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A different glass: Firmans is a cut above thanks to Intermac investments

FA Firman has added another CNC work centre to its Intermac fleet - a future-focused investment that will enable the Essex glass processor to keep pace with the demands of a ‘need now’ market whilst upholding its reputation for unrivalled glass-working expertise and intrepid creativity. The Master 38.3 is FA Firman’s 11th Biesse machine - evidence that the 30-year working relationship between the two companies continues to flourish to the present day.

Customer: F A Firman
Actual Work City: Romford, Essex
Country: United Kingdom
Product: Master Series,

The types of architectural glass projects FA Firman gets involved with can be summarised as challenging, unconventional and cutting edge. This is a company that has attained almost legendary status in architect and structural engineering circles, owing to its ability to push boundaries in glass working. 

If it is anything big, heavy, structural or complex, it tends to end up with us. It is fair to say that we have a reputation among architects for being able to deliver the demanding projects that other glass processors don’t know how to tackle,” says managing director Jody Hodgson, whose father John Hodgson founded the Romford-based company in 1975. 

High-profile projects
This ‘no limits’ approach has seen FA Firman work on some of the most prestigious projects in the world of glass. A 12-metre high glass wall for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and a glass pergola for Pembroke College, Cambridge, are just two of the notable schemes the company has undertaken. 

However, FA Firman’s most defining moment was the creation of a canopy for the Yurakucho underground station in Tokyo back in the 1990s. The longest cantilevered all-glass structure ever built, this project defied the boundaries of glass technology and won Firmans a special commendation for expertise in the 1997 British Construction Awards. 

The glass sheets for the canopy were machined on FA Firman’s first Intermac CNC, a Master 2000, and Firmans freely admits that without being an early adopter of this technology, it would never have been able to take on the pivotal Tokyo project, or the ones that followed on the back of this success. 

That project catapulted us from relative obscurity to prominence in the architectural engineering community and led to all sorts of weird and wonderful projects, where Intermac technology became a must,” says Jody.

Strength in CNC
The Intermac advantage comes into play when producing toughened laminates from two glass panels. This requires two perfectly sized pieces of glass that fit together seamlessly to avoid a stepped edge. 

When we laminate two pieces of glass, the Intermac gives perfect edge alignment, which has earned us a reputation for accuracy and the ability to machine bespoke pieces of glass to very tight tolerances,” says Jody. 

As well as marking the start of a lifelong partnership between the two companies, that first Intermac investment served as a springboard for growth and continuous investment, as Jody explains:

Over the last 30 years we have gone from strength to strength, thanks to our partnership with Biesse. Our investment in that first machine generated enough business to invest £500,000 in a toughening plant. We are now on our third toughening plant, and our newest has a bed size of 5x3m, which is large by UK standards.”

Case Histories A different glass: Firmans is a cut above thanks to Intermac investments: Photo 1

Growth begets growth
As the business has grown, so has FA Firman’s fleet of Intermac machines. The glass processor has purchased ten Master CNCs and a Genius cutting table over the years and says that each new generation of Intermac technology has brought advancements in performance and design, with some enhancements developed directly in response to FA Firman’s feedback.

We have one member of the team, Tony, who is now 72 and has worked on every one of those machines and fed back to Biesse’s technical team on what he liked and didn’t like. Biesse always listened, and sure enough, each edition of the Master was better than the last. This commitment to customer-led, continuous innovation is one of the reasons why we have continued to buy from Biesse - the machines have always been great, but we have also known that the best is still to come,” says Jody. 

Although it is the spectacular, high-profile projects that grab the headlines, much of FA Firman’s everyday throughput is accounted for by commercial work such as glass floors and screens, balustrades and staircases. 

For this type of work too, the company’s Intermac fleet is indispensable, as FA Firman’s success is built on its reputation for turning jobs around within improbably tight timescales. 

It’s a ‘need now’ market and Firman has made its name by being responsive. By the time some of our competitors have priced a job, we have already made it,” says Jody. 

Capacity expansion
For this reason, Firmans has one of the largest CNC fleets (currently five Intermac machines) of any glass company in the UK and runs a 24/6 operation. The need to maintain some flex in its capacity was the driver for its latest Intermac purchase: the Master 38.3. 

It had reached the point where we were being told by our production planners that jobs couldn’t happen for another day and that we needed another machine,” recalls Jody. 

We would rather have too much than too little capacity as knowing that we have the infrastructure in place to be able to turn orders around swiftly gives us the confidence to sell,” he adds. 

Last night, we were contacted at 4:45pm by a company that needed a job doing by 8am this morning. We didn’t even have to think about whether we could do it. The customer picked it up at 7am.” 

Firmans already has an eye on its next Intermac investment: a Master 33.3 to replace a 10-year-old CNC. 

There’s no doubt our next machine will be another Intermac. We have a fantastic partnership that has enabled our business to grow and given us the opportunity to get involved in some wonderful projects,” says Jody. 

A project catapulted us from relative obscurity to prominence in the architectural engineering community and led to all sorts of weird and wonderful projects, where Intermac technology became a must!
Jody Hodgson Managing Director
Jody Hodgson
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