Made in the Berkshires | LTI Smart Glass: Solving security concerns the high tech way

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PITTSFIELD — The sheet of glass is pockmarked with bullet holes. A man approaches and strikes it with an aluminum baseball bat. Hard.

He swings, and swings, and swings again, 40 times in all. The glass does not shatter.

This product is known as School Guard Glass. It was invented to delay entry to armed terrorists when they attack schools. The glass can't stop bullets. But it is designed to stay intact during the minimum amount of time it takes for first responders to arrive on the scene.

School Guard Glass belongs to a small company of the same name that is located in Adams, but it is manufactured by the LTI Group of Pittsfield, a world-leader in security, architectural and decorative glass.

At LTI, high tech laminates, acrylics and polymers are woven into glass panels to create safety glass for embassies and prisons, tinted electronic glass for hospitals and conference centers, and decorative items like the glass panels installed on the Freedom Tower in New York City, the successor to the World Trade Center. LTI also makes windshields for NASCAR race cars.

"What we're really good at is taking different materials and figuring out how to turn them into a unit," said Jeff Besse, who co-owns LTI with John Martino.

Different texture

LTI's products differ from normal glass companies because taking polycarbonates films and acrylics and stacking them with similar materials creates a better product, according to Besse.

The glass, the film and the interlayer in LTI's products are fused together into a stack which gives the firm's products their durability.

"You're making a sandwich," Besse said.

The stack also contains a crystal matrix, or liquefied crystal, that is also placed between two layers of high end ITO coated PET film that is wrapped with a conductive strip.

"When you take electricity and put a charge through that coating the crystals turn like rigatoni into microscopic light valves," Besse said.

"It's the same technology that you see in televisions, what Merck makes," he said. "It's pretty high-end, but we tried to make it in glass."

LTI's 100 employees manufacture both glass and laminates at two Berkshire County facilities — the company's 100,000 square foot headquarters building in Pittsfield, and a 30,000 square foot structure in Lenox Dale.

Founded in Lenox Dale 14 years ago, LTI moved into the former J&L Fibers factory building on Federico Drive in Pittsfield in 2008 with the help of a $350,000 allocation from the city's GE Economic Development Fund. The funding came with the stipulation that LTI create an additional 50 full-time jobs by 2011, which the company has achieved. In an interview for this article, Besse said LTI is still expanding, and is planning to add another division

The city funding also helped LTI fund a $5 million expansion project at the former J&L Fibers space that included a 65,000 square foot addition to the building.

LTI has a security products division, an electronic glass division, and a decorative glass division. There is currently a big market for school security products. By 2017, the market for school security systems is expected to hit $4.9 billion, up from $2.7 billion in 2012, according to The New York Times.

School Guard Glass was founded by Adams entrepreneur Chris Kapiloff, who designed the material in response to the Sandy Hook School shootings in Connecticut four years ago. The product took two to three years to develop, Besse said.

"Chris and I were dialoguing and dialoguing about these things," said Besse, describing how the development of School Guard Glass began. "He's a glazier. I'm a glass guy. We put this system together. The real key to it was to have some ballistic value, but the attack side to me was critical."

School Guard Glass was originally designed to prevent entry to a school for an attacker for 4 to 6 minutes, the minimal amount of time that it takes first responders to arrive on the scene. A newer version of the product has increased that time to 12 to 14 minutes, Besse said.

"We refined and developed a very thin material," Besse said. "You can shoot it a number of times, and yes, bullets will go through it so you don't want to be on the other side of it. But you can hit it a ton of times with a baseball bat," and it won't break, he said.

One of LTI's clients is the new Sandy Hook School in Connecticut.

A company employee provided a demonstration of School Guard Glass' durability and toughness when he repeatedly hammered a bullet-riddled glass panel with an aluminum bat when state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg visited LTI last June.

"Pretty amazing," Rosenberg said following several demonstrations of LTI's products that took place that day. "The attention to quality and the values inherent in how they are conducting their business are really emblematic of what you'd like to see in your corporate community."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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