A Free Exchange of Ideas:
Penland Hosts Glass Technicians Summit
By Andrew Page

 

conference view

 

For eight decades, Penland School of Crafts has been dedicated to “working with one another in creating the good and the beautiful,” as founder Lucy Morgan once put it. This same spirit of shared purpose fast-forwarded into the high-tech realm during a conference in February 2009 when top equipment makers in the field of glass came together on Penland’s historic campus to compare notes on their best cutting-edge ideas and most elegant engineering solutions. New connections were forged and information flowed freely during the three-day event, setting the stage for faster gains in glass studio efficiency for the good of the environment and the field.

 

Unlike the typical forums where some of the attendees had briefly crossed paths before – for example, at panels at Glass Art Society (G.A.S.) conference presentations – here they had multiple days to build trust, find common areas of exploration, and offer feedback on one another’s breakthroughs about how to lower emissions and save energy, two critical issues facing the world of glass art as it copes with a brutal economic downturn, growing awareness of climate change, and unpredictable energy pricing.

 

In addition to the builders in attendance, three directors of glass studios running on landfill gas shared their experiences with alternative fuels. Studio directors and head techs of public glass studios in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, and Tacoma, rounded out the audience as they listened in on discussions of new technologies, and offered feedback on how optimized equipment comes up against the realities of renters and visiting artists who might not always take the same care as those operating their own studios. Three days of sessions from February 12 - 14, would continue into the evening over meals and organized social events that brought the local arts community into the mix and swelled the ranks to over 40 people.

 

The conference was organized by Penland glass studio coordinator Slate Grove, who named the event the “Penland Tech Conversation 2009” in reflection of his efforts to start a much-needed dialogue between innovators who often labored in relative isolation. For Grove himself, the inspiration came from a conversation he had at the Glass Art Society’s 2008 conference in Portland, Oregon, when he learned about the major energy savings possible through something as simple as variable door sizing in a glory hole. Thinking about how much energy could be saved if more studio managers received the same information, he returned to Penland determined to find a way to share best practices across the glass field to speed up the flow of important information.

 

Grove settled on the concept of an open forum for sharing ideas between builders who sometimes compete for the same business, and he set out to create an atmosphere where competition could give way to cooperation. He wanted to avoid the limitations of an audience of too widely dispersed technical levels, something he noticed when he watched two 1-1/2 hour long panel discussions at G.A.S. 2008 taken up by simply getting a wide audience up to speed on the fundamentals.

 

“I wanted to bring together the people who already had a base level of knowledge on these subjects so that we could all start talking from a certain place,” said Grove.

 

Penland School generously offered to host the event and provide housing and identified foundation support to cover the travel expenses for key participants. Five studio builders (Eddie Bernard, Fred Metz, Hugh Jenkins, Steve Stadelman, and Charlie Correll) were joined by public glass studio directors or head techs (Brian Kibler, Chris Clarke, Brent Craig, Chuck Lopez and Sarah Gilbert) as well as directors of studios running on landfill gas (Heather Dawes, Timm Muth, Lori Beck). Additional studio personnel and visiting glass artists with studios nearby (including Mark Peiser) rounded out the conference participants.

 

slate grove

Conference organizer Slate Grove, who is the glass studio coordinator at Penland School.

Day 1
Getting acquainted: getting down to business

On the first morning of the event, Grove kicked things off by laying out the ground-rules and stating his commitment to creating an atmosphere where competing builders would feel comfortable discussing and sharing ideas openly.

“I’m hoping that we can all have a free exchange of ideas,” said Grove, who had not asked attendees to prepare slides of presentations because he wanted to make sure they would feel more at ease just talking informally. “I’d like to point out that nobody is expecting you to share proprietary information if you’re not comfortable doing it,” he emphasized. “I want this event to share in the spirit of the Studio Glass Movement, so after it’s over, we can all have a giant group of peers that we can call upon.”

 

The first session, about issues facing studios that rent time, took some time to get off the ground as speakers became comfortable with Grove’s intentionally open-ended format. A few of the attendees seemed unsure of how to proceed without a formal presentation to kick things off, and early conversations dropped off. While the issues of safety systems and controls were on the agenda, the session jumped from point to point. A general concern emerged about how public glass studios have special challenges when trying to become more efficient because of the different levels of users who don’t always take care of the equipment.

 

“We talked about some of the problems being a public access facility,” said Brian Kibler, studio director of UrbanGlass in Brooklyn, New York. “Renters pay a flat rate and think they’re covering the cost of the gas but they have no idea of how expensive it really is. And they don’t always operate the equipment to save energy or preserve the equipment.”

Things picked up after lunch when attendees had mingled and gotten to know one another over their meals. The next session was more focused as Metz took center stage with a highly technical discussion of combustion. Specifically, he talked about analyzing oxygen to correctly size and tune gas furnaces, explained methods of increasing efficiency, and warned about the dangers of generating nitrogen oxide, a greenhouse gas worse than carbon monoxide, when superheating the mix through recuperation.

 

“If you preheat your air, your recuperator is very efficient,” said Metz. “But at some point, this heating begins to produce nitrogen gases. The problem is, you can get tremendous efficiency but you wouldn’t want to get that efficiency at the cost of generating higher levels of pollution.”

