The glass industry is driven by designers, architects, and decorators. They have a vision for interior and exterior spaces, and manufacturers make that vision a reality. Since big tech companies like Google and Apple pioneered high-end glass designs for their campuses in the early 2000s, designers have required larger and larger glass features with increasingly complex designs. And manufacturers have risen to the challenge.
The CNC industry changed the glass industry, and it’s continuing to expand what’s possible with this unique material. CMS is proud to be at the forefront of these innovations.
CNC Machines Change the Glass Industry
Before the introduction of CNC machines, the complex glass manufacturing we see today was impossible. Scoring and breaking glass was more of an art than a science; if someone lacked sufficient skill they could ruin an entire sheet of glass in a split second, costing their business money and time. Everything was dependent on the manufacturer’s precision. Glass fabricators even used unwieldy tripod drills and dams full of coolant to make their holes and notches.
“Everyone did it that way,” CMS sales manager Christopher Cullum remembers. “Now no one does.”
When CNC routers were introduced, everything changed. Cullum recalls the first time he saw a CNC router in action. He witnessed a level of quality and precision that no human could ever emulate.
“It blew my mind,” he says.
CNC technology has come a long way in recent decades. Programming used to be crude, lacking a graphics interface and requiring operators to have an expertise in g-code. Today, CNC machines like those utilized at CMS use touchscreens and run the latest software, which automatically recognizes geometry and applies machining to it.
With all these advances in CNC technology, most modern builders no longer accept hand-fabricated glass. They want the tight tolerances and quality finishing that only a CNC can provide.
Greater Ambitions in Glass Projects
With the advanced capabilities of CNC machines, glasswork has become more ambitious. For example, to manufacture windshields for a three-year aerospace project, the CMS team had to expand its shop’s capabilities. They needed to go beyond rectangular geometries, and the final product would need to be broken out by hand. Because of their use in aircraft, the glass also had to be cut with the utmost precision.
Rising to this challenge, the CMS team designed custom production lines. In partnership with an automation engineer from Mercedes Benz, they incorporated a state-of-the-art vision system into the machining process at the exit conveyer. This vision system filters out all but one wavelength of light, so when the glass is illuminated the camera looks exclusively for that particular wavelength. This ensures that the camera isn’t tricked by other light sources.
Once the vision system has singled out the correct wavelength, it sends that information to the industrial robot, which orients the glass properly. A manufacturer can load the glass onto the conveyer at any angle, and the system will correct itself automatically. This project would not have been possible when Christopher Cullum first got his start in the industry; today, he’s a part of spearheading this innovative CNC work.
The Future of Glass-Cutting
Every machining table has minuscule waves in it that are too fine for a human to compensate for. Through automation, a CNC machine can monitor these variations and make real-time adjustments to cut and pressure. As it scores the glass, it updates the pressure by the millisecond and compensates for inconsistencies in the substrate underneath the glass.
Automation like this—and beyond it—is the future of the glass-cutting industry. In the future almost everything on a shop floor will be automated.
Currently there are islands of automation, in which automated processes are linked by human labor. As automation improves, these islands are beginning to connect, removing steps that are currently soft spots for human error.
This is good for the finished product, but it is also good for people in the industry. Post-COVID the workforce has been sparse, and employers find it hard to find workers who will stay long-term. Furthermore, working with glass is a specialized job. Inexperienced employees make more mistakes, and those mistakes can be dangerous. As more manual labor is replaced with automatic handling solutions, employers are freed up to hire specialists for more complex work, such as programming robots and running advanced simulations.
With the capabilities of CNC machines expanding every year, the future is bright for the glass industry. We at CMS are excited to see where we can go next.