A Trip to Remember

It’s going to be hard for me to ever hear the mention of Carlisle, Pa. again and not think of this week’s spellbinding tour of the PPG float glass plant there. I was joined in the visit by my Key Communications colleagues Holly Biller, Jamie Browning, Casey Neeley and Jennifer Reed, all of whom were as thoroughly fascinated by the outing as I was.

We each brought different experiences in the glass business with us and that was readily apparent.


The Key Communication team of (l to r) John Hollis, Jennifer Reed, Holly Biller, Jamie Browning and Casey Neeley outside the PPG float glass plant in Carlisle, Pa.

But, for me, it was a trip that I won’t forget anytime soon. The only other times that I ever had reason to visit Carlisle was while covering Washington Redskins training camp at nearby Dickinson College during my early years as a sportswriter. Yes, I know that sounds pretty cool because it was the NFL. But trust me when I tell you that – initial excitement aside – it’s not all that much fun to those of my friends who still actually do it.Imagine being hot, sweaty and bored silly for the better part of three weeks. Years later, I can recall just a few really meaningful moments there.I was riveted from the outset of my trip to the PPG plant because it was something I had NEVER done before in any way, shape or form. Yes, I had paid enough attention in school to know that glass came from sand, but that was pretty much about the extent of my knowledge of it. To have actually witnessed the entire process from up close – all quarter mile of it – was enlightening beyond measure.To literally watch sand transform into glass is something I can’t imagine ever forgetting.I’m sure I have a past teacher or two smiling at the thought.Here’s a quick look at what a few of my colleagues also had to say about the excursion:Holly Biller

For those of you with whom I have worked, you know that I started in the glass industry almost two full decades ago. So my glass history and knowledge has become richer each year, but for the first time in my career, I had the opportunity to visit the PPG float glass plant in Carlisle, Pa. I have known the steps in the manufacturing process of float glass for years, but there might not be words to describe the incredible power, precision and mesmerizing process that creation of glass truly is.

Sand is transposed into the furnace at the PPG float glass plant in Carlisle, Pa.

Sand is transposed into the furnace at the PPG float glass plant in Carlisle, Pa.

I had the pleasure of attending with four others from our staff and additional members of the PPG staff and we were all in good company by appreciating the sheer size, magnitude and heat that the plant provided. For a plant that broke ground in 1971, and used “the Big Blue” IBM computer that still took punch cards and listed over 1,300 employees during its heyday, PPG has done a good job of continually updating, modifying and altering the physical plant to remain relevant, efficient and even exceeding current environmental regulations. There is an evident care placed into the training their team, which was a focal theme from plant manager Tom Abbas. This was shown by the passion of Dick Weller, who provided our tour in great detail even though he has been retired for a few years. Another example was Jim, who maintains the furnace that reaches 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit. He has been with PPG for 36 years and working on all sides of the furnace full-time for the past three. Good people always produce good products. However, the most awe-inspiring image that will stay with me always will be the continuous quarter-mile ribbon of glass as it rolled along the stretch of the plant going through the annealing process. Honorable mentions: the waves of sand and other elements mixed from the six silos into the furnace that was so hot my earrings began to burn my ears and the concept of a silver coating layer being as thick as one layer cut from 50,000 layers of a penny.

While I knew many of these details from reading the articles our expert editorial team produces, I am a visual learner, as evident from the fact I noticed how many optical training techniques the plant has in place, the six Sigma signs, a communicating report on QC the moment you step foot onto the plant floor and the motivating wall to always keep the focus on safety among hundreds of others. Something about seeing all the theory I had in my head in physical form in front of me drove the message home. We work in a very incredible industry. Some of my fellow colleagues will call me a glass geek in good humor, but after seeing the beauty in the stretching process, the efficiency of the cullet gate and glorious glass in both clear and Starphire being formed, I am proud to be a part of such innovation that plays the still vital role in our economy and culture all these decades later.

