The fenestration industry was very saddened last week to hear of the passing of Peter Lisec. I first met Peter in 1986 at the Glasstec show in Dusseldorf. This was my first year in the fenestration industry, and I remember how impressed I was with his machinery designs, which fully leveraged the advantages of automated glass handling and fabrication. At the time, I remember saying to myself, “automation is impressive, but can our industry afford it?” Indeed, Peter Lisec was a pioneer in many areas of glass fabrication automation, and he showed the industry that it does indeed have its place.It will be even more important in the years ahead for several reasons. With the advent of a glass certification requirement in 2010, the NFRC label will soon stand not only as a measure of product performance but will also indicate a standard of durability and quality as well. Insulating glass durability as well as argon fill-rates and gas retention will be certified. The result – the window industry will find that workmanship will be more critical than ever before!

In this respect, the use of automated machinery helps ensure consistency of workmanship. Every time a window component or subassembly is touched by human hands it increases the probability that something can go wrong. Handling glass by hand can introduce contamination, or glass can be misaligned during the matching sequence. Grids can be inserted improperly or scratched during the assembly process. Is the spacer placement true? If not, one side of the unit can have too much sealant, but the other side may not have enough. This can create a weak link, and drastically shorten unit lifespan. Is the sealant being applied at the proper temperature, and is the gunning head being moved at the proper speed to ensure a smooth looking seal without voids? Is the argon being introduced into the unit correctly providing the proper fill rate? Is the entry port for the argon lance being sealed correctly so that it does not turn into a weak link for argon leakage? All of these fabrication steps are heavily dependent upon workmanship, and involve operations that must be consistently performed on each unit that goes out the door. Automation allows fabricators to set up the proper parameters that can be consistently reproduced day in and day out as long as ongoing maintenance schedules are followed on the machinery which is called upon to do the job.

But indeed, automation comes at a price. The equipment itself as well as maintenance can be quite expensive. This raises overhead and the break-even point. In today’s uncertain economy, this has been a cause for concern. But as we pull out of the slump and head for a modest growth curve, an investment in automation can pay huge dividends in the years ahead. It can help make the difference between doing things right most of the time vs. doing it right all of the time. The new durability requirements, which do not leave much room for error, will separate “the fabricators that can from the fabricators that cannot.”

Suddenly, an NFRC label won’t be so easy to get. Consumers will no longer see the ENERGY STAR label on just about every window they consider. Perhaps, it will appear on only half or fewer. So, for window manufacturers in the energy conscious market of the future, perhaps it will make the difference between growing sales and profits dramatically vs. being stagnant and barely staying afloat.

So as I bid a fond farewell to Peter Lisec, I thank him for his many contributions in the area of glass handling and fabrication, and this time I say to myself, “automation is impressive. Could our industry afford to be without it?”

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