Pennsylvania Glassworks Co., a manufacturer of glass panels for the architectural and interior design market, will launch this fall in Reading.
Founder James “JJ” Riviello, a glassmaker for more than 25 years who has studied and taught at some of the best glassmaking schools in the country, designed and built a lot of the machines that will be used in the glassmaking process.
The company will be unique in the decorative architectural glass industry because it will use a new and more efficient method Riviello created to cast glass into molds using computer technology.
Although Riviello could not discuss his process in detail because it’s proprietary, he has designed molds that can be reused. The method is more efficient than conventional glassmaking, which uses a mold that takes days to make and can be used only once.
Riviello said he will produce glass panels that offer more dynamic surfaces, shapes and colors than are on the market.
He will be using computer numeric control, or CNC, and computer-aided design, or CAD, software tools commonly used by architects, to render his designs.
The tools will enable machines to carve out patterns, such as geometrics and deep, sculptural forms.
“So many things are possible with this computer technology, which I’m trying to bring to the decorative glass market,” he said.
The biggest market for interior glass panels is in high-end offices. Riviello’s process uses high-quality materials that produce a more transparent glass than what’s on the market.
“This glass has absolutely no green tint. It’s perfectly crystal clear and it’s far less expensive than what’s already manufactured,” he said.
Pennsylvania Glassworks will melt glass from raw materials, another departure from others in the industry which melt sheets of manufactured glass, which creates a cruder, rougher product.
“Not a lot of interior designers are interested in that,” said Riviello, who also designed a furnace to deliver glass into the molds.
Riviello is spending the next three months involved in product development and setting up his company on a floor he leased at the former Reading Hardware Co. on Canal Street on the city’s south side.
Earlier this year, Riviello was awarded a $100,000 loan from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania based at Lehigh University. It was his second from Ben Franklin, which awarded him $80,000 in 2016.
“He has artistic ability and he understands what needs to be done in terms of manufacturing,” said Connie Faylor, Ben Franklin’s regional manager for Berks and Schuylkill counties. “I think with that combination, he really is going to have a good position in the market.”
The Ben Franklin team was impressed with his contacts in the architectural and design industry.
“We’re very confident in the equipment he had designed and built and we’re really excited about the prototypes he produced,” Faylor said.
Riviello will be able to reduce glassmaking costs “in ways that have not been done before,” she said.
Trained as a glassmaker, Riviello began shifting into manufacturing when he worked at a small foundry in Chicago that produced cast bronze for the designer furniture market.
That experience led him to produce glass on a small manufacturing scale.
One of the challenges between making art glass and manufacturing glass, he said, is that in manufacturing you have to meet the challenge of consistently reproducing high-quality pieces on a large scale versus a single piece that could take months to create.
Riviello said he was familiar with some aspects of manufacturing because his father was a quality engineer in the aerospace industry.
His new venture dovetails both experiences.
“It’s my deep understanding of how to manipulate glass that’s allowed me to understand the physics of how glass could be cast at this large scale,” he said.