Garage Bands: Any Space Can Produce IGUs, but Sophisticated Equipment Ensures Speed

By Dave Cooper

There are always trade-offs in any endeavor and fabricating insulating glass units (IGUs) is a prime example. Could IGUs be fabricated in your garage? The simple answer is: yes. Would they be good units and last a minimum of 20 years? Well, the answer to that is: maybe. What would a minimal fabrication setup cost you? The minimum cost for equipment to produce IGUs manually in your garage could be under $10,000. But speed and quality will require larger investments.

IGU and window companies spend upwards of $5 million for highly automated, high-volume, turn-key production lines. Based on the equation above, you might be wondering why. The answer comes down to unit costs, repeatability and quality of units. The design of IGUs and the components used to produce them ultimately makes a difference in speed and quality as well, but a highly automated line removes much of the opportunity for common mistakes. Many leaders in the IGU business will admit that workmanship plays a major role in defect rates, leading to premature field failure and post-installation replacement costs. Electronic inspection and the repeatability of robotics all but guarantee high levels of product quality.

It’s About Autonomy

Modern, fully automated IGU production lines are efficient at cleaning glass, edge deleting low-E coatings, applying spacers with primary sealant, booking the glass, gas filling to levels above 95% and back-filing the secondary sealant. Some even load and unload the glass or finished IGUs robotically. At the same time, there are electronic inspection devices incorporated into the most sophisticated lines that flag any quality issues that do manage to crop up—including size of glass confirmation, low-E type and surface contamination, along with laser etched serial numbers for each glass lite and the final units. Meanwhile, sophisticated optical inspection devices analyze each glass lite for scratches and other imperfections, while post gas fill concentration and glass profile (concave or convex) devices ensure proper gas fill.

With automated machinery, all of these processes and assurances happen for each IGU at a rate of 1,000+ units per shift.

Even with the best equipment, it pays to remember the human factor. Sophisticated IG lines require trained, quality and electrical/mechanical technicians to monitor and adjust the equipment and instrumentation to ensure proper operation and compliance to specifications. Machinery may pull the load, but quality staff monitors IGU product, ensuring all specifications are met prior to shipment. In the end, no matter where you produce IGUs, minimizing defective products and subsequent field failure revolves around a robust plant-wide quality program, such as FGIA’s TM-4500 Quality Management System, specific to IGU fabrication and designed around the ISO 9001 standards.

Dave Cooper is a consultant and president of Fenestration Consulting Services LLC.
dcooper@fenconsultant.com

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