View This Article in BOSS Magazine
Specialty glass fabricator Prelco creates a stunning world of high-performance, value added solutions for a variety of markets.
Glass surfaces. From windows to windshields, they open our interior worlds to light and beauty. They shield us on land, sea, and in the air. They keep us safe, yet seen, expanding possibilities and inspiring dreams. And no other company creates them like Prelco.
The Prelco Group brings 65 years of expertise and invention to the science and art of value-added glass fabrication, creating innovative glazing products that transform the ordinary into the exceptional. And in these times when public health is a riveting concern, they are leading the industry with a novel contribution: self-disinfecting Prel-SaniPure glazes that kill harmful bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19, on glass surfaces.
Today’s Prelco Group began in 1954 when Lionel Dubé founded Vitrerie Générale in the tiny Quebec town of Rivière-du-Loup. Prelco replaced the Vitrerie Générale designation just a handful of years thereafter.
In 1972, Prelco hired Roger Lavoie, the company’s first engineer, and the very first engineer to work in Quebec’s glass industry. In 1987, Lavoie and a group of employees came together to purchase the shares of Vitrerie Générale and Prelco to form the Prelco Group. In addition to crafting many of the firm’s innovations, he also had a son, Dominic, who would follow in his footsteps. An industrial engineer himself (quelle surprise), the younger Lavoie rose through the ranks to join the company’s board and become CEO.
Over 65 years and through several acquisitions, the Prelco Group has developed the ambitious local endeavor into a major player in the value-added glass space. In six North American production factories and a glazing facility, 650 employees transform ordinary glass into high-performance glass surfaces and windows used in the architectural, transportation, and defense markets. Their solutions add functionality, safety, and beauty to commercial and institutional buildings, high-rise apartment buildings, watercraft, rail cars, and other specialty vehicles.
We recently spoke to the younger Lavoie about steering the company into its bright future. “This is my hometown,” he said, unmistakable pride in his tone. “It's a town of about 20,000 citizens, and we're really happy to have our headquarters here. Although most of our customers are far from our main location, we want to stay in our town as we become North America’s major glass supplier.”
The Prelco Group’s business model is intentionally diversified. “That’s why we are in most of the glass applications on the market. We supply almost all the glass needs for trains, buses, subways, commercial and recreational marine, and defense. It’s our core business to make sure our segments are complementary.” That resilience allows the business to glide through market fluctuations.
“It can be challenging from an operations standpoint to manage diverse segments in the same business, but it works well because we may be able to propose a solution initially developed for one industry as a new product in another,” he explained. “We see ourselves as a solutions provider, and that’s how we partner with our suppliers and customers. In the architectural market, for example, we work with the architects to be sure we propose, develop, and quote the product they really want on the building and the best product for their needs in terms of energy consumption, aesthetics, and safety.”
The group collaborates with visionaries in each market to develop made-to-order solutions. “We work with boat designers to create windshields that will be unique to a specific boatbuilder. We work with the designers to make sure that the product they buy from us will be exactly what they dreamed of,” Lavoie stressed.
“We do the same for engineers. For example, with trains and buses, we work with them to develop a window that’s perfectly aligned with their needs. When we say value added, it’s not just about our product but the services we offer. The value we add to every product aligns directly with the needs of the particular customer.”
Prelco keeps over 200 different types of raw material glass in stock, sourced from a range of global suppliers. Base glass can differ in thickness, tint, reflectivity, and thermal performance. “When we see a market trend or need for a glass product that doesn’t exist yet, we work with our glass suppliers to develop new solutions for the market. We really want to push our markets to new limits and ideas for glass use.”
As a partner to the defense industry, they compose and assemble bulletproof glass in-house, which, like all of their work, is rigorously tested in Prelco’s in-house testing laboratory. They are the only Canadian firm with that capability.
“In terms of different types of glass processing, we have one of the widest range capabilities and equipment in North America. Whether it’s digital printing on glass, paint, chemical tempering, or bending and tempering, laminating, edgework, or tempering, we mix all those technologies to ensure we suit our customers’ needs. We can handle every glass need as a one-stop shop. We’ve invested significantly for the past five years to modernize our production sites, making sure our technologies and equipment stay ahead of the average. We want to always be ahead of the game, and that begins with state-of-the-art facilities.”
Lavoie is quick to add that while cutting edge equipment keeps them a market leader, the deep knowledge and unrivaled expertise of their people drive the company’s success. “We have a lot of people who’ve worked with us for 20 or 30 years or more, and the knowledge we have is deeper than our competitors. That’s something that we’re proud of.” It gives Lavoie and his teams particular satisfaction to be serving the continent’s needs from their humble hometown. “We may be from a little town in Quebec, but we install glass used in buildings and trains throughout North America.”
Lavoie’s father recently retired after a 48-year career with the company. “I see myself at Prelco for the next 40 years. We based our business on long-term commitment and want our people to retire from us. That’s something we want to add into the glass business: to continue to be seen as people and product you can rely on for a long time. That’s our culture.” If any company can make that dream come true, it is clearly the pride of Rivière-du-Loup.
Headquartered in Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, Canada, Prelco Inc., an ISO 9001 certified company, is the leader in security and safety glass manufacturing in Canada. Our company counts nearly 50 years of manufacturing experience and R&D technology development efforts. We manufacture specialty glass products for architectural and industrial markets such as insulating glass IG units, spandrel panels and tempered, laminated, bent and silk screened glass.
94, Boulevard Cartier