Thank you PPG for your hospitality and for reminding me why so many, as well as myself, are proud to be a part of the architectural glass industry and can still stand in awe of it.

Jennifer Reed


Glass rolls down the float glass line at the PPG plant in Carlisle, Pa.

The immense size of the PPG float glass plant in Carlisle, Pa., was a bit intimidating as we eyed it from the road. When our guide mentioned the tour was almost two miles long, my mind was reeling, thinking that this would be my exercise for the day. Despite the size of the facility, we didn’t see many workers and this stood out. The officials stressed that no one touches the glass until it reaches its intended destination.However, if something goes wrong with the machinery or furnace, the workers quickly step in to make a repair as the furnace is expected to continuously run for more than a decade after it is fired up. To have the dedication to work in such heat gave me a new respect for those on the front lines in the glass manufacturing industry.

Though I’ve toured a windshield factory prior, this was my first experience visiting a float glass plant up close. And despite the length of the tour, my attention was quickly caught up in all I was seeing.

The heat steadily increased as we walked into the heart of the plant past a quarter of a mile of glass being rolled down a float line. Looking into the eye of the flames in the furnace was amazing. Sweat quickly gathered on our brows as the temperature climbed to 160 degrees for us. I was thinking that some of this glass could eventually make its way into windshields and sidelites of automobiles.

The capital it takes to run such a plant was a bit mind-blowing. A six-figure pay out just for one utility bill a month? Whew?

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Office Space


Today’s guest blog was contributed by Tara Taffera, vice president of editorial services for Key Communications.

Today’s guest blog was contributed by Tara Taffera, vice president of editorial services for Key Communications.

For this week’s blog I decided to publish an open letter to my boss, Debra Levy, president of Key Communications Inc., USGNN’s parent company. I thought about sending her an email, but then I thought maybe others in the industry would be interested in what I had to say.

July 9, 2013

Dear Deb,

As you know, Chris [USGNN video producer Chris Bunn] and I drove to D.C. yesterday to visit Intus Windows. We walked up to their Georgetown address, weren’t sure if we were in the right place, but then saw a small sign bearing the Intus name on an institutional-looking metal door. We descended the stairs and were immediately deposited in a large open room. Chris and I looked around, then at each other and he murmured, “Now this is an office,” to which I nodded a “yeah, this is pretty cool” kind of nod.

Some Intus employees work out in the open, such as those shown here.

Some Intus employees work out in the open, such as those shown here.

Why, you ask, did we react this way? Well, the photos shown here pretty much speak for themselves. You walk in and see a few enclosed offices to your right, but they are still enclosed in glass so anyone can see in. To the left there are about four or five people seated at “open” desks. You hear phones ringing, people talking. In front of those desks are couches where the execs conduct meetings (I must admit they are pretty comfy). But what most caught our eye was what you saw when you walked in and looked straight ahead: a pool table, foosball table and bar.

When we left, I noticed the bikes parked near the door which told me at least a few of the eight employees in this office bike to work.

So Chris and I did our interview, left the building and immediately started talking about the office. He said, “You know, Deb has been talking about moving offices. You should talk to her about this.”

There are some offices with a door which look out on the recreational amenities such as this ping pong table.

There are some offices with a door which look out on the recreational amenities such as this ping pong table.

So that of course got me thinking and you know me well enough to know that I can overanalyze things, which I may have done in this case.

You know that I’m the person in the office who doesn’t do a great job of tuning things out. If things get loud, I have to close my door to work on a story. So I could see that if I was writing a story and people were playing pool I am pretty sure I would get annoyed. Do you place limits on when you can play or is it a big free for all?

You also know that I can be quite vocal in my office—constantly talking to myself. At least with some walls, people don’t always hear what I am saying. I hate to think what I would be like if there were no walls to stifle my ramblings.

