance. Structural stability and performance have traditionally been the top priorities of commercial windows, but today, those criteria must be effectively balanced by thermal contributions.

Hitting heat transfer targets with traditional metal framing can be complex, with the necessary incorporation of thermal breaks, including strut or pour-and-debridge techniques, to help with thermal isolation. These techniques are sufficient today, but it’s easy to imagine even more stringent codes requiring greater heat transfer performance not long from now. Incorporating increasingly complex thermal break technology into metal framing could easily become cost-prohibitive, not to mention complicated.

A simplified solution exists in new framing technology options, including high performance vinyl, which can meet structural performance with some simple reinforcement techniques. Vinyl provides vastly superior thermal performance versus metal framing, and is already an ideal solution for punched opening applications in new construction.

Don’t think “back to basics.” Many with significant experience in the glazing industry would probably tell you that things used to be simpler. Aluminum framing, box spacers, less stringent performance demands, more conservative designs.  For all intents and purposes, windows just used to be windows.
Today, we know that commercial glazing is highly engineered technology that can offer major performance benefits—and seeking simplicity here is much different the same as going back to basics. Today’s advanced materials, including warm-edge spacer systems, enable us to do more than ever before. Simplicity means using these technologies in the most effective, efficient ways available to us.

Simplified fabrication. With today’s technology, there’s no shortage of ways that commercial glass fabricators can simplify their operations while taking on tough new challenges.

Consider that oversized and large-format glass continues to be a major trend in the architectural space. If you’re taking on those manufacturing projects, there are some inherent safety and efficiency considerations to be made. Massive panels can complicate spacer application and moving units down the line. Automation and robotics can greatly help here, eliminating touchpoints to enhance overall quality, and to keep your people out of potentially risky situations in handling bigger glass. Powered lifts help here, too.

If adding robots to your operation doesn’t sound like simplicity, remember that the most successful automation initiatives involve robust planning efforts, and deep consideration about where the technology will be most impactful towards the manufacturers’ business goals. A well-planned automation strategy will make fabricating quality products faster, safer and with greater simplicity. Robots can add complexity—but only if they’re added without a sound strategy.

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Posted: March 12, 2020 by Joe Erb Filed under: commercial, design, fenestration