Ballistics glass business moves to Pine River
Company makes safety glass primarily for high speed machinery
A ballistics glass business has taken up residence in the former Miller Auto Body building in Pine River.
The team of three operates what is known as Ballistic Vision Safety Glass Inc., formerly out of Elk River. Owner Raymond LeFavor started working there after his brother, Rich, got the business going in about 2000. His brother used to sell computer numerical control machines and recognized a need for better safety glass and asked LeFavor to buy in.
Since then, his brother has moved on to other ventures, but LeFavor is still in the business.
"I had built a little additional garage at my house and started out of there," LeFavor said. "And we just kind of outgrew that place about four years ago."
They nearly moved to Pequot Lakes, but COVID-19 struck. LeFavor said the pandemic caused delays in getting approvals for zoning. He had already sold his house and didn't feel like he had time to wait. They looked at renting space in Baxter, but didn't like the price.
"The leasing agent told us about this place," LeFavor said of the Pine River location. "We came up and looked at it the next day and pulled the trigger right away."
It still took time to prepare the space to get up and really running. They had to remove years of paint from some floors and clean the ceilings. They also needed to redo the electrical and heating to make the space suit their needs better. Now, they are finally back to full operation.
"The product we manufacture is laminated safety glass. We produce it every two weeks."
— Business owner, Raymond LeFavor
"The product we manufacture is laminated safety glass," LeFavor said. "We produce it every two weeks."
The team uses a patented process to bond a glass plate to Lexan polycarbonate, sometimes with wire mesh reinforcement, with a patented resin. The end product is designed to protect people operating machinery like CNC mills and anything with fast moving parts that can become or create projectiles.
"Spindle speeds are now 30,000, 40,0000 or 50,000 RPMs. If there's any kind of accident it's like a shotgun blast going off in there. There's around five deaths on average each year from pieces being ejected through windows and killing people," LeFavor said.
Many machines come with a standard safety glass made of just Lexan, which has various issues. Because Lexan is a type of plastic, it is softer and easier to scratch, leading to poor visibility and additional safety risks. It also degrades over time as it is exposed to temperature changes, coolants, fast moving particles and harsh environments that exist inside of machinery.
"It becomes brittle. It loses its strength. It becomes a little less safe over however many years," said office manager, and niece, Mandy Bailey. "I don't know how many horror stories we've heard in the last few years of people making makeshift windows out of beer boxes or just peeking around a door because they can't see through it."
The glass at BVSG has the glass facing inward with the Lexan facing outward. The glass doesn't scratch as easily, providing a safety shield that machine operators can see through and requires less frequent replacements. If something hits the glass, while the glass sheet might break, it won't completely shatter because it's not tempered, and the epoxy and Lexan will hold it together, still providing a safety shield until the glass can be replaced.
The company produces glass every two weeks because of the value of the materials they work with. Preventing waste and keeping prices down requires them to do test pours and set up, after which they can begin to cut the glass and Lexan, and then bond them together, package them and finally send them to the buyers.
"We talked about doing it a bit more often but a two-week cycle seems to be a nice groove," LeFavor said.
The finished thickness of their products ranges from just over a quarter of an inch to just over an inch, though they have done some specialty products as thick as two inches.
"The (product with) a quarter inch glass and a half inch poly has an overall thickness of .795 inches and can stop a 12-gauge shotgun blast from about six feet away," LeFavor said.
BVSG's product is slightly different from others. Many other companies produce a glass that is called "balanced," which means there are two pieces of glass with the Lexan sandwiched in between. LeFavor believed their non-balanced glass is a better product because it is produced at room temperature. Balanced glass requires high temperatures, which can cause stress between the different layers and less risk of delaminating.
The product is designed so that until an accident happens that might shatter the glass, the windows will be as strong as the day they were made, which is not true of typical factory windows. The stronger glass not only protects against projectiles from machinery, but also cuts down on down time from necessary replacements. Some polycarbonate windows in some machinery require regular replacement due to scratching and weakening.
"Some customers do it monthly or after a couple months," Bailey said. "With ours it's the impact that causes them to switch it out."
And even if there is an impact, BVSG windows are still viable safety layers and production can continue until the new glass arrives in many cases.
"When it does take an impact the machine is still safe," LeFavor said. "They can still run it."
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.