18. February 2014
Every day, lives depend on products that just can’t fail. Some spring into action in an emergency while others work quietly, unseen by most. We depend on airbags to deploy during a car accident. We depend on fire-rated doors and windows to keep flames at bay while we evacuate a burning building. We depend on the seals in nuclear power plants to keep the reactor’s radiation contained. Whether or not we’re aware of them, these systems are vital to personal and public safety and can safeguard against significant injury or economic losses.
A number of highly complex components in these systems ensure that they function as designed throughout their lifecycle. But one material within these components appears again and again to improve the longevity and safety of products that can’t fail: glass. Below are just some of the many examples of products where glass is key to making certain systems don’t fall short of their promises.
1. Armored glass. Whether armed forces are on land, at sea, or in the air, they depend on the ballistic strength of their armor systems. Offering the transparency and visibility needed in windows and windshields, armored glass protects warfighters from bullets while keeping vehicles lightweight. Certain armored glasses also resist swings in temperature and ultraviolet exposure, extending their service life.
2. Fire-rated glass. Designed to prevent a fire from spreading by withstanding the intense heat, fire-rated glass-ceramic fits into doors and windows built to contain fires. PYRAN® Platinum glass-ceramic lasts up to 180 minutes in a fire and passes the hose stream test for structural integrity, protecting schools, offices, hospitals, and other commercial buildings. PYRAN® Platinum F and PYRAN® Platinum L, which are variations of PYRAN® Platinum, are additionally tested for impact.
3. Pharmaceutical packaging. EpiPens can save lives. But only if their packaging keeps them viable after spending months in a first-aid kit, backpack, or purse. Increasingly expensive medicines too require rugged packaging, and glass is the best material for the job. Some materials interact with the drug inside the container, whereas certain types of glass resist interactions with the medicine, keeping the drug effective and safe over time.
4. Liquid natural gas tankers. With the demand for natural gas on the rise, safely transporting this energy resource via large tanker ships is essential. Internal electrical motor pumps that feed liquid natural gas in and out of transport ships are a permanent component of the tank wall and are fully immersed in gas. Due to the hazardous nature of handling natural gas, great attention is given to the electrical system that supplies electricity to the submerged pumps. The pump’s terminal headers must be explosion-proof and reliably maintain the pressure boundary of the containment. Unlike organic materials such as epoxy, the inorganic and therefore non-aging hermetic glass-to-metal sealing of SCHOTT’s terminal headers can withstand extreme changes in temperature and pressure. The first glass-to-metal sealed feedthroughs for liquefied gas applications were manufactured more than 35 years ago and are still performing their jobs today without requiring maintenance or causing problems.
5. Radiation shielding glass. Transparent and protective against gamma rays and X-rays, this glass shields technicians in hospitals from long-term exposure to harmful radiation while maintaining a clear view into the X-ray room.
6. Nuclear reactors. Cables for power, control, and instrumentation need to pass into the building housing the nuclear reactors without infringing on the integrity of the containment structure. These electrical penetration assemblies are an essential link between the control room and the reactor core to keep nuclear power plants running safely, at the same time maintaining the pressure boundary of the reactor containment by resisting its extreme temperatures and radiation. Unlike the polymer seals used in some compromised nuclear plants, robust glass-to-metal sealed electrical penetrations have proven their integrity of the containment vessel in all accident conditions and are qualified for long-term use.
7. Laser glass. Lasers play a crucial role in research, communications, energy generation, and even in ejection seat initiators in aircraft. In each of these applications, laser glass is essential to the power and direction of the beam produced. Any imperfections could cause devastating failures. For example, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory made a $5 billion investment in building 192 lasers with 3,000 slabs of laser glass to explore the physics required for future fusion power production. Scientists at the lab focused the laser beams on a target the size of a pencil eraser, achieving 500 terawatts of power. If the laser glass wasn’t 100 percent particle-free, the project would have been a waste of billions of dollars.
Glass has many advantageous properties, and when enhanced through manufacturing, it can stop bullets, withstand the heat of fires, and contain deadly radiation. Whether for everyday products, like refrigerator shelving and pharmaceutical packaging, or for extreme conditions, like electrical feedthroughs for nuclear reactors, glass helps ensure that these systems never fail.