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The running theme title I have for the American Window Cleaner is "From the Lab to the Field". The focus of this theme is the scientific study and application of information gained in the lab to field activities. A case in point would be the study of how water and temperature affects the molecular species of soda lime glass surfaces. Also how this chemical change affects how easily glass surfaces can become scratched. It also affects how easily point indent fractures develop. I call these PIFs. Every scratch begins with a PIF. To apply this to the field we need to look at the conditions of humidity in the field. Windows in a very hot wet environment can easily become prone to scratches. Also scratched glass can crack. So the structural integrity of windows can be seriously flawed if for no other reason just because of the condition of the surface! That is REALLY big news. This IS application. Although it still IS quite boring to most people! Are you dumbfounded and surprised that I just said that? Well the simple truth is that it is. And to further prove it what do you think you will get if you were to show people the illustrations depicted here?
Now to turn this around we need to first look at the conditions in the field. From the field to the lab so to speak. I remember one case where I was shown a foggy appearance at the bottom edge of the outside of several windows on a house. It could not be wiped off but was permanent. The woman also said that all of the windows would fog up in the early morning. This could be wiped off. It was condensation. This woman obviously had too much time on her hands. All she did all day was look out the windows. But nonetheless I still had to figure it out because I was being paid to do that. The key to figuring it out was that the windows were "acid washed" with hydrofluoric acid. To prove that the acid caused the effect I needed to make application "in the lab". Of course I didn't have a lab. But I did have a kitchen loaded with about 2500 chemicals and abrasives. Also I could buy a brand new sheet of glass and expose it to HF in different ways. In short I had to find out if I could duplicate the conditions I found in the field, but in the "lab". Which I could and did do. This was the first time that I learned how HF will change the surface of glass in such a way as to make it very hydrophylic, and actually attract condensation. It happens almost instantly. This is why some window cleaners using water fed poles will first apply a product based on a glass etchant, then apply a pure water rinse immediately after. It makes the glass hydrophylic so that the rinse water drains off much better without leaving any spots. It was also the first time I was able to duplicate a stage one and two static etch. In other words a "vapor etch" where the acid rises as a vapor reacting with the glass and leaving the reaction byproducts on the surface as a white haze. So you guys who have have been talking about how HF reacts with the tin side of glass, should at least consider that your individual case study might not be the result of this phenom. But didn't I say at the beginning of this paragraph that we were going to turns things around? What I meant was when we learn how to do things as we have just discussed we should then show them to our potential customer. I mean quite bluntly we need to stick them in their face. That means we must etch a plate of glass right in front of them. We need to show them how we can "scratch proof" a mirror. We need to show them how the wrong solvents will break a piece of plexi in two in only thirty seconds. These kind of demos are great for contractors who care about this stuff. And when you do these things, watch their face. When you see the smile you will have accomplished your purpose. This works even when you are just cleaning glass. Never leave a potential customer without cleaning their most dirty window in and out. Then watch for the reaction. If they like what they see, you stand a much better chance of getting the job.
Friends I don't have an atomic force microscope, or a scanning electron microscope. I don't even have a high power light microscope. I am definitely NOT a chemist. Just one very crazy but curious old window cleaner who has learned to look at problems in a different way. Knowledge of the devices used for testing and monitoring relative humidity, or determining the coefficient of friction are fantastic. They have given us a great deal of insight. I will forever applaud the IWCA Glass Committee for their research with Penn State. But we need to make application of this knowledge in the field for it to change our businesses and change our lives. To do this we absolutely must demonstrate what we know. And by doing this, only then will we have learned a dynamic new way to market our business. Come go with me friends.
Written by Henry Grover Jr.
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