WASHINGTON — When something sprung up from the highway and struck the windshield of Larry Waller's recreational vehicle, the resulting cracks required an odyssey of their own to fix.
Even though Waller and his wife were on their way from Morton to a gathering sponsored by the manufacturer of their RV, no vendors on-site in northeast Indiana could do the job.
Waller discovered that he could even buy a replacement windshield in the area straight from an aftermarket manufacturer, but he couldn't find anyone to install it.
After multiple calls coordinated by his insurance company, Waller ended up at a specialty shop in his own backyard — a business in Washington that provides a niche service using equipment developed on-site with safety in mind.
"I didn't know where I was going to end up when I started," Waller said a few weeks after finally getting the repair completed. "We got referred to one group, and they referred us to another, then finally we got to set it up in central Illinois."
ZGlass is basically an oversized garage on Independence Court in Washington with enough room to park a full-size RV amid extensive collections of tools and hardware.
It is also home to the proprietary ZG3 Technology, a system of specialized suction cups, pulleys, cables and remote controlled motors that allow a pair of people to safely and precisely maneuver hundreds of pounds of awkwardly shaped glass with minimal strain.
"It started out as a prototype to see what we could do, and it turned into our niche," said co-owner Doug Rasmussen. "It's very labor intensive, and we can do it more efficiently and safely."
Windshield replacement for an RV presents specific challenges that typically require a handful of people to manually solve: The sheets of safety glass can be 9 feet wide and up to 6 feet tall, weighing up to 400 pounds. Unlike typical vehicle windshields that reside at a slight angle, the front windows of RVs are nearly vertical, further complicating the installation process.
Manual replacements often result in back, neck and shoulder injuries, said the other ZGlass partner, Rich Brummett, who has worked with glass for more than four decades.
"The auto glass industry is primitive — we're using the same tools a lot of the time that we used 30 years ago," Brummett said. "The beauty of our system is it is so adjustable, it's so precise, you can adjust it to within fractions of an inch."
ZGlass has a full-size ZG3 permanently installed in the garage for RV work and a smaller system adapted to a van for mobile repair jobs on cars and trucks.
In addition to continuing that work, however, the business partners also are marketing the patented technology with the hope of widespread change for the way windshields are replaced.
"We did a lot of different trials to figure out what works best for safety," Rasmussen said. "This is the best of both worlds — more efficient and safe."
Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.