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How Custom Aquariums are Made!

By Tyler Rugge on

Tyler Rugge: Hey guys, it's Tyler Rugge today is a really exciting video because I'm actually in Wisconsin and I'm going to be showing you guys around Custom Aquariums and Custom Cages and we're going to take a look at how they build their aquariums because they don't really do it like any of the other aquarium manufacturers. It's really unique. Their aquariums are built super, super well. There's a lot that goes into it.

I'm really, really excited to show you guys. Yesterday, I got to film everyone actually working on the aquariums and stuff like that, but it was really loud.

I'll include footage from that. Today, there's nobody here so we get to go around and actually explain what's going on. I'm going to have Ted Judy from Custom Aquariums take us around and explain to us how they actually build their aquariums. Let's go check it out. Alright guys, so here's Tad from Custom Aquariums. Ted Juddy: Hello, my name is Ted Judy, I work for Custom Aquariums. Technically, I am the PR and social media manager.

I get the privilege and the pleasure of working with people like Tyler and showing them what we do here at Custom Aquariums.

Tyler: Let's go check out how all the aquariums are made.

Ted: We're going to start and talk a little bit about glass. What we're seeing in this part of the building is plate glass, they come in big huge sheets like this. One thing is interesting about glasses, they're much easier to handle when they're in a vertical position. This is an example of a big 14-foot by 8-foot piece of glass. I'm not exactly sure what the thickness of this one is, let's say it looks like it's probably about half-inch glass, just really heavy. Just this piece of glass weighs about 500 pounds or 600 pounds.

We have to get it from these vertical positions onto the table in which it can cut. We have lots of different tools and lots of pieces of machinery that enable us to do this, like this machine that is sitting right here. You can think of it as a forklift just for glass. It's got these big suction cups on it. Then we can put these up against the glass, turn on the machine, it sucks up against the glass, and we can actually pick up and move that big piece of glass safely over to where it gets cut.

This is our CNC cutter. This is where we cut the glass. All of our Custom Aquariums, we cut the glass for those tanks here so we can be assured they're going to be the right dimensions, and we polish them down, they're the right size they need to be. We start with those big panes of glass we showed you before. They go on to this table, which is like a big air hockey table. It has jets of air that allow us to kind of move the glass around without having to able to lift it, then it sets down the table.

This is the cutter and the reader and it will sense the edges of the glass, it will go over the entire piece of glass and map it. Then the technician can plug in the dimensions of the pieces of glass that we need to cut to make different aquariums.

Then this machine will etch it and create the cut points on it. Then the technician will then break the glass into the pieces that we need.

We want to save as much glass as possible. When you see this being worked, you're actually going to be seeing the pieces of glass for multiple tanks so that we have as little waste as possible, so that we can keep the cost for the tanks down as much as possible. Every rack that you see in this area is an aquarium. Sometimes they'll be one tank on two different sides of the racks.

But you'll see these pieces of paper, each of these are orders. All the glass that's right here is all the glass that's going to be used for one aquarium. Once the glass comes off the cutter, the edges are not ready to be made into an aquarium yet. If you get a close up look at this, you're going to see they're very rough. They're not very even. Everybody gets this idea that glass cuts very very cleanly, but actually it doesn't, it's really rough.

All these little pockmarks and all these indentations, all these waves, they're weak points in the glass. If we don't clean those up, and we don't get them perfectly flat and perfectly smooth, this becomes a place where this glass can start a crack. We Polish all of the edges on all of our tanks, even the edges you can't see underneath the frame of the tank so that the tank is as strong as possible.

The next step for an aquarium is the polishing of the edges of the glass. All those burrs and pits and little waves that are in the edges have to come out. We use this as a polisher, it has spindles and wheels down underneath that actually will polish the flat edge but also put a bevel on the outside edges of the tank which is a nice finish to the glass as well. As I mentioned before, every single edge or all the panel edges are going to get polished.

This is actually one of the most time-consuming parts of production of an aquarium. So I think that on a big tank like 150 to 200-gallon tank or bigger, they can do about two of these aquariums a day using these polishers. We have two policies, it's one of the biggest bottlenecks from time perspective in the entire aquarium manufacturing process. We're shipping between 40 and 60 aquariums a month. You think about that if we can only do two aquariums a day just on the polisher we got a lot of orders in and this is where things can really slow down.

