Glass components are increasingly important elements in equipment and vehicles thanks to the many unique properties. In fact, glass has a wide range of attributes that make it the perfect candidate to replace plastic and metal parts in select cases. For example, some of these attributes include transparency, heat resistance, pressure resistance, and chemical resistance. Director of Engineering Vince Giacomelli of Precision Electronic Glass shared some insights about what to consider when converting to glass components.
Custom Glass Components are PEG’s Core Business
In 1962, PEG was founded by John Rossi with the guiding principles of technology, innovation, and service. The objective — to manufacture custom glass parts that go into critical components in a wide range of markets. Today, PEG provides critical components to various markets including security and surveillance, industrial, transportation, aerospace, fiber-optics, medical, scientific, and diagnostic testing in 23 countries around the world.
This enduring commitment to custom components makes PEG the perfect environment for Giacomelli and the PEG team of engineers. They are consistently engaged in product review and testing as they work with clients to develop longer-lasting and better performing components for critical equipment.
Imagine for a moment having an important piece of equipment in your plant or hospital that is continually wearing out its components. Or, perhaps it is an older piece of equipment that you have designed manufacturing operations around but the parts can no longer be found. Maybe you are revamping ventilators to meet the demands of a local hospital and you cannot get the parts you need. These are typical issues that the PEG engineering team encounters.
Exploring Custom Glass Components for Your Business
According to Giacomelli, often when a potential client approaches PEG for help with a custom glass component, they come prepared with a drawing. This could be a blueprint of a mature product 20 years old or more, but the customer is not happy with the current performance. “If it falls within our core competencies we can jump in and be competitive,” Giacomelli said.
However, sometimes the customer has an idea that they think will work with glass. In most cases, they send a mockup of what they envision so that the PEG team can let them know if it will work. “We will look at their mockup to see if we can make a quality product that is not over-engineered and tolerances are not too tight. Then we will make revisions, if necessary, and give them what we believe would work for them. There may be several more iterations back and forth before we test a demo,” the lead engineer explained.
Another major part of the process is reviewing the actual material best suited for the component. For example, at times customers will present a component made of ceramic to the PEG team and ask if it can be produced in quartz or an alternate material at a reduced cost. “In this case, ceramic might be superior to silicate,” Giacomelli said. “Sometimes plastic is less expensive but its thermal expansion lessens the volumetric accuracy which then makes it not feasible. Also, sometimes customers come with non-glass parts that I have to die demo and determine if there is another material that needs to be included as components to go with the glass as well.”
Becoming More Competitive to Meet the Need for Domestic Supply Chain
Giacomelli is leading a project to raise the bar when it comes to competitiveness. The goal is to be competitive with the pricing associated with volume producers but retaining the custom engineering edge by decreasing tolerances. Even though the PEG team is pushing the range of what it might normally try, it is having excellent success with the components it is producing.
Honesty with a potential client is critical. In many cases, an engineer or the head of a company comes in needing a water flask or something that is mass-produced. “One out of 60 parts I see actually becomes something that is a good candidate for a custom glass component,” Giacomelli said “Ironically, nine out of 10 of our customers want to keep it in the U.S. right now and I don’t blame them but the price can be inhibiting. This is still an area that everyone in U.S.-based manufacturing is working hard to level. In many ways, we are making good progress.”
The PEG team works hard with every customer to get all aspects of the deal to mesh with everyone involved. Thanks to in-house engineering and the ability to do tooling and fixturing, the production team is able to spec out the full process without blind spots.
Taking Advantage of the Properties of Glass with Custom Component Replacements
There are many great reasons to make components of glass:
- Clarity. Clear components, such as lenses, allow for vision.
- Heat/Electrical resistance. Under the temperatures at which a unit is running, glass maintains its strength. Glass is also used as an insulator.
- Chemical resistance. When metals and plastics have reached their limits under chemically aggressive liquids or gases, glass still easily holds up.
- Filtering. Certain situations require blocking or allowing a specific wavelength of light such as x-rays, ultraviolet, or gamma rays.
