“Frameless” all-glass doors are broad and inviting, making them practically the standard for modern offices. Despite these developments in interior design, startlingly few bulletproof doors meet current aesthetic demands while still providing significant safety.
In fact, it wasn’t until the last few years that “frameless” bullet-resistant doors were available on the market. Before 2017, ballistic and security doors were largely limited to steel and wood-veneer with the occasional acrylic window. Some manufacturers produced doors with larger clear panels, but those doors still required wide aluminum frames that made them appear “visually heavy.” A welcoming, modern all-glass door that could effectively stop bullets simply didn’t exist – yet.
“We really wanted to be able to offer that,” explains Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards. “An all-glass ballistic door: top and bottom rails with pivots and a pull, all glass, all polished. First, it just looks really great in a corporate setting. But also, we wanted to be able to offer something that was more secure—that could stop more and bigger bullets, that could carry a blast rating—but preserve that open, modern look.”
The reality is, there’s a very good reason that there had never been an all-glass bulletproof door on the market before: “The evolution of the all-glass ballistic door,” Jim notes dryly, “That was painful.”
Existing Bulletproof Door Security Options
In order to create a product that could achieve the aesthetic impact of an all-glass bullet-resistant door, the TSS team analyzed the pros and cons of using different ballistic glazing materials.
“Acrylic is easy to work with,” Jim explains. “We’ve always done an acrylic door. An acrylic door is not an issue.”
Ballistic Monolithic Acrylic
Bullet-resistant acrylic glazing is a monolithic material, meaning manufacturers craft it from a single thick slab of thermoplastic. The thicker the slab, the stronger the window. “You can drill it, notch it, route it, bevel it, buff out scratches,” Jim says. “You can even do a lot of this fabrication or modification in the field if you need to. It’s great and very cost-effective.”
In short, Jim explains, “Acrylic is easy to work with. We’ve always done an acrylic door. An acrylic door is not an issue.”
While it’s easy to use for many ballistic applications, acrylic does have its setbacks. For example, due to how acrylic reacts to being cut and finished, it cannot be cleaned with many common glass cleaners (like Windex). Such cleaners cause hazing and crazing that make the glazing look scratched or worn. Additionally, acrylic is a more brittle material and thus tends to spall (throw off chips) when struck or shot. Spalling means that a bullet-resistant door made from acrylic could never carry a blast or forced-entry rating, and anyone struck by a chip thrown from such a large piece of acrylic could potentially be injured.
Plus, the fact remains that acrylic is plastic. In most applications, it will look like plastic (albeit really nice, clear, polished plastic). Jim says, “Like a bulletproof steel door, a bulletproof acrylic door is going to always look like a bulletproof door. That doesn’t fit everyone’s aesthetic needs. That’s why we wanted to make this all-glass door, and why we wanted to make it from GCP 1250, despite the challenges.”
Glass-Clad Polycarbonate (GCP) 1250
In contrast to monolithic acrylic, GCP is composed of many layers. You can change the performance of the materials by changing the makeup (i.e. layering)—adding strength without adding thickness or introducing new characteristics. For example, a GCP bulletproof door could have a frosted interlayer (for enhanced privacy), a filtering layer to block out UV and infra-red light, or even color tinted and mirrored layers. Plus—GCP is always low-spall or no-spall, adding to its safety capabilities.
GCP 1250 is made up of two outer layers of quarter-inch tempered glass plus two inner layers of 3/8-inch polycarbonate (the same material used to make police riot shields). In GCP 1250 tested to UL Level 3, each polycarbonate layer is about twice as thick as a police shield.
Even at this thickness, polycarbonate will flex and absorb a blow rather than chip or break. This unique quality of polycarbonate allows it to stop bullets and give bullet-resistant doors resistance to forced entry—at less thickness than acrylic with a lower ballistic rating.
Most important when creating a bulletproof glass door that seamlessly blends with modern office aesthetics: most casual observers and office visitors will not note the difference between GCP 1250 and standard glass. The glass end caps on this ballistic material also protect the polycarbonate from dings, scratches, environmental stresses, and chemicals (like glass cleaners used by custodians).
Choosing GCP to Create an All-Glass Door
Although GCP is thinner than acrylic, it’s also heavier. A GCP office door is about 35% heavier than an acrylic door (which is already about 20% heavier than a standard glass office door). In contrast to acrylic, GCP cannot be fabricated in a conventional shop (let alone drilled on-site). And so to create an all-glass ballistic door from GCP, Jim’s team had to work closely with their experienced glass manufacturer to cut, drill, and polish the material prior to shipping.
Because no one had ever made bullet-resistant glass doors like these before, unique and unexpected challenges naturally arose. Jim says, “GCP is much less forgiving and demands much higher attention to detail [compared to acrylic]. For example, we had to learn the hard way—almost through trial and error—how closely the glass needed to be toleranced for the top and bottom rails, the exact spec for the edge polishing, the proper sizing for holes.” The TSS team persevered through setbacks and designed solutions with keen attention to detail to ensure that these doors would be able to withstand ballistic testing.
The World’s First All-Glass Bulletproof Office Doors
“We were fortunate to have a really close relationship with our glass supplier,” Jim notes. “Like any product we’ve grown or evolved, the first few attempts are always really painful. It takes a great deal of collaboration to bring in all of the people who have the specialized knowledge needed to make it work.”
In the end, it took TSS 18 months (and roughly a dozen door installs) to hammer out every detail and create a brand new all-glass bulletproof door that met their high standards for safety and aesthetics. The result is a beautiful, all-glass bullet-resistant door tested to UL Level 3 with a forced-entry rating. It can stand firm against shots from any pistol, burns from propane torches, blows from two-man door rams, and at least a full hour of being beaten with sledgehammers, pipes, hammers, and chisels. It’s the first of its kind: An aesthetically pleasing glass door that more than meets requirements for high safety standards.