We've actually got two polishers to be able to speed that process up. This piece of glass right here, it's coming to the posture. This top edge of the glass has already been to the polisher once but you'll notice there's a little indentation here. This is going to have to go through the polisher again. We would never ship a tank out that has got that little imperfection in it because that imperfection could end up being a crackdown the road.

Then this edge of the glass hasn't been polished yet. This piece of glass will run through probably twice, sometimes three times on every single edge to get the exact size that it needs. Which is really kind of interesting because this is actually taking glass off of the edges of the tank. When we measure to cut the tank, if we say the tank is going to be 24 inches wide, we have to cut the glass a little bit wider to ensure that once we're finished polishing it down, it's the right dimension. It's a lot of math involved in building aquariums.

Tyler: I think I'm not building aquariums, that wouldn't be good.

Ted: This glass has all been polished, it's ready for the next step. One thing I wanted to point out here is where the Custom Aquariums you can actually choose the panels on the aquarium that you want to be ultra-clear glass or low-iron glass or regular glass. If you can see that on this particular setup here, this panel right here, this is probably the bottom of the aquarium, and you can see how dark the edges and if you actually look down through it, you really can't see through it. This is regular iron-glass, green.

But then these panels here, this is probably the front panel, if you look down through the edges, it's clear you can see right through it. This is ultra-clear glass. This is regular-iron glass. Why spend the money on ultra-clear glass if you're not going to look through it? When you order our Custom Aquariums, that's one of the advantages, it's you can choose what type of glass you want in which panel.

This glass is it's polished, and it would go on to the next step which is probably drilling holes. Let's go look at the whole driller. This is our drilling table. When you want to have holes in the aquariums for bulkheads and emitters, drilling holes in the glass is one of the most frustrating and challenging things to do. If anybody's ever drilled holes, you can do it with a hand-drill and you're very, very careful.

We've made it a lot simpler ourselves and a lot easier to make nice holes using the specialized cutters. You see we have a whole row of them. They're all set up with different size drill-bits so that we don't have to keep changing drill bits every time we need a different size hole. These tables, the glass can actually kind of roll right along the table being positioned to bed exactly we want the whole to be.

Then this particular drill has got two bits, it's got a bit that's underneath the table and one on top of the table. When we start the process, water pours into it and starts drilling. It starts drilling from the top and goes about halfway through the glass. Then it starts coming up from the bottom and goes half through the glass so you don't end up what's called breakouts, which is chips in the hole around the outside edges of the glass if you went all the way through.

Once it breaks out the other side sometimes it can damage the glass and that damage can be a break-point, it can be a weakness. We want the hole to look like this, a smooth hole all the way around the edge of the glass. Once the holes are drilled in the glass and all the edges are beveled, then the next step is cleaning the glass so that it can be used to actually have the Silicone adhere to it and also for inspection.

This is a glasswasher. We use de-ionized RO water and some soap that cleans the glass thoroughly runs it through here. Once it comes out of the washer, it comes up on this inspection table with bright lights behind it and we can inspect the glass. We're looking for lots of things. If we see a scratch, sometimes there's scratches that come from when the glass was on the tilt table, or when it goes to the polisher, if there's a piece of sand that shouldn't be there, you might end up with a scratch in the glass.

If the scratch is really bad, then this whole piece of glass gets tossed and we cut and polish a new piece of glass before you can build this aquarium. If it was a really minor scratch, then sometimes we can burp it out. Normally, you don't think about burping scratches out of glass, but it can be done the only if they're very very shallow. The whole goal is ordering a custom aquarium is that you get a tank that is perfect. We use the inspection process, one of many aspects steps of inspection in the process of building a tank, to make sure there are no problems.

Also at this station, we tape the glass where this tape is applied to the glass is so we actually apply the silicone we can create really nice clean edges on the silicone seam. We'll show that in a minute. The other thing that happens at this station is we get spacers put on on the glass. These spacers are also used in the sealing process to keep the right amount of space in between the panes of glass so that the amount of silicone between them is consistent, making it a much stronger aquarium and a well-built aquarium.