In some cases, glass is not appropriate for replacing the materials in a component. For example, the glass is too brittle or the forces may exceed the limitations of glass. In addition, glass is not flexible in all cases. Even the geometry of the part can limit its production in glass because too many sharp points make it more brittle and cause it to break.
On the other hand, one excellent aspect of using glass components is that glass is recyclable. That makes glass a highly sustainable option. And on the conservation scale, recycling glass uses 40% less energy than making new glass.
Initiating the Custom Component Development Process
There are many reasons a potential customer comes to the PEG team looking for a solution. “Often our customers determine the reason initially on their own,” Giacomelli said. “They are looking for chemical resistance. This is a common need in the food industry. They encounter a problem and need to find a solution. ‘Hey we have a component made out of this, do you think you can make it out of glass?’ I often have to ask them many questions about the environment and the process. How much they are making it for now? Will it fit into their pricing schedule?
If the location is close, Giacomelli might visit the apparatus in its natural environment to observe the process and operation. If not, the PEG team observes the apparatus in action by video. For example, in a recent ventilator project, specs were created for the glass and piston. The client asked PEG for help with glass breakage. Giacomelli observed the installation process and discovered the issue causing breakage was with the installation of the component. “Sometimes it is the process that is creating an issue. A video can help us detect such issues.”
A Solution Can Sometimes Require a Clever Workaround
In another example, a customer wanted a glass cylinder and a piston. This customer had bugs that would eat waste that their digestive system would convert into sludge. This sludge was pulled into the cylinder by the piston and forced out through a different port similar to the valve system in a motor. The stroking motion generated heat between the Teflon and glass causing the piston to grow in size. The thermal expansion differential between the glass and Teflon was causing breakage. Since the Teflon was working so well, our solution was to go to a thicker glass. This increased the strength by 66 percent.
The Growing Demand for Custom Glass Components
While there is automation to a degree at PEG, each department has its own operations. The PEG team converts glass from tubing or rod into whatever the customer requires manufacturing anywhere from 5-10,000 custom fabrication parts each year. The company operates in a specialty area and, in some cases, works with tolerances that are so tight, other custom fabricators will not take the work.
Growth in custom glass fabrication is occurring for many reasons. Often new technologies lead the way. For example, consider the custom glass jackets used for bulbs in new x-ray equipment. Manufacturers in Third World countries often provide low pricing. Unfortunately, they also often use old technologies and cannot produce the jackets for bulbs needed by new equipment. Another push for manufacturing is the increase in the use of auto syringes in test labs. In the case of laser components, where demand is high, dual sourcing helps fill large orders domestically.
Outsourcing for Expertise and Knowledge
Another area of growth is major manufacturers that produce and utilize glass components in house. These may outsource projects to mid-size companies when internal units are overbooked. In some cases, these companies do not specialize in glass; therefore, over time they lose the “expertise and know-how” resulting in quality issues with no internal solutions. These companies turn to PEG and let the glass experts produce the glass components while reducing their internal labor costs.
If your business is in need of custom glass components, feel free to reach out to PEG’s lead engineer to discuss your challenge.
PEG’s mission is to provide customized glass and quartz products and related services to OEMs and distributors. We work globally in all countries where our customers operate. Our objective is to fabricate the finest precision glass and quartz components and assemblies to customers’ specifications. Working together with customers, PEG manufactures prototypes; handles small to large production runs; performs value-added assembly, and provides cleanroom processing when specifications dictate the need for it.
Utilizing standard or computer-controlled glass lathe fabrication; glass-to-glass and glass-to-metal graded seals; cutting and end finishing; and precision grinding/polishing. PEG produces components and value-added assemblies, including medical, dental, or industrial glass X-ray tubes, CO2 or HeNe lasers. We produce all glass and quartz fabrications in facilities certified to ISO 9001:2015 standards of quality. Our commitment to quality and integrity in everything we do is reflected in our mission statement, corporate values, and quality policy.