The art of glass

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Frans van Hapert, Ceo and President of Air-Craftglass on his unique solution to preventing glass breakages on VViP aircraf

One of the perennial problems with glassware on business jets is that glass is inherently fragile, and fine glassware – the kind that you can confidently place on the crisp tablecloth on a US$60 million jet – does not take kindly to turbulence. Frans van Hapert, Founder, President and CEO of Air-Craftglass, set out some five years ago to solve this problem. The family company has a long history in glass making and innovation and the idea of looking for something akin to unbreakable glass appealed to them.

The idea was sparked off in 2008 by a query from a client who wanted to buy a glass staircase for her Boeing 747-800 business jet. After months of preparations and meetings at the end of the day it was a ‘no go’ due to the fact that the staircase was too heavy – and, last but not least, the glass could break during an emergency landing. “It turned into a bit of a sales disaster. So we looked into making “glass that would not break and which was lightweight” van Hapert explains.

The solution that looked the most promising was to laminate the glass in some way, which is the industry standard way of providing bulletproof glass, or super toughened glass. However, there were immediate problems.

“You cannot use the standard laminate used by the industry. Not only does it not look right on the glass product, the lamination film can be stronger than the glass which can give spontaneous breaks, which can be nasty. The biggest disadvantage, however, is that these standard laminating films will burn and will not pass the fire tests as required in the aircraft industry. So over a five-year period we developed our own lamination system that we have now patented,” he explains.

Van Hapert and his team found that they could extend the lamination process to other products, and in particular to mirrors, lenses/dust panels, shower panels and wood veneers. “With wood veneers, because of the fire and safety regulations, there are only some eight to nine types of wood veneer that can be used in a business jet interior. All the rest of all available wood veneers can come out as a dullish grey, which is far from ideal. With our lamination process we can fire-proof a wide range of veneers and when they have been laminated, they have a high gloss finish due to the glass cover,” he notes.

Most wood veneers, by way of contrast, lose a lot of their appeal when they are laminated by conventional processes. “This is a real game changer for the interior completions market,” he adds.

Air-Craftglass’s laminated glass mirrors using special ultrathin glass have appeal not just for business jets, but also for the first class and business class sections of commercial airlines. “The commercial airlines have to spend significant sums replacing the mirrors in their lavatories and galleys, since they get scratched over time. With our process, the glass is pretty well scratch proof,” he notes.

Much the same is true of shower paneling in business jets. Today, just about all of this is some form of plastic and it scratches very easily. Air-Craftglass’s laminated thin glass keeps the shower room looking good for far longer. Plus van Hapert points out that the conventional plastic materials used as a substitute for glass tend to have very high manufacturing reject rates, with some 70% of the material being judged unsuitable for use. “With our product we only ship plug-and-play, ready-to-install products and there is very little waste in production,” he comments.

“We are fortunate in having very skilled people, some with over 40 years of experience in this industry. We have a range of new products that we have developed, including some interesting and extreme ultrathin laminated versions of just 0.6 mm. thick.”

Van Hapert says he is looking forward to 2017 with considerable optimism. “We see a wave starting of upgrades to business jet interiors, and that will provide plenty of opportunities for us. We are also targeting the commercial market, where we are looking to benefit from the upgrades that some major airlines are currently carrying out with respect to their business class and first class spaces. Our products fit perfectly into the luxury high-end experience and can look really good in a luxury aircraft or first class cabin. If you buy an aircraft for tens of millions of dollars you do not want to be looking at scratched plastic in the cabin. What you want is the best high-end materials possible, and this is what we are offering,” he concludes.