Glass Engineering

Glass engineering is a part of our everyday lives and many things that we take for granted wouldn’t be possible without it. Understanding the properties and physics associated with glass allows glass engineers to make products that make our lives more convenient, safer, and more productive. During the course of their career, glass engineers often work in cooperation engineers from other fields such as commercial engineering as well as industrial engineering. Because glass is such a versatile material, there are several processes that it can undergo to create the items that have become so commonplace in our lives that we scarcely notice them.

Processing Glass

Glass is processed in many different ways in order to transform the raw material into the many products that we use. While there are many more processes that glass can go through, these are some of the more common.

Tempered Glass – Tempered glass is one of the more common phrases that you hear in relation to glass engineering. In this particular process, the glass is heated to just around 650 C. and then the surface area is quickly cooled with jets of air while the inner core cools at a slower rate. As this slow cooling process occurs, the surface compresses and creates tension in the core. When tempered glass is broken, the tensile energy in the core is released and causes the glass to break into smaller, less dangerous pieces. Tempered glass is often used in the safety glazing present in some buildings.

Glass Bending – Glass can also be bent and shaped if it is necessary for the application. This is done by heating the glass to a temperature of 500 to 600 C. At this temperature, the viscosity will fall by around 10,000 and rather than a solid, brittle substance, the glass takes on the nature of a plastic.

Glass bending is a science and it is used to produce the needed shapes and keep them free of optical defects and wrinkles. One of the most widely used processes in glass bending is called “sag bending”, in which the glass is heated to the proper stage and the weight of the glass itself causes it to sag into whatever shape is required. Though it is the most common, it is only one of many ways in which glass engineering has allowed us to manipulate glass for innovative new applications.

Insulated or Multiple Glazing – Multiple Glazing isn’t a term that you hear often, but it is one that we rely on daily to help insulate our homes and offices as well as to control the amount of light that enters. Glazed units consist of two (or sometimes more) single panes of glass that are separated with spacers that create a sealed gap between the other glass panes in the unit. This gap can either be filled with air or a low conductivity gas like argon. These types of units provide excellent thermal insulation and are widely used in homes and commercial structures.

Modern Examples of Glass Engineering

The ethereal look of glass can transform what would otherwise be a very ordinary building into something almost otherworldly. Some of the most impressive feats of architectural engineering in recent years owe some of their magnificence to the field of glass engineering. While these buildings would be beautiful no matter what materials were used, the creative touch that is added by glass takes them to new heights.

The Farnsworth House

Set on a 60 acre estate south of Plano, ILL, USA, the Farnsworth house was designed and constructed between the years of 1945 and 1951 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Commissioned by a well-known Chicago neurologist, this 1,500 sq. foot home is a steel and glass masterpiece of architecture. Floor to ceiling glass plates allow an unparalleled view of the nature that surrounds this innovative structure.

The National Grand Theater of China

This gargantuan dome of titanium and glass can be found in Beijing, China and is considered to be one of China’s greatest architectural feats in the past decade. Near Tiananmen Square, this monument to glass engineering in architecture is home to a music hall, a theater, and an opera, which combine to allow 5,452 guests to be seated at one time. The building sits in the center of an artificial lake which adds to its beauty by providing a reflective view of its grandeur. The designing architect, Paul Andreu, has long been a champion of glass in architecture and this is considered to be one of his greatest achievements.

The Basque Health Department Headquarters in Bilbao, Spain

Due in part to the Guggenheim Museum of Bilboa, designed by Grank Gehry, Bilboa has become somewhat of a hotspot in the architectural world recently. Coll-Barreu Architects, designers of the Basque Health Department Headquarters in the city, shared a bit of Gehry’s focus on sculpture for their masterpiece. The design uses angular glass rather than metal (as in the Guggenheim) and the inspiration seems to have come from nature as the design resembles a giant, multi-faceted piece of obsidian. In the field of glass architecture, this building is among the most progressive in recent years.

The list of noteworthy glass structures is to vast to complete, but each of these structures is representative of how versatile glass is as well as how far the field of glass engineering has come in recent years. Whether you are enjoying the view from a glass balcony high in the Sears Tower or simply gazing out a window at the sunset, glass engineering played a large part in the process.

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