New Norwich glass plant ramps up production with plans to expand
Norwich ― The first blow struck by state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Alexandra Daum cracked the small pane of glass, but by her third swing, the glass had shattered to the floor in this very different ribbon-cutting event for Naverra Glass.
About a dozen state, federal and local officials on Thursday toured the city’s new architectural glass manufacturing plant in the 180,000-square-foot former Lightolier light fixtures manufacturing plant at 40 Wisconsin Ave.
The plant recently ramped up to full production, and company officials announced a second shift will begin working next week.
The high-tech plant manufactures large panels of architectural glass for high-rise buildings. The plant now has 60 employees. Tour leader Jeremy Ozen, a representative of ownership group, O3 Industries, said the plant hopes to expand to 100 employees soon.
The plant receives large sheets of glass, one panel measuring 64 by 178 inches, stacked in vertical racks awaiting processing. Panels are carried on giant wheeled conveyors to stations where sharp edges are smoothed, panels are cut to size, coated, maneuvered into the giant furnace, which during the tour showed a temperature of 641 Celsius ― 1185 degrees Fahrenheit ― to be tempered and strengthened.
In later stages, the glass is cleaned, put through a machine that tests it to withstand building pressures and environmental conditions. Ozen said statistically, about one in 1,000 panels will “explode” during the test, revealing imperfections.
“That hasn’t happened to us yet,” Ozen told his tour guests.
The cleaned panels ride on powerful jets of air ― like an air hockey game, Ozen said ― to avoid scratches to the glass and coating. Each panel is paired with a second or third panel, with argon insulation pumped into the space between for insulation. Silicon bonds the panels.
The next machine at the Norwich plant, unique in the world even in this highly specialized industry, Ozen said, turns the glass panel into position. Finally, workers frame the panels with aluminum bands.
Some of the glass processed during Thursday’s tour will go to a $2 million to $3 million project Naverra is working on for a high-rise building in Boston. He said the company’s goal is to produce 3 million square feet of glass panels per year.
During the grand opening ceremony Thursday, Ozen thanked city, state and federal officials for their support of the new operation. The Norwich City Council last summer approved a $350,000 grant and two no-interest, short-term, $350,000 loans through the federally funded American Rescue Plan Act to help the plant overcome start-up issues and speed up the purchase and installation of equipment.
Naverra is expected to be one of the top three utility customers for city-owned Norwich Public Utilities, NPU General Manager Chris LaRose said. The plant will help NPU replace another top user, the Freepport McMoRan copper manufacturing plant, which closed in 2020.
Thursday’s tour was the climax of the Norwich Community Development Corporation’s annual meeting and presentation of the first BREAD Awards, for Business Retention, Expansion, Attraction and Development.
NCDC President Kevin Brown awarded Naverra the symbolic bread cutting board under the “Attraction” label, thanking Naverra staff for their faith in Norwich and “forward-looking” business development.
DECD Commissioner Daum called the plant “super impressive” and credited Norwich city leaders for helping to streamline the permit process and overcome hurdles to bring the plant to the city and state.
“We’re proud that you chose Norwich. We’re proud that you chose Connecticut,” Daum said. “Manufacturing is really the life blood of Connecticut.”