Automation Revolution

IGE’s Michael Spellman discusses the evolution of glass tooling and fabrication
November 1, 2016
FABRICATION : TECHNOLOGY

Michael and Carolyn Spellman, owners of IGE Solutions, at the company’s offices in Jupiter, Florida.

Can you talk about your history in the glass industry?

I started calling on glass fabricators in the late 1970s, promoting grinding and polishing supplies for several manufacturers as an independent manufacturers’ representative. In the 1980s, I began to focus primarily in glass fabrication and developed a passion for finding ways to improve the methods and processes of the glass fabricator. My goal, as I searched the world, literally, was to find glass machine manufacturers that had the same mentality as I possessed.

In the early 1990s I discovered the Italian company Forvet, www.forvet.it, owned by two wonderful people, Paula Gariglio and Davide Gariglio, a brother and sister team. From that point my wife and business partner Carolyn Spellman, and I formed International Glass Equipment Inc., now known as IGE, operating as an exclusive distributor. This allowed us more control over parts and service and future supplier manufacturer decisions. Since its inception, the main goal of the company has been to continue to develop and find ways to increase production and profits for our customers, while greatly reducing labor, handling and waste.

What was the glass tooling market like in the 1990s?

When the first Forvet came into the North American market, it was about the time that the frameless shower door came to be a popular trend. Knowing timing is everything, we worked diligently to get the message across that the industry now had a machine that could automate this process.

Our first North American customer was All Team Glass in Toronto. They reported that this machine did the work of 18 workers, greatly reduced mistakes and allowed them to produce 100 shower doors, for example, in a single shift, with two holes and two finished notches, using one operator. This first series from Forvet revolutionized the previously arduous task of manually milling out hinge cut outs and slow drilling, as the machine did both operations, utilizing 16 spindles in rotation and allowing an operator to switch automatically from one-hole diameter to another in less than one second.

What is the current state of glass tooling and fabrication in North America?

Today, almost half of North America’s glass fabricators rely on manual or semi-automatic processes with too many staging areas and too many people touching the glass. Some have developed islands of automation utilizing some very good software, which all helps. We see this [automation and software] trend continuing now at a greater pace.

In a display of complete hands-free fabrication, Forvet introduced the Combiflex at glasstec 2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany. The machine maximizes automation of numerous processes, including grinding, polishing, drilling, notching, countersinking, water jet, corner fabrication, engraving and mitering. The machine also features automatic loading and unloading on and off of racks, and includes washing and drying. In addition to maximizing automation, the machine also addresses factory space concerns, according to IGE officials.

What are the primary challenges facing North American fabricators?

For so many years, the glass fabrication industry has been stagnant and slow to change. This is continually surprising to me as labor has, and will always be, a problem. Labor is hard to find and expensive, and conditions are sometimes dangerous. Additionally, fabricators’ customer demands are forever rising. Faster shipment is being demanded, and insurance costs are rising. In the factory, re-makes and the problem of “slow to get out the door,” are other great challenges. Add all this together and you can feel the great challenges of the North American glass fabricator. The industry must change, adapt and evolve to address these issues.

Finding qualified labor is a concern we hear from all segments of the industry. How do you recommend fabricators address these concerns through equipment?

Yes, fabricators all seem to all have great labor concerns, with high turnaround of people, high insurance costs and sometimes very dangerous [working] conditions. By automating and integrating their operation, these concerns are greatly reduced. Automation reduces the labor necessary to perform certain tasks. Additionally, it reduces handling, therefore reducing scratches and mistakes, and thus reducing costly re-makes or re-dos. All this allows companies to increase production while improving their bottom line.

What, then, is keeping companies from adopting automation solutions?

That’s a common question: “Why don't more companies and glass machine manufacturers automate more?” From the machine manufacturer’s point of view, automating glass processes is not a simple thing to do. One major [concern] we hear is the difficulty of automating the fabrication of out-of-square glass. Most of our fabricators fabricate out-of-square glass. That is, glass without four 90 degree corners. This is the core problem for glass machine manufacturers. Why out of square? Well, the United States and Canada, and also much of the world, can't seem to build structures square. Because glass is one of the last products brought into the house or building, it must be fabricated to fit in these out-of-square structures.

What do you expect the tooling and fabrication segment of the industry to look like in five years?

Certainly more automation and integration with greater emphasis on reducing labor, handling and waste, while improving production, safety and profit.