Unexplained glass failure - don’t jump to inclusion conclusions

Nickel Sulphide (NiS) inclusions are a known issue for toughened glass, but Glass Technology Services urges property owners and insurers not to assume that a NiS inclusion is the cause of an unexplained breakage.

Nickel Sulphide (NiS) inclusions are a known issue for toughened glass, resulting from the presence of nickel contaminants in the glass melt reacting with sulphur, most likely from the furnace fuel.

Expert glass failure analysis and investigation

During thermal toughening, these inclusions undergo a crystalline phase change to a smaller form and are fixed in place within the glass upon cooling. Over time the inclusions grow and can eventually impart enough stress in the glass to cause spontaneous failure. When toughened glass panels fail, Nickel Sulphide (NiS) inclusions are the “go to” culprit. Independent research and development, consultancy and testing specialist, Glass Technology Services is urging property owners and insurers not to assume that a NiS inclusion is the cause of an unexplained breakage.

Glass Technology Services Glass Technologist, Dr Richard Cave, comments: “It should never be assumed that the seemingly spontaneous failure of a toughened glass panel is due to a NiS inclusion. Numerous other factors could be involved, such as non-NiS inclusions, vandalism, design flaws, poor toughening, edge damage and damage due to contact with fittings and fixtures. Any unexplained failures of toughened panels should undergo analysis to determine the true cause of failure.”

Even where a ‘butterfly’ failure pattern is observed – something commonly associated with a ‘spontaneous’ NiS failure – a NiS inclusion cannot be assumed

The three images above depict this same 'butterfly' failure pattern, however, whilst one is due to a NiS inclusion the other two have resulted from a glassy inclusion within the glass and an impact. 

Glass Technology Services experts work throughout the glass supply chain - from manufacturers, processors and installers through to architects, consulting engineers, property owners insurers and loss-adjusters - to analyse glazing failures. This service can be provided both on-site or in the laboratory.

When a fully toughened panel fails, the failure origin must be analysed in order to determine the cause of failure – therefore it is essential that the broken remains are retained for investigation. Once the origin is identified this is analysed using optical microscopy, scanning electron microcopy and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy, to identify the presence and nature of inclusions (NiS or otherwise) or physical damage. Where inclusions aren’t to blame, physical damage and residual material can be analysed to determine likely contacting objects, whether it be from an outside source or from interactions with fixtures and fittings in the framing system.

These analytical capabilities and experience in glass enable the team to provide expert reports concerning a whole range of failures - ranging from external influences, such as vandalism and impacts, through to incorrect specification, interaction with components, material processing and fabrication or the presence of manufacturing defects.

“The industry knows that thermally toughened glass has numerous benefits over annealed and heat-strengthened glass,  including better resistance to thermal changes, increased strength and safe breakage characteristics,” said Dr Cave. “Steps have been taken to eliminate NiS from the production of float glass, with changes in raw materials, manufacturing methods and processing techniques. The heat soaking process, introduced into manufacture by Pilkington in the late 60s, is also now recommended for all glazing installed in critical locations such as barriers or overhead glazing. Whilst it is not guaranteed to eliminate NiS inclusions altogether, the likelihood of spontaneous failure due to NiS is significantly reduced when heat soaking has been carried out.

“But NiS inclusion should never be assumed. Of the failed toughened panels examined by Glass Technology Services in 2013, two thirds had failed due to the presence of NiS inclusions, with the remaining third a combination of impact damage, poor toughening, detrimental interaction with fixtures and non-NiS inclusions.

“To highlight this, a property management firm recently sent several failed toughened units to the Glass Technology Services laboratory for analysis after spontaneous failures had occurred throughout the building. Whilst analysis of the majority of the units identified the presence of NiS inclusions, other units featured impact damage at the failure origin.

 “Ultimately, architects, engineers and specifiers should consider the benefits and drawbacks of all types of glazing before installation and ensure that they adhere to all relevant building regulations and codes of practice.  Installers should adhere to the specifications and follow best practice to avoid unnecessary breakages.”

Glass Technology Services is accredited to ISO 9001 and ISO/IEC 17025 standards. The experts in glass provide analysis, consultancy, testing, research and development support to throughout the international glass supply chain. 

For more information see the Glass Technology Services website, email enquiries@glass-ts.com or telephone +44 (0) 114 290 1801.

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