 

Known for his disciplined and rigorous approach to equipment building, Metz offered details on nitrogen oxide, which is carefully regulated by most states. Because the market for glass studios is so small, big industry has never focused on these smaller studios and the equipment builders who do build studios tend to be self-taught, learning with each project they complete. As he would throughout the three-day conference, Metz argued for greater standards for the field so that best practices could be replicated by others, lifting the entire field to a higher level of efficiency.

 

“Especially since energy prices peaked last year, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion about improving efficiency,” said Metz. “We all see a lot of misinformation out there, and when we can get everybody together so that we’re all on the same page, we create the possibilities of collaborations down the road. Everyone has their own strengths.”

 

A key point Metz made repeatedly was the need for cut sheets where the specifications for a piece of equipment could be written down and compared to other alternatives. “A cut sheet would show a footprint, the weight, all the electrical specifications, gas specifications,” said Metz. “It would give an idea of the radiant surface, and how many square feet a piece of equipment takes up.”

 

Metz, who no longer builds furnaces full-time but still consults with the Corning Museum of Glass, sees “a big leap forward” happening where a single builder is no longer creating all the equipment in a studio but more components are being purchased “off the shelf,” which means better-built, safer equipment that has been optimized for its purpose. This is especially important in the area of electricity where the voltages and wattage required to melt glass put the engineering far out of reach of any DIY-er.

 

The second afternoon session was a detailed discussion of recuperation, or recycling the heat generated by a furnace that would otherwise escape out of the flue. Charlie Correll, who single-handedly pioneered recuperators three decades earlier, talked about how his work has evolved. Despite all the advances, Correll is amazed at how many opportunities for energy savings are missed when he visits other studios. “People don’t know that a glory hole on high fire uses as much as your furnace,” says Correll. “Users have to be educated that it doesn’t make sense to make goblets out of a 24-inch glory hole.”

 

This is why Correll was most impressed with the high level of the conversation about tech. “Since we furnace builders are all by ourselves dealing with customers, the technical talk never gets to that high of a level,” he said. “It was wonderful and impressive to sit there for two-and-a-half days to discuss things with peers.”

 

Adding to the detailed discussion about recuperation was Hugh Jenkins, an innovator in biodiesel-fired studios who credits Correll with laying the foundations for his own work in squeezing more heat out of all kinds of fuel. Jenkins embodies a new spirit of sharing, an interest in putting information out to the field, citing the loss of so much knowledge from early pioneers of studio glass such as Dominick Labino when they passed away. “I think he had a wealth of information we could have used and I don’t think we’ll ever get,” says Jenkins, who felt that the Penland event reminded him of retreats he’s experienced in his career in education. “Three days with a group of people who have nothing else to do other than being with each other is very different from the G.A.S. conference,” he said.

 

correll-jenkins

Builders Charlie Correll and Hugh Jenkins.

Day Two
Things go electric: alternative fuels take center stage

With so much of the focus of the glass world on gas-fired furnaces, Steve Stadelman’s presentation on his cutting-edge electrical furnaces kept the audience in rapt attention, not only for his engineering sophistication but his willingness to talk about the hazards of working with high-wattage furnaces. For Stadelman, it was a chance to present a new take on what electricity can do as he pushes the sizes of electrical furnaces into the 600-pound territory. Tapping into his engineering background, Stadelman is able to build high wattage radiant melter electrical furnaces with melt times comparable to a gas-fired furnace. The cost-savings come once the glass is melted, when the lack of an open flame allows the furnace to be super-insulated and closed off without any flu to let heat escape.

 

Everything depends on the price per kilowatt hour. “I think the competitive rate starts when you hit 15-cents per kilowatt hour,” says Stadelman. “But because electric furnaces run so quietly, because they can be used in places where no open flame is involved, some will use electric for its advantages even when it is more expensive.”

 

After lunch, some of the most formal presentations were made by the heads of landfill gas facilities. Heather Dawes of Energy Exchange, Timm Muth of Jackson County Green Energy Park, and Lori Beck of Ohio Valley Creative Energy each spoke about their respective projects and experiences.

 

Dawes, whose studio is built on a smaller landfill that must plan for a day when the methane runs out, shared Energy Exchange’s wide research into other possible fuel options from anaerobic digesters to gasification of wood chips to using biodiesel from reclaimed vegetable oil. For a studio located in a rural area without a lot of livestock, Dawes realized that Energy Exchange needs to squeeze all available energy out of whatever fuel they are using, and said that “I took a lot of notes on the presentations on efficiency and correct sizing of equipment.”

 

Also in North Carolina but on a larger landfill is Jackson County Green Energy Park. Its director, Muth was similarly paying close attention to all the technical discussions and taking notes on efficiency issues. He discussed the importance for a glass studio considering tapping landfill gas to find the right size landfill since the larger ones will be tapped by utility companies to generate electricity. Muth’s project was done in cooperation with the local county that was going to have to pay to flare off the methane because utility companies were not interested in the site, so it decided to use the fuel to stimulate new jobs in the community. Muth, an employee of the county, talked about how he made the most of a small budget through innovative recycling of equipment and buying used equipment, such as the cold shop which he purchased from a retiring glass artist for 20-cents on the dollar.

