William O’Keeffe, CEO, SAFTIFIRST
William O’Keeffe, CEO, SAFTIFIRST

How has the demand for fire-rated glass changed?

The demand for fire resistive glass, meaning glass that provides a barrier to radiant heat, continues to grow due to our ongoing effort to educate architects on the dangers of radiant heat. This effort includes our proposal to standardize the test methodology to be used with UL 9 testing to confirm radiant heat flux through fire protective products which are currently exempt from such testing. Used improperly, these protective products may block flames and smoke, but provide no protection against the radiant heat generated by the fire. If the proposed testing is accepted, there will be a voluntary means by which designers and building officials can determine to what extent and under which conditions fire protective products pose a danger. As we saw with the repeated recurrence of injuries stemming from the unsafe use of wired glass, fire-rated glass without a method of qualifying radiant heat passage can sometimes provide only an illusion of safety.

How has the rising concern over security and safety affected the use of fire-rated glass?

Just in the past year, numerous deadly attacks called our attention to the possibility of random explosions or shootings, leaving us feeling unsafe and insecure. Fire-rated and security glazing are now expected to perform double-duty more than ever. I’m sure we’ll see an increased demand for fire-rated glazing in combination with ballistic or attack protection. In a 2014 research report on global security glass products, 9Dimen Research Center staff predicts steady market growth worldwide through 2018. SAFTIFIRST has been active in the security glazing market for years and intends to increase those efforts through the use of our new laminating capabilities and an increase in our research and development program relating to security glazing in 2016.

How has rising material prices and global demand for construction materials affected SAFTIFIRST?

First and foremost, SAFTIFIRST is a manufacturer, not just a distributor. We control our costs in order to remain competitive more easily than companies forced to live off of minimum margins. Our glass and framing products are manufactured in our facility in Merced, CA instead of being imported from overseas. I believe more than ever, “Made in the USA” still means quality. Those words still offer a sense of trust. Given the uncertainty generated by terrorist attacks worldwide, relying on locally manufactured products rather than imports becomes even more important. We laid the foundation for greater self-reliance in 2015 through capital investments. It is inevitable that as demand for fire-rated glazing continues to grow, so will the emphasis on speed and lead-time performance. Expanding backlogs always threaten lead-times. From what we’ve noticed and are hearing, lead-time performance by fire-rated glazing distributors tied to foreign suppliers is becoming increasingly problematic. The right selection of a fire-rated glazing supplier in 2016 should not be based only on price, but just as importantly on performance. That is so critical to getting projects completed.