Glass must keep working hard

With a 70-year family heritage of glass processing, Tuffx managing director Graham Price and director John Tierney reflect on the modern expectations for glass – and glass processors.

James Price Glazing, which eventually became Tuffx, was founded by Graham’s grandfather more than 70 years ago in 1947; he would never believe how far glass has come, what it is used for, and the technology involved in producing it.

Now located in a 55,000ft2 facility with plant capable of producing the most advanced flat glass products demanded by a huge range of clients internationally, Tuffx is driven by the challenges laid down by our customers.

Glass has long been the favourite building material for architects, and we receive many enquiries from those who want to push the aesthetic and technical barriers and use it in increasingly creative ways. In fact, much of our development as a company comes from enquiries by architects and even homeowners. We listen and, if we believe it possible, we will work on a solution, sometimes taking technologies drawn from other, unrelated disciplines.

And, with the influence of television and the internet, homeowners are also increasingly knowledgeable and bold in their ideas. We frequently receive orders for balustrading, canopies and stair treads that have often been driven by homeowners. Four of the major products we have launched in the past six or seven years have come from challenges from architects and homeowners seeking something different.

The balance of Tuffx’s business is 50% domestic and 50% commercial, but the lines are increasingly blurred; what may once have been exclusively commercial products – such as balustrades – appear now appear frequently in homes.

Our success has been down to our research and development – if you don’t invest you won’t survive. Glass dominates the skylines of our cities, which means our technological understanding of glass has had to evolve and advance, even ahead of the market.

In fact, our competition comes from other building products rather than other glass processors. We must ensure that the performance of glass equates or improves upon that of other building materials – we want specifiers and homeowners to choose glass instead of other materials when there is a choice. But they will only do so if they know that they will be secure and comfortable.

The geographical reach of Tuffx has also been greatly extended since its early days, and a while back we decided to look deeper into where some of the more interesting products were being installed. We have products in landmark buildings including The Shard, Buckingham Palace, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and (a little closer to home) at Anfield.

Now we ask as a matter of course as it helps us to produce the specification and to advise the customer where appropriate – even experienced glazing and construction companies.

The business started off as a corner shop in Anfield, with three employees. Today, Tuffx not only fills a huge space by comparison, it employs 150 people on a three shift system. And a step up in transport allows us to trade throughout the UK. James Price delivered glass using a horse and cart – it’s been a while since we had hay in the yard.

The demands of glass processing must be at least matched by the float glass producers. There have been so many advances in coatings technology that the glass we have to work with is totally different from even 15 years ago. As are the opportunities. Thermal efficiency, solar control and self cleaning have been major advances, and have allowed us to process these into a range of new products – including roofing products that reduce or negate the need for muntin bars in conservatories for example. Our large span roof glass has transformed the appearance of larger conservatories.

The future is exciting. We want to put heated glass in floors for example, in shower screens and we are about to launch heated glass for bifolding doors that will actually replace radiators. There is so much more that we can do. I wish my James could see where we are today.