Almost a quarter of all domestically consumed glass–from windshields to champagne flutes–is imported, often from China. US glass production has been in decline since the 1990s, and nose-dived with the Great Recession. Amid a flurry of factory downsizings and closings since 2001, US glass production has dropped 30 percent. These shifts in domestic production disastrously dovetailed with changes in Chinese export policy: According to a 2010 piece in the New York Times, Chinese glassmakers got a vital competitive boost when their government pumped huge subsidies into the fledgling industry, making it possible for Chinese glassmakers to affordably ship their heavy, often brittle materials across the Pacific. While this has had repercussions throughout construction and domestic manufacturing, it’s had little impact on bullet proof glass and bullet proof systems.
QUALITY, NOT TECHNOLOGY, IN BULLET PROOF GLASS
It’s almost become the norm for construction supplies–from the structural steel in skyscrapers to the drywall in family homes–to come from China. Nonetheless, bullet proof glass has somehow resisted the “Made Cheap in China” trend. When asked about outsourcing cheap Chinese bullet proof glass, Total Security Solutions vice president Jim Richards laughs. “Believe me, I’ve tried to find it over the years,” he jokes, “but it’s been pretty tough. Years ago you’d see some stuff come out of China, but it was so bad they could never sell it into the domestic marketplace.”
Chinese manufacturers have been quick to develop the technologies to produce many ballistically rated building materials. They have excelled at producing opaque blast-resistant glass, so much so that it is a Chinese supplier providing the glass for the lower stories of the new buildings being erected at the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers in New York City. But this isn’t transparency. Opaque building materials will hide a multitude of minor flaws and unsightly blemishes that have no structural repercussions. The notoriously slip-shod aesthetic quality-control problems with Chinese factories are simply unacceptable when it comes to clear bullet proof glass. “Making an optically clear sheet isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially when you have to stop a bullet, too. Chinese factories run fast and around the clock, with poorly trained, poorly treated workers. Obviously China can figure out how to make quarter-inch tempered and float glass–stuff where the technology has been around for a long time–but true bullet prof class is still a ways off.”