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Sheathed in sheer glass

Post Time:Apr 28,2009Classify:Industry NewsView:302

Think of a modern building these days and the image that comes to mind is probably that of a structure sheathed in glass. Most buildings, particularly multi-storeyed office facilities, seem to sport a glass façade. What is it about glass that attracts people?

People get to enjoy the great outdoors or at least a patch of landscaped garden in air-conditioned comfort. They are insulated from the noise and dust of the traffic just metres away. A wall of glass letting in sufficient daylight into a large office saves on electricity bills and any day beats a wall of brick and mortar, they say.

Shortage of skilled hands

Glass has come into its own in the building industry. Over Rs 3,500-4,000 crore of glass is being used in building industry. It is now as essential as traditional materials such as cement, steel, sand and blue metal. But this also raises a concern for those in the industry — shortage of skilled manpower — for handling glass is not like handling concrete or brick laying.

Also, while the traditional materials have been the subject of study and training for decades, modern day glass as a material in construction is yet to become a subject of study and training in academic institutions, say experts in the building industry. In institutions abroad ‘façade engineering’ is a major area of study, they say.

Saint-Gobain initiative

This gap in the domestic market is something a group of experts led by Saint-Gobain Glass India Ltd hopes to remedy. The company, which has over three-and-a-half centuries of experience in making and handling glass, has launched the Saint-Gobain Glass Academy to disseminate information, technology and training in safe and efficient use of glass in construction.

It has brought together stakeholders including glass processors, consultants, architects, fabricators, academicians, developers and government bodies that lay down quality standards under this entity to disseminate information, skills and technology.

Mr B. Santhanam, Managing Director, Saint-Gobain Glass India Ltd, says there is an acute shortage of skills and training at every stage after the glass in manufactured. Saint-Gobain has conducted over 82 training programmes for using glass in buildings and is now looking at putting together an independent advisory board with representatives from the field and academic institutions. The company is also offering its own intellectual property of e-learning materials, glass performance tools and funding for research. IIT-Madras is to come up with a position paper on the industry, he says.

More than just sheets

Glass sheets used in modern day construction have evolved a lot, he says. They are no longer just simple sheets of a few years ago, which raised issues of heat and noise control when used in buildings.

Modern day glass, after being manufactured in a factory of international standards, is coated, advance coated, sent to another modern facility where it is processed — tempered to increase strength, laminated and double glazed for noise and thermal control — sent to a fabricator where it is further tailored to the specific needs of a building before it is brought to the construction site for installation. And prior to all this is the architect who gives the specifications for the glass — the quality, the utility and aesthetics.

There are skill gaps at every stage. Processors may have the equipment but do not have world-class capability. There is an acute shortage of skilled manpower with fabricators. Quality standards and codes are coming in for energy conservation and various other aspects, and people need to know how glass can be used efficiently, he says.

Following a meeting of the academy’s first advisory council recently, its chairman, Mr C.N. Raghavendran, a leading architect and Partner of the architect firm CRN, the chairman of the academy’s advisory council, said building skills are needed at every level of glass usage — including architects, consultants, processors, fabricators and experts in energy. Industry leaders from these areas have been put on the council.

The team of experts hopes to create a set-up that will act as a “referral point” for glass in construction. It will organise workshops, train workers and eventually evolve into an institution that certifies workers trained by it.

Quality at site

Mr Pankaj Keswani, Managing Director, Alufit (India) Pvt Ltd, a leading fabricator and a member on the advisory council of the academy, says quality at site is a major issue.

Invariably, the end date of a construction project is sacrosanct. This is when the promoter expects to start earning money to meet his loan repayment. A fabricator is under most pressure in the final stages to bring in a larger team to complete the work.

The challenge facing the fabricator is lack of time and lack of skilled manpower. For working with glass, you need a technician, not a just a labourer who can pour concrete or lay bricks, he says.

Source: thehindubusinessline.comAuthor: shangyi

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