 

Finally, Lori Beck, who has completed all planning for an ambitious glass studio project that will require $3.5 million to actually build, discussed how her own planning for Ohio Valley Creative Energy reflected her own experience in a university glass studio. She spoke about her impressions of visiting local studios, such as Mark Peiser’s, where equipment is purpose-built and scaled for specific sizes rather than oversized. “The most important solutions offer scalability and are modular,” said Beck.

Day Two ended with a potluck when the many artists working in and around Penland were encouraged to join the discussion over beer and barbecue. Among the local artists in attendance was Mark Peiser, who was a founder of the Glass Art Society and organized its first meeting in Penland in 1971. Peiser participated in formal and informal discussions, and took people on tours of his own studio. With his long history in the glass field, Peiser found the event was a necessary development, and a first to bring together such high-level builders for an extended period of time. “The most positive thing is the willingness to rethink the business model of what a glass studio is,” said Peiser.

Day Three
Resources: a look ahead

By the final day of the conference, participants were already starting to look ahead to planning a future gathering. High on the agenda was the need for a new compilation of the best practices and newest technologies that would present this information in terms that non-technical people could also understand. There was wide agreement that the important work of pioneers such as Henry Halem and Dudley Giberson could use some updating to capture the newest developments pioneered by many of the builders here.

 

Also discussed was why some important builders were not in attendance. Grove explained that the budget limitations meant that not every person could be invited and travel expenses paid, but he said he hoped that future meetings would include those who were not in attendance. A discussion followed about whether this event could be continued every year, timed to fall between G.A.S. conferences so that the same core group would have the chance to meet every six months.

 

Finally, a reading list was developed by canvassing the group and creating a list of the most important reading material. That list follows at the end of this article.

 

After the conference concluded, Grove was asked for his thoughts on the most significant thing to come out of the conference.

 

“It was interesting to me to learn that a similar get together had happened in 1979 with the Hot Glass Information Exchange,” said Grove. “But it happened once, and nothing like it happened again until this event in Penland. Updating that conversation was long past due. If we had been having these get-togethers more often, we would be in a totally different place now. We are going to make sure the next one happens sooner.”

 

furnace

This furnace was built in the Penland glass studio shortly after the glass

tech gathering. Designed by Eddie Bernard and built in a workshop under

his supervision, the 700-lb round daytank incorporates much of the current

thinking about heat recuperation and energy efficiency.

For Further Reading

 

Stones And Cord in Glass, C. Clark-Monks and J. M. Parker, 212 pgs. Publisher: Society of Glass Technology, 2006. (ISBN: 0900682183)

 

Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland, 122 pgs. Publisher: Image Continuum Press, 2001. (ISBN: 0961454733)

 

North American Combustion Handbook: A Basic Reference on the Art and Science of Industrial Heating with Gaseous and Liquid Fuels (Vol. 2), Richard J. Reed, 457 pgs. Publisher: North American Mfg. Co. (3rd edition), 1986. (ISBN: 0960159630)

 

Chemistry of Glass, Werner Vogel, 325 pgs. Publisher: Wiley-American Ceramic Society (Revised edition), 1985. (ISBN: 0916094731)

 

Introduction to Glass Science and Technology, J. E. Shelby, 291 pgs. Publisher: Royal Society of Chemistry (2nd edition), 2005. (ISBN: 0854046399)

 

Modern Glass Practice, Samuel Ray Scholes, 493 pgs. Publisher: Van Nostrand Reinhold (7th edition), 1975. (ISBN: 0843606126)

 

An Illustrated Guide to Electrical Calculations, Mike Holt, 268 pgs. Publisher: Mike Holt Enterprises (Out of Print), 2002. (ISBN: 097103074X)

 

Electric Kiln Handbook, Special Glass Worker's Edition, Ralph W. Ritchie, 190 pgs. Publisher: Ritchie Unlimited

Publications (2nd edition), 2001. (ISBN: 0939656558)

 

A Glassblower's Companion: A Compilation of Studio Equipment Designs, Essays, & Glassblowing Ideas, Dudley F. Giberson, 136 pgs. Publisher: Joppa Glassworks, Inc., 1998. (ISBN: 0966571304)

 

Joppa Glassworks Catalog of Fact and Knowledge, Dudley F. Giberson, 18 pgs. Publisher: Joppa Glassworks (6th edition) 1994. (ASIN: B0006PBLM0)

 

The Kiln Book: Materials, Specifications & Construction, Frederick L. Olsen, 288 pgs. Publisher: Krause Publications (3rd edition), 2000. (ISBN: 0873419103)

 

Modern Refractory Practice. With Special Reference to the Products of Harbison-Walker Refractories Co. Publisher: Harbison-Walker Refractories Co. (Out of Print), 1961. (ASIN: B000KUEU2E)

 

Ugly's Electrical Reference Book (2008 Edition), George V. Hart,
186 pgs. Publisher: Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2008. (ISBN: 0962322989)