A promising new technology on Eastern Avenue

Written by on September 18, 2013 in Featured - No comments

Each blown glass "tentacle" in this piece is fused to a threaded metal mount and may be screwed or unscrewed directly to the base. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

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Aric Wanveer displays the special blow-pipe that allows blown glass to fuse directly to a metal mount. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

This chandelier, hand blown and crafted by Tim McFadden, illustrates the pre-MMI way of creating an artistic chandelier. A spotlight in the ceiling is utilized to illuminate the sculptural glass components. With Zero Gravity Creations' patented MMI technology, each glass piece could have its own LED to illuminate from the inside. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

Photo by Erik Zygmont

When a metal worker and glass blower collaborate, you expect some intriguing artwork. Aric Wanveer, 33, and Tim McFadden, 29, got that, plus a new technology with endless possibilities.

Wanveer talks about “MMI”—or metal mounting insert technology—with an enthusiasm that couldn’t be matched by the most savvy salesman. Wanveer isn’t even trying to sell the listener on the technology and its potential applications; he doesn’t have to because he’s so sold on it himself.

Consider the light bulb. Structurally, there are two basic components—the glass bulb and the screw-in metal end. Traditionally, the two pieces are glued together.

MMI, however, is a direct fusion of glass and metal.

“This isn’t glued or ground or drilled,” Wanveer says.

There are several obvious artistic applications for the technology.

First, think of faucet fixtures. Wanveer notes that some high-end glass manufacturers have, in limited runs, offered hand-blown glass faucets and handles. These fixtures, however, cost the consumer thousands of dollars.

Wanveer notes that affixing the glass fixtures to the metal system requires, in the parlance of glass blowers, “cold work.” Typically, a hole must be drilled in the glass which then accommodates a metal knob, and the two pieces are joined with glue. However, such cold work carries  with it a very high risk of breakage, driving up the cost of the product.

With MMI, the glass is blown directly onto the threaded copper fitting, which then connects directly to the plumbing.

“Any plumber can install these fixtures,” says Wanveer, adding that the breakage risk level is about the same as for any blown glass piece prior to cold work.

The technology adds aesthetic and practical possibilities to the light bulb. Wanveer and McFadden have produced ornate, custom bulbs as well as simple bulbs. In typical residential or business lighting, standard, disposable light bulbs are disguised or dressed up with a more interesting and aesthetic cover or fixture. With MMI technology, the bulbs themselves can be interesting, aesthetic and artistic.

“In this system, the the fixture is the lightbulb itself,” explains Wanveer. “You can put it in places you couldn’t put a standard fixture.”

Wanveer and McFadden’s light bulbs are also permanent rather than disposable.

“We’re making them beefy,” says Wanveer. “These guys are meant to last.”

Wanveer displays one example, a simple yet textured glass globe, much thicker and more substantial than a standard, hardware-store bulb. Wanveer’s globe is fused directly to a threaded male end, which screws directly into a light fixture. A short wire with an LED emitter snakes out of the fixture.

When Wanveer’s globe is screwed into the fixture, it is illuminated by the LED emitter trapped inside.

Wanveer says that the innovation has huge implications for the lighting world.

First, note that every type of chandelier—with crystals, glass spheres, tentacles or whatever—is dependent on some kind of standard light bulb for illumination. Getting a bulb close enough to illuminate each blob of artful glass can be extremely complicated, if not impossible. Often, glass artists will simply construct their creation below a floodlight fixed in the ceiling, which will illuminate some parts of the chandelier while others are left in the dark.

With MMI technology, glass bulbs in just about all imaginable shapes, sizes and colors may be screwed into a central fixture. Each bulb is fully illuminated by its own emitter.

And the simple, air-tight construction makes the bulbs weatherproof, and prevents the problem of bugs getting inside and dying.

Wanveer sees possibilities far beyond interior decorating. Glass and copper are non-microbial materials often used in the medical and scientific research sectors. Wanveer notes that corrosives such as acid are currently stored in glass jars with glass lids that are either strapped on or sealed on with molten plastic. A screw-on lid would be a vast improvement, he says.

It may take some time.

“We’ve been hesitant to jump into the medical side because of all the necessary FDA approvals, research and stuff,” says Wanveer. “We chose to go this lighting route because of the direction the industry is moving, toward LEDs.”

Wanveer and McFadden started the experimentation that would lead to MMI in 2008.

“When we were getting into it, we kept saying, ‘I can’t believe nobody’s doing this,’” comments Wanveer.

He notes that he has heard of people trying, and he speculates that perhaps glass blowers were using the wrong combination of glass and metal types.

Different metals expand differently under heat, he explains. If the difference in expansion and contraction between the metal and the glass parts is either too large or improperly accounted for, then the glass side of the piece will break when the metal side shrinks.

Wanveer and McFadden, who recently incorporated the company Zero Gravity Creations, have patented both the MMI technology and the use of the special glass-blowing tube that makes it possible.

“They haven’t patented a blow pipe for almost 100 years,” says Wanveer. “1919 was the last time.”

The decision to patent the technology came after the pair showed their work at the 2010 American Crafts Council show in Baltimore. Wanveer says that their pieces received a lot of attention, and many photographs were being taken.

“We realized we needed to get control of this,” he says. “What if somebody big like Corning gets ahold of this, and they patent it, and we can’t do what we invented?”

Wanveer says that his partnership with McFadden is the sole source of the innovation.

“It was the fact that we had the knowledge of the two of us that made this work,” he says. “All glass guys know a metal guy one way or the other; they just don’t work together the way we do.”

“The other cool part is that every day it develops,” comments McFadden. “We start the day, and sometimes by the end of the day, we are leaps and bounds past where we started.”

Zero Gravity Creations is located at 6800 Eastern Ave., on the Dundalk-Baltimore City border. As part of Baltimore Innovations Week, the studio is hosting an open house on Thursday, Sept. 26, 6:30-10 p.m. Faucets, furniture, chandeliers and light fixtures will be available for sale and observation, and a new product will be revealed. For more information on Zero Gravity Creations, visit zerogravitycreations.com. The website also has a link to Zero Gravity’s Indiegogo campaign.

by Erik Zygmont

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