Prior to the use of auto glass, drivers drove around wearing goggles to protect their eyes from bugs, wind, and miscellaneous debris. Auto glass was only installed on vehicles as a luxury item, which came with a hefty premium. It wasn’t until 1915 when auto glass became a standard feature on automobiles. Although Henry Ford, the inventor of the first automobile ordered laminated glass to be installed on all of his vehicles in 1913, maintaining top quality standards during the initial era of car production.
To make a windshield, the manufacturer begins with a plain sheet of glass. A machine called a plotter moves over the glass and scores the glass to the shape it will be cut to. Then a mechanical arm uses a torch and moves along the score line and produces a thermal shock which completes the cut. Scoring and heating glass is the best way to cleanly cut through glass. Next, a robot with a suction cup, suctions up the cut piece of glass and transfers it to the next station, where it runs the glass through a series of sanding belts, removing the sharp edges, tentatively titled “seaming”. Then a conveyor belt runs the glass through soapy water to clean it. Then a series of nozzles spray the sheet of glass with talcum powder and water, which prevents the glass from sticking to the other sheet of glass. Next, a robot arm takes the second sheet of glass and temporarily lays it on top of the freshly sprayed sheet for processing. The sheet of glass is then moved to a screen printing machine where a black border is screen printed along the border of the glass, which will eventually become the inner part of the windshield. Then robot arms transport the glass to a station where samples of the glass are inspected visually for quality control. Afterwards, rollers transport the glass to automated squaring pucks to position them. Then a robot lifts the sheet of glass and transports them to four metal pins that then recede so that the glass falls onto a bending iron shaped like a windshield. The glass is then transported to an oven also known as a bending leer.
The bending leer heats the glass sheets to 750-degrees C, which molds the glass to the shape of the bending iron. Then the glass goes through a slow cooling cycle which toughens and sets the new shape of the glass. Then a piece of vinyl cut to the shape of the windshield is placed on top of the newly shaped piece of glass. Then another robot takes the other identical piece of glass and layers it on top of the vinyl. The windshield is then taken to a machine called the “nipper”, where the windshield is placed between a series of rubber rollers to remove air pockets. Finally the windshield is placed inside of an autoclave, removing any remaining air pockets and clearing up the final product.
The nature of glass is fascinating, it’s a staple of all of our modern technologies. Even better, as time goes on, the advanced features that are being added to glass, and auto glass in particular, are enabling people all around the world to drive safer and cut back on the stress of navigating through traffic jams on your morning commute to work. It’s fascinating that the entire process from beginning to end in the manufacturing of auto glass is carried out by robots. As a result, we have produced flawless auto glass that makes life more enjoyable. It’s the little things!