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The State of the Fire Rated Glass Industry

After a strong 2015, demand for fire resistive glass continues to grow

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February 08, 2016 |
Bill O'Keeffe

Once again I have the fortunate opportunity to share my thoughts as to where we’ve been and where we’re going in the world of fire rated glass. 2015 was another very strong year for SAFTI FIRST. I hope it was also good for our competitors as a whole.

Demand for fire resistive glass, meaning the type of glass that provides a barrier to radiant heat, continues to grow. This is due to our ongoing effort to educate the general public, and especially building owners, architects, and glaziers, as to the threat of radiant heat. As part of this effort, we initiated a proposal to standardize the test methodology to be used with UL 9 testing to confirm radiant heat flux through fire protective products which are currently exempt from such testing. These are glass and framing products used extensively that can pose a threat to building occupants. When used improperly, these protective products may block flames and smoke, but provide no protection against the radiant heat generated by the fire. If the testing being proposed is accepted, there will be a voluntary means by which designers and building officials can determine to what extent and under which conditions fire protective products pose a danger. As we saw with the repeated recurrence of injuries stemming from the unsafe use of wired glass, fire rated glass without a method of qualifying radiant heat passage can sometimes provide only an illusion of safety.

Just in the past year, there have been numerous deadly attacks and shattered lives becoming images and creating headlines calling our attention to the possibility of random explosions or shootings. All this leaves us feeling unsafe and insecure. Fire rated and security glazing are now being expected to perform double-duty more than ever before. I’m sure that we will see increased demand for fire rated glazing in combination with ballistic or physical attack protection. These demands will be due at least partly from these frightening events. According to a 2014 research report on global security glass products, 9Dimen Research Center staff predicts steady market growth worldwide through 2018. SAFTI FIRST has been active in the security glazing market for years and intends to increase those efforts through the use of our new laminating capabilities and an increase in our research and development program relating to security glazing in 2016.

As I’ve written recently, and I believe more than ever, “Made in the USA” still means quality. Those words still offer a sense of trust. Given the uncertainty generated by terrorist attacks worldwide, relying on locally manufactured products rather than imports becomes even more important. We laid the foundation for greater self-reliance in 2015 through capital investments. It is inevitable that as demand for fire rated glazing continues to grow, so will the emphasis on speed and lead-time performance. Expanding backlogs always threaten lead-times. From what we’ve noticed and are hearing, lead-time performance by fire-rated glazing distributors tied to foreign suppliers is becoming increasingly problematic. The right selection of a fire rated glazing supplier in 2016 should not be based only on price, but as importantly on performance. That is so critical to getting projects completed.

On a brighter note, a recent article on the USGlass News Network™ points out, “daylight harvesting” has become a key component of green building design. SAFTI FIRST has a long history with an association to the skylight manufacturing industry, and our company is keenly aware of the importance of natural light within a building. Fire rated glazing gives designers another tool to use to increase daylighting and energy efficiency. This in turn enhances the general disposition of building occupants. Everyone feels better when they can see beyond four walls. Students perform better and hospital patients recover quicker. Today’s fire resistive glazing systems, appropriately referred to as “transparent walls,” offer the benefit of occupant safety and increased security with the incorporation of impact resistant features. All this while enhancing the feel and efficiency of a building’s interior. What other product group does all that?

Looking back over 2015 and into the immediate future, I think the state of the fire rated glazing industry is just fine!

Bill O'Keeffe | Clear on Technical Glass
SAFTI FIRST Fire Rated Glazing Solutions

About the Author: Bill O’Keeffe is the President and CEO of SAFTI FIRST Fire Rated Glazing Solutions, a leading USA-manufacturer of advanced fire rated glass and framing systems.  An industry veteran and innovator with over 45 years of experience in architectural glazing, he was first to introduce and manufacture clear, fire resistive glazing products in the US.  He is also a safety advocate who exposed the dangers of traditional wired glass, which lead to code changes and fire rated glass products that are safe, affordable and clear alternatives to traditional wired glass.  Today, Bill continues to develop building products that enable architects to create beautiful, safe and energy-efficient spaces with advanced glazing systems.

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