How to transport float glass

From the December 2011 issue.

Since 1905, when Belgian scientist Emile Fourcault first managed to produce an oversize sheet of glass, the transportation of flat glass has been a daunting task. And, although technology has advanced, it is still a specialist’s job that can be spoiled by a single drop of water.

In 1957, British company Pilkington developed the float glass process, a revolutionary method that fuelled the mass production of flat glass. Pilkington’s concept did not only supplant the Fourcault procedure, but also created a new, not-so-common freight task.

Float glass would now come in a standard size of 3.2m x 7m, but could go up to 3.2m x 10m with a thickness of up to 19mm – urging the world’s trailer manufacturing industry to invent a vast array of sophisticated transport equipment to cart the oversize, yet brittle commodity.

In the beginning, the transport scene used to modify the common rigid design by simply connecting a superstructure to the platform – usually a rugged, A-shaped framework. Later, a British company named Supertrucks re-fined the concept and introduced an external rack that could be attached to the side of a van, sparing internal load capacity.

Supertrucks presented the new concept at the Glassex exhibition in Birmingham in 1986 and the subsequent success established the company as a leading provider of glass carrying equipment in the UK and Ireland.

But, although the external rack is a versatile solution, the British concept is limited to 7.5 tonne GVM and cannot offer full protection against wind and weather, which may jeopardise the entire shipment.

After all, water is the nemesis of modern glass transportation. If only a few drops invade the gap between the panes, they will stick together inseparably – and the entire load will be useless.

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