Goulburn, on NSW's Southern Tableland's, could become one of the world's centres for glass manufacturing if Kate Wendt, managing director of Dragon Glass Lamination, has her way.
Ms Wendt officially launched her Copford Road factory on October 2, 18 months after the formerly Wagga-based businesswoman set up the manufacturing plant here.
The launch was delayed by COVID, just as the company gained commercial viability.
Ms Wendt and her team used that time to develop the world's first military-grade ballistic glass made without an autoclave (a pressure vessel used to process glass).
This product is expected to hit the market soon, once it has been certified.
Ms Wendt said Dragon Glass would have the ability to make the largest such glass in the world.
The factory already manufactures the largest and strongest construction glass in the Southern Hemisphere.
"We have a product that is better, comparably, and in a larger size than most of the countries overseas can produce," Ms Wendt said.
"We are very close to bringing Australia back to where it was in the 1950s and '60s, when it was a leader in glass."
The world's toughest glass
Dragon Glass specialises in laminated glass: panels joined together with an interlayer between each one to create durable, un-shatterable glass.
Their EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) glass is the largest and strongest in the world, Ms Wendt said.
While float glass (the raw product) will easily shatter into dangerous shards, and toughened glass might withstand a direct face-on blow but breaks into small pieces if hit on the side, laminated glass does not break.
It slumps in its frame; it folds; but it does not shatter - and nobody will be cut or hurt.
Inside the factory
Ms Wendt came to Goulburn in late 2018, attracted by the town's closeness to Canberra and Sydney (her warehouse is in Bankstown), its rail hub to transport product to Adelaide and Perth, and its affordable land.
Her 1200 metre factory in Copford Road resembles a set from a James Bond film. In the centre is an enormous vacuum oven, replacing the traditional autoclave. This is the secret of Ms Wendt's success.
Plans for expansion
Under a five-year expansion plan, Ms Wendt envisages employing up to 30 people. Two new staff members were employed only this week. As the factory becomes commercial, more staff will be employed to run it, trained in automated CNC (computer numerical control) glass-cutting machinery, which Australia lacks.
At present, the factory can laminate glass up to six by 3.3 metres. In the second stage, Ms Wendt will install a nine by 3.3 metre toughening furnace and CNC processing machine - which will be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Dragon Glass will expand its product to nine by 3.3 metres - the biggest glass in Italy - then to 12 by 3.3 metres, allowing Australia to manufacture super jumbo glass. Although German and Japanese factories can manufacture longer (18 metre) glass, it is thinner than the Australian product.
We need to protect our glass industry
The raw product for Dragon Glass's product comes from Viridian Glass in Tasmania - the only float glass manufacturing line left in Australasia. Ms Wendt urged government and business to support Viridian.
"We are on the edge of losing the glass industry in Australia," she warned her audience.
The federal government was potentially a customer.
About this story, by Nick Fuller:
The great joy of journalism is its variety. Few professions bring one into contact with so many different people, and no day is quite like any other. COVID-19, however, has restricted our movements. Most of my stories this year have been written from home, interviewing people at the other end of a telephone.
Many of these stories have been fascinating - women truck drivers succeeding in a male-dominated industry, for instance, or local support for the biggest community-owned solar farm in NSW.
But nothing beats actually being 'on location'.
In early October, I covered the launch of Kate Wendt's Dragon Glass Lamination which could make Goulburn Australia's glass manufacturing capital. It's always exciting to meet people who think big, and to tell positive news stories.
But this was also the first time I'd been out in the field since March. I realised how much I'd missed the thrill of being where things were happening, of travelling, of meeting new people.