Architects today are sparing no expense in their designs. Beautiful curved glass is all the rage and aluminum curtain wall is the sophisticated building envelope of choice. Curtain wall allows the designer to use light and depth to create striking, complex structures with definite shock value. However, to create that desired curved and angled look is no easy feat. It requires the glazier to spend a significant amount of resources cutting thousands upon thousands of aluminum components to the desired lengths. For one of Canada’s top glaziers, Alberta Glass, this means utilizing the right equipment to do the job quickly and accurately is vital. And that’s why Alberta Glass trusts TigerStop equipment for the job.
Everyone Home Safe
Paul Heyens co-founded Alberta Glass, a commercial glazing and building envelope contractor, in 1994. What started as a service company repairing old buildings blossomed into a full-fledged firm specializing in the installation and fabrication of new buildings, providing custom solutions for the entire building lifecycle.
“We are Western Canada’s largest full-service glazing contractor, offering a full range of glass, aluminum and glazing services to our customers,” explains Paul. “We strive for excellence every day and are constantly on the hunt for new and innovative ideas.”
Paul’s commitment toward the future is what has driven his company forward throughout the years. As well as his beliefs. “Everyone home safe” is one of our core values. There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our people, the public, and providing a safe operating environment for both,” explains Paul. It’s no wonder the company has such a high retention of employees. Superintendent Ron MacDonald still works at Alberta Glass after nearly 24 years of service.
Another employee who has been with Alberta Glass for over a decade is Patrick Powell, manager of fabrication materials and equipment. “It’s a great company, and I have the pleasure of working alongside many driven people,” says Patrick.
As the Grand Poobah of Alberta Glass’s fabrication shop, Patrick has a great deal of responsibility to make sure product gets out the door in a timely manner. His department is tasked with processing, cutting, and fabricating all of the components that go into the company’s famed curtain wall designs. Not just any designs—but big-time architectural projects like the skylights and canopies of the Bow Building, arguably Calgary’s most beautiful building; Borden Park Pavilion in the Calgary Zoo; as well as the Muttart Conservatory, a leading horticultural attraction nestled in the river valley.
With the advent of increasingly high-profile jobs, Alberta Glass was recently faced with a number of decisions to make about expansion. “The ownership of the company basically said if we don’t get with the times and embrace technology we’re going fall behind,” explains Patrick.
So, about four years ago Alberta Glass purchased a CNC machine to aid in its fabrication process. “It was a real eye-opener,” says Patrick.
With Technology Comes … Bottlenecks?
Wait, what? Technological advancements are supposed to help not hinder, or so Alberta Glass thought.
The installation of the new CNC machine brought about many benefits, but it also pointed out a glaring bottleneck in the shop’s production line.
“The CNC was so efficient that we needed to be able to cut material quickly enough to get it into the CNC machine,” explains Patrick. “Curtain wall material would get stacked up on a sawhorse, we would manually measure and mark it, then cut and drill it, cutting out necessary components, put the finished parts on a cart, and roll them over to the CNC machine for additional processing.”
The manual saws and manual stops were causing glaring inefficiencies made evident by the CNC’s rapid fabrication. “You would have to measure pieces and then cut a few, go and move the manual stop, cut another piece, measure it, adjust the stop so it’s just right, and so forth.”
Navigating the Curve
“It was really easy to pinpoint exactly where in our process we were failing.”
So the team researched a few options and decided on a TigerSaw 2000 aluminum optimizing saw system by TigerStop.
“With our TigerSaw 2000, components go straight from their boxes or bundles directly to the saw. Parts run through the saw, are accurately cut using its automated push feeder, and optimized. Then the TigerSaw prints custom part labels for the finished pieces. The parts are rolled over to the CNC machine, which completes the rest of assembly. It’s a lot faster and definitely streamlines our operations.”
Patrick explains, “In my Fabrication Department we have anywhere from 5-10 people. To give you an idea, there are about 100 employees total at Alberta Glass. With such a limited number of guys, maximizing productivity in our manufacturing operations is incredibly important. Now, using our TigerSaw 2000 we just load aluminum stock in the machine and away we go!”
Did you know? The average stock length of aluminum curtain wall material runs about $220 Canadian or approximately $170 US Dollars.
So what do you think happens when material is miscut? Well, a fraction of that $170 dollars goes directly into your garbage can. Even when the part can be reworked, you’re still wasting hourly wages fixing something that could have been cut accurately in the first place.
“It’s not easy to manually measure and mark material over and over again when completing custom jobs with thousands of components all at varied lengths,” explains Patrick. “And we do a lot of custom sizes at Alberta Glass. Each job is distinct and unique. Very seldom do we have jobs with multiples of the same length.”
Patrick clarifies: “Your tape measure is ok—but the problem becomes, how long does it take you to cut that part accurately using a tape? You have to spend additional time making sure the material is prepped perfectly and multiply that by thousands of parts. A guy on one of our old cold saws against the TigerSaw 2000? Well, there’s no competition.”
The TigerSaw 2000 automatic aluminum saw prevents parts from being cut inaccurately in the first place with its accurate positioning automation. Material is scanned using the laser scanning pusher foot and then fed into the saw for perfectly cut parts every time.
Rising Material Costs
In Alberta Glass’s business, over 90 percent of the material it uses is aluminum curtain wall. With increased material costs, trade wars, and heated international debates about proposed aluminum tariffs, it’s more pertinent than ever that businesses utilize the full extent of their material.
These issues hit close to home for Patrick and Alberta Glass. “Using the TigerSaw 2000, the yield is definitely higher than using manual saws and stops. All of our aluminum comes in a stock length, and optimizing using our TigerSaw helps us get all the material out of the stock length.”
TigerSaw 2000’s proprietary optimizing algorithm is able to determine the most efficient cutting orders based on Alberta Glass’s cut lists. The end result? Little to no scrap waste.
“Before, when we were just using the manual saw—we’d manually figure out how to optimize it, cut a bunch of pieces, and use the cutoffs last. But it took a lot of work to figure that out. Now, when the TigerSaw 2000 optimizes, there’s barely anything left. Our experience with TigerStop has been great.”
You Get What You Pay For
Alberta Glass isn’t an inexpensive company to work with. They aren’t the cheapest option around, and that’s because they strive for quality in their aluminum curtain wall.
“We try and do things differently,” explains Patrick. “In the construction industry, it tends to be all about the bottom line price. A lot of building owners get a deal and years down the road find our there’s all sorts of problems. In life, you get what you pay for. And Alberta Glass’s quality is second to none.”
“There are a lot of curtain wall companies out there that try do to what we do, but the quality is never as great. That’s why we tend to get more of the complicated jobs, projects with notoriety, because architects and builders trust us. We have the knowledge and the equipment to take on the complex assignments.”
Alberta Glass’s high-quality products have paid off. The company recently moved into a 42,000-square-foot facility in Calgary and an additional 10,000-square-foot facility in Edmonton.
“These facilities allow us to advance our fabrication and material handling capacities through CNC machinery, ACAD and 3-D modeling, product testing and engineering,” explains CEO Paul Heyens.
So what’s the moral of this story? If you live in … er, if you build glass houses, you shouldn’t throw stones? We can attest that Alberta Glass surely doesn’t. It offers best-in-class end products to its customers and ensures that its own factory standards are just as high.
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