We used to see glass simply as an effective transparent glazing material, and of course, it still is. However, with advances in glass processing technology, it can now also provide a raft of other vital functions as well.
Glass in its single form is normally used in low barrier scenarios such as ground floor balustrading and glass doors, as well as in a variety of interior applications such as shelving, worktops, splashbacks and shower doors. Toughened glass is four times stronger than annealed glass and is also safer to use. Whereas annealed glass will break, if damaged, into large shards which can cause serious injuries, toughened glass will shatter into small, granular fragments which pose far less threat of injury.
As well as being available in numerous tints and finishes, glass can also be made decorative, using a variety of processes from sandblasted designs to screen-printed logos.
One of the most valuable advances in glass processing was the advent of toughened laminated glass, such as ESG Tufflam, which makes larger expanses of glazing safer, in almost every setting.
In the lamination process, two (or more) sheets of toughened glass are sandwiched together using a specialist PVB (PolyVinyl Butyrall) interlayer, which forms a bond, creating a single, very strong glass pane. In the event of damage to a toughened laminated pane, not only will the glass naturally shatter into small fragments rather than large dangerous shards, the interlayer to which it is bonded will actually hold most of those fragments in place. This greatly reduces the risk of falling glass fragments, and also means that the pane, if held in a frame, although damaged, will stay in place. This damaged pane can often remain in place, preserving the property’s envelope temporarily, until a new pane can be fitted, without the need for boarding with wood.
If a structural interlayer is used in the lamination process, the function of staying in place as a barrier is enhanced even more by the rigidity of the panel. This makes it an obvious choice for glass doors and balustrades, and also, increasingly, for larger windows, where there could be a risk of a fall if the barrier were removed due to damage.
These inherent properties also make toughened laminated glass a candidate for use for far more construction features, such as walls, lift shafts and even floors. By laminating several toughened glass sheets together, we can create stair treads, beams and other structural features. Advances in glass processing means that we are able to create lighter, stronger panels, which, in turn, means that we can now make larger panels than ever before, giving even more scope to the architect and the designer.
But modern glass is even more versatile. The use of technically advanced interlayers enables us to introduce other features and properties. One of the most popular new products is privacy glass, such as ESG Switchable. For this we use an interlayer through which a small electric current is passed. With the current switched off, the glass pane appears opaque, but with the current passing through it, the glass becomes optically clear. This is increasingly popular for partition walls and door panels, allowing you to choose privacy or openness, literally at the touch of a button.
Sound attenuation can also be added to provide privacy, using another type of interlayer. We can even reduce the noise from the street or the neighbours – or the teenage offspring – with the use of a sound attenuation interlayer. It does not have to be either or. Using advanced technology, we can combine interlayers to add more than one additional function.
The range of interlayers available to the modern glass processor allows us to add high security, fire resistance and even resistance to ballistic weapons. Using specialist interlayers we can provide products which help to design crime out of the built environment, deterring both the criminal and the terrorist. Our fire-resistant glass helps to delay the spread of heat, smoke and flames, buying valuable time to evacuate those in the premises, and to give firefighters more time to control and contain the blaze.
Amazingly, all these properties, or just about any combination of them, can now be combined into a single bespoke product which will answer a lot of construction challenges. It’s well worth discussing the possibilities with your glass processor before drawing up your specification. Glass may have been around for many centuries, but it is, without doubt, one of the most exciting products of the future.