But there are some advantages. No need for you to walk down the hall to talk to someone. Heck, you can probably just walk out of your glass-enclosed office and call out a name. And if you wondered what people are doing all day long, the office set up is pretty much an open book.

Sitting/meeting area, bar and pool table.

Sitting/meeting area, bar and pool table.

If you’re wondering about this set up, I asked Roland Talalas, co-founder, about it and he said he likes to offer a relaxed atmosphere for his employees. He added that it also shows that Intus is an easy company to do business with.

So what do you think? If you decide at some point this is a great idea, I just have two requests: some guidelines for those pool tables and one of those offices with a door. Oh, and maybe the occasional happy hour …

P.S. Since I am printing this “letter” for all to see, if you are an owner reading this I would love to know your thoughts. The same goes for employees like me. Post your comments here.

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The Silver Bullet?

Today’s guest blog was contributed by Mark Silverberg, president of Technoform North America.

Today’s guest blog was contributed by Mark Silverberg, president of Technoform North America.

During recent conference attendance and meetings with customers, I’ve participated in many discussions about a building material with numerous under-appreciated benefits. The range of these benefits is dramatic and bears deeper investigation. The following, compiled with the assistance of Tom Culp (GANA code and energy consultant) lists some of the important benefits of this amazing building material when used properly. See how far into the list you get before you can correctly guess it.

• You can use it to shade, see through, and even generate electricity.

• Buildings that use this material to get improved daylight and views also improve their property values and rental rates.

• With proper glare control it has the power to increase office worker cognitive test rates by 20 percent; 9-16 percent improved performance on visual memory tests.

• It can provide 39 free work hours per year in office worker productivity, decrease absenteeism by 15 percent and decrease office worker turnover.

• In learning environments it can increase student test scores by 21 percent.

• In retail environments it can increase sales by 6 percent.

• In hospitals it can reduce development of surgical post-op delirium by 22 percent, reduce the length of hospital stay by 2.6 days and require 22 percent less pain medication for post-spinal surgery patients.

• People who receive its benefits experience reduced depression and improved sleep, leading to a greater sense of well-being.

By now I’m hoping you’ve figured out the right answer. Yes, it’s glass and glazing that has all of these benefits and magic powers. Some elements of the built environment would have us reduce glazing area in buildings less than 50,000 square feet to improve energy efficiency. Here’s the question I’d like to ask the folks proposing this change: What would you have to give up? What is the cost?

On to other matters of the day.

• The Battle of the Bands I’d most love to see. The authors of the WSJ blog on May 8, 2013 by Harrison Schmitt and William Happer titled, “In Defense of Carbon,” vs. the insurance industry. On May 14, 2013 Eduardo Porter wrote an article in the New York Times titled, “For Insurers, No Doubts on Climate Change“. Per Schmitt and Happer, if we listen closely to the plants we can hear them asking for more carbon. 400 ppm is nothing, 1,000 ppm would be much better! On the other hand the insurance industry is increasingly factoring climate change into their business portfolio risk analysis. “Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought,” Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, told the author last week. “It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.” The insurance industry is staying out of the energy policy controversy and not proposing much new in the way of carbon taxes or related proposals. When Hurricane Sandy and Katrina type events are bad for society and for business, Mr. Porter argues that the insurance industry will get involved. But something’s changing in the way they look at the intersection of risk and climate change. KPMG weighed in last week on this as well. According to KPMG, “sustainability megaforces” — from population growth and food security to deforestation and climate change — will affect every business’s performance and profitability within 20 years. I’d really love to hear these guys duke it out on the same stage.

Good news inspiration for today

• Sports stars get too much attention for the wrong reasons. Here’s a story about an authentic sports hero you won’t want to miss. Got me a bit misty in preparation for the Memorial Day weekend when we honor the sacrifices others made and make every day for our freedom. It’s a great reminder of the gratitude and humility we should carry with us every day. Jason McElway, Authentic Hero.


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