Tips for Fabrication of Triple-Pane IGUs

Joe Erb
August 5, 2014
A robotic flexible spacer application. Automating manufacturing processes for triple-pane IGUs helps to eliminate touch points and keeps the units cleaner throughout the process.

The industry is demanding more efficient, quality glass offerings for both commercial and residential applications, putting more strain than ever on industry companies to continually innovate and develop smarter solutions. Triple-pane insulating glass units are one of the value-added glass options that can offer significant benefits to end users—both building owners and tenants—when designed and fabricated correctly. Many curtain wall and window fabricators have framing options to accommodate triple-pane glazing already.

One of the biggest advantages triple-pane IGUs bring to the façade is a greater U-factor, enabling building and construction professionals to meet and often exceed energy code and green certification requirements. Tenants also reap the benefits of a higher U-factor, with reduced energy bills and better insulation through the hot summers and cold winters.

Greater acoustic control is another benefit, offering building occupants significant improvement in sound transmission class and outside/inside transmission class ratings. Triple-pane IGUs also have higher condensation resistance, as the added insulation within the unit prevents interior condensationon windows, helping to address indoor environmental quality and mold issues related to condensation problems.

But providing customers with triple glazing options comes with its challenges. The first challenge most often voiced is reduced throughput. Fabricators now have to process three lites of glass per one IGU versus just two for double-pane glass. Adding a third lite increases the weight of the overall unit, which can often be a handling concern for employees, as well as a framing and hardware challenge. The increased manufacturing steps add expense, room for error and complexities of keeping the glass clean throughout the fabrication process.

Pair these challenges with the added potential to make expensive mistakes—and therefore expensivereworks—and it is understandable why industry professionals often resist adding triple-pane IGUs to their product offering mix.

However, there are many ways manufacturers can mitigate these challenges to ensure they are producing value-added triple-pane IGUs efficiently, effectively and most of all profitably.
Here are some tips for overcoming the challenges that come with producing triple-pane IGUs, helping fabricators to remain competitive in offering these value-added solutions:

  • Automate your processes.

Automating your manufacturing of triple-pane IGUs helps to eliminate touch points, not only reducing the amount of labor needed from your valuable employees, but also keeping the units cleaner throughout theprocess. There are numerous approaches to producing triple or multi-cavity IGUs. Some systems aremore manufacturing friendly than others. Make sure you do your homework.

  • Invest in the latest lift assist devices.

These devices use industrial-strength suction cups to lift the heavy glass panes, improving the safety of handling them. Your operators will thank you, as there will be less risk of back or other work-related injuries. The features available on the new devices are a good fit for all glazing, not justtriples, making them a worthy investment.

  • Consider non-metallic flexible spacers.

Non-metallic, flexible integrated spacers can reduce inventory and necessary assembly, as fewer inventoried components are involved. This can reduce cycle time, especially when the spacer is appliedrobotically. Furthermore, once in its intended application, the flexible nature of these spacers can help to minimize edge seal stress, which is often greater for triple-pane glazing.

  • Partner with a well-established component supplier.

Fabricating a high-value product that needs to have a long life cycle, such as triple-pane IGUs, is not a time to work with a specific supplier for price-related reasons alone. Work with a company that not only has a proven product, but also a proven history.

  • Don’t hesitate to ask more of your component supplier.

Foster a relationship with companies that can consult on best practices and offer additional support to help identify opportunities to create efficiencies within your processes. A component supplier should have expert technical services representatives who can work in tandem with fabricators and other industry professionals to offer project management, equipment planning and troubleshooting advice, keeping their customers at the leading edge of the industry.

Offering a value-added product comes with added responsibility and additional hurdles to overcome, butbrings new opportunities to become or remain a cut above the competition. Other markets where energy costs are higher than in the United States have already found effective ways to produce these products. Let’s take advantage of their experience.

But remember, as a fabricator, the end products are only as strong as the components and the process behind their creation. Partnering with the right suppliers and automating the processes allow your best workers to maximize their valuable time, producing the best and most consistent product possible.

The author is commercial specialist, Quanex Building Products. He can be reached at Visit Quanex at GlassBuild America at Booth #1929.