Products such as drinking glasses and eye glasses even take their names from their material of construction. And while an old adage advises against throwing stones if one lives in a glass house, glass has wide-ranging applications in architecture.
No man-made material has so many practical and decorative uses as glass. In its various forms, glass can be transparent, translucent or opaque. It can be molded into any shape, cut, etched or polished, bonded to other materials, and more. Products such as drinking glasses and eye glasses even take their names from their material of construction. And while an old adage advises against throwing stones if one lives in a glass house, glass has wide-ranging applications in architecture.
Inspired designs in architecture also include creative uses of surfaces made of stainless steel, woven metal, bonded metal and fused metal. Architectural products that combine aesthetic beauty with long-lived durability blur the line between indoor and outdoor applications to create appealing, efficient environments where people work and relax.
Using glass and metal as design elements in buildings is fundamental to the work of Forms+Surfaces. The company designs and manufactures architectural products that appear in walls, columns, building interiors and elevator interiors, as well as outdoor lighting systems and site furniture, all used in a wide range of public spaces around the world. Products are made using a sophisticated array of manufacturing methods, including casting, extrusion and bonding.
“Everything we sell we actually manufacture,” according to Joe Gatterdam, Managing Director of VividGlass, a division of Forms+Surfaces in Phoenix, Arizona. “Our customers are mostly architectural firms designing interiors for corporate campuses, airports, city centers, universities, hospitals, restaurants and hotels. All of these entities want the functionality and high quality of the products that Forms+Surfaces can provide. They look great and their durability is fantastic.”
Forms+Surfaces has corporate headquarters and its main 350,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, although much of the company’s recent growth has focused on the operation in Phoenix. “Four years ago we purchased two buildings, side-by-side, in Phoenix,” says Gatterdam. “Building One was for the relocation and expansion of the VividGlass division. Building Two was slated for the future growth of VividGlass and for Forms+Surfaces operations. Within a couple years we were already running out of room and purchased the third building in that row. Including Building Three, we’re now up to about 155,000 square feet and still growing. Forms+Surfaces has a significant manufacturing presence in Phoenix and we will continue to expand here.”
To support the company’s continuing growth in production, Forms+Surfaces made a capital investment in new Variable Speed Drive vacuum technology from Atlas Copco. Forms+Surfaces utilizes vacuum pumps in three production areas: Bonded Metal manufacturing, systems applications manufacturing, and CNC milling operations.
“Bonded Metal is a product we make by mixing a proprietary resin with a specialized metal and then forming the product we’re making using a vacuum casting process,” Gatterdam explains. “You can think of our process along the lines of injection molding. We start with the mold, vacuum pressure holds down a blanket, and then we inject the metal material into the mold. The formed materials are adhered together using structural tape. Once the tape is applied, two components are married together and subjected to a vacuum blanket that applies uniform pressure on the components to ensure a consistent bond. A reliable supply of vacuum pressure is critical.”
For systems applications such as those installed on interior walls or in elevators, Forms+Surfaces utilizes vacuum tables in a specialized lamination process. “We start with a backer material and spray on an adhesive that works much like contact cement,” says Gatterdam. “A piece of stainless steel is married to the backer and the two are laminated together. To create even pressure across those products, a vacuum blanket is placed over them and vacuum pressure applied to set the adhesive.”
CNC routers are used in milling operations at Forms+Surfaces. “Basically, vacuum pressure holds the workpiece in place while it’s being processed,” says Gatterdam.
As Gatterdam explains, each of these manufacturing systems—Bonded Metal, systems applications and CNC milling—used to have separate vacuum pumps. For example, in the Bonded Metal operation, there was an individual vacuum pump for each of six tables and three separate vacuum pumps on the CNC router alone. These manufacturing systems were spread throughout different buildings.