Once all the glass is polished, cleaned, taped, has the spacers in place, then it's time to go set the tank in place and get ready for sealing it. All of our aquariums that we build a customer aquariums are handset, but that means is people actually take the glass panes, they set them on the pallet on which they're going to be sealed on, and then they set the edges by hand side by side, clamp them together and go through a very painstaking process of making sure that all the edges on the inside and outside are perfectly even and perfectly square.

Those spacers that are between the panels of the glass are going to keep the distance between the panes at the perfect depth for the silicone to go in. The first seal on aquarium goes in between the panel edges and is the most important seal for keeping the aquarium watertight and being held together. The skill it takes to apply that first seal takes a lot of practice. The technicians who do it, they do it a lot and if they don't get it right, the whole tank side get pulled apart, cleaned up, and reset and resealed. Very, very important.

That first seal that goes in between the panels is going to be allowed to cure for about 24 hours and then the second seal is going to go in. Brand-new silicone even slightly cured will bond extremely well with new silicone going into it. You can't let a tank sit for weeks and months and years and then try to apply a new silicone to it, but the 24 hours or so in between the first seal and the second seal is fine. It's actually pretty important for getting a really good seal on the tank. The second seal in the aquarium goes in after the first seal is partially cured, and this is the seal that you see on the inside of the aquarium and really it's just protecting that seal that is in between the panels of glass.

In this case, they're going to put in quite a bit of silicone into the edges. You'll notice there's blue tape on either side of it and they're going to put the silicone in a big bead and they're going to inspect it from the outside of the tank, and if they see any air bubbles or anything or any light shining through, then what they're going to do is they're going to work that silicone into the seam to make sure it's a nice tight bond. Then they're going to use a squeegee and they're going to pull all the excess silicone out of the edge of the tank and they're going to pull that blue tape that's going to make a nice clean edge on the inside.

After the second seal goes in, the tank is going to stay motionless for several days to get the cure in. This is really important. Tanks are really heavy and if you move them before the silicone is completely cured, you can cause damage to the seal. While it sits here, while it's in this vertical position if the tank has a painted background, like this one has a blue painted background, this can be applied, but if it's going to have what's more of a photographic backgrounds applied to it, that can't happen until a tank is cured.

Here's one of our photographic backgrounds. This background was applied by placing an adhesive on the back of the tank and then the background which is cuts a big photograph being laid on the back of the tank and then all the air bubbles squeeze it out. Once the adhesive cures this background is stuck as strongest paint the back of the tank. It's actually even more difficult to get off than paint. Once this silicone is cured and once the background is on, a background is painted, the next step in building the aquarium is placing the frames.

Our framing system is unique. As a matter of fact, it's patented. We're the only ones that can produce the types of frames that we do. Our frames are more than just a plastic frame that fits the outside tank that has slipped down on top of the aquarium. Looks that way, there are frames are made of hardened ionized aluminum, that are bonded to the glass using a really strong silicone sealant, and they also have removable braces that allow you to be able to move the brace out of the tank to get large pieces of hardscape and stuff into it.

Over time, this hardware isn't going to wear out and break or fall apart. It's not going to become brittle. Its part of all the most important parts of us being able to have an aquarium with a lifetime guarantee is a type of framing system that we do.

The first frame to go on the aquarium is the bottom frame. It's actually one of the hardest ones for us to put on because if you can imagine on a big aquarium like this, once this frame is on, it's on. We have that difficult time lifting this tank back up to be able to get it off. with the way this is set up right now, this frame has already been very carefully measured, and before this tank actually has any silicone put into the bottom frame, this tank is going to get lifted up, these blocks of foam are going to be pulled out and that's going to be test-fit to make sure the frame fits.

If the frame doesn't fit, the whole thing gets lifted up and the frame gets rebuilt. Once we know the frame fits perfectly silicone will be applied inside the frame, the tank will be lowered into it and then clamps we put on the outside to hold that frame in position while that silicone cures. When silicon cures, it's possible they can expand or shrink a little bit we want this frame to fit extremely snugly. It is not as simple as just putting a plastic frame and pushing it down on top of an aquarium or on the bottom. Here's an example. This is the bottom frame that been put on the tank and you'll see all these shims and these are belt clamps, and these are other clamps that they are applying pressure to hold that frame tied against the tank while the silicone cures so that the frame itself becomes basically a laminated part of the tank itself.

The top of the frame is the same way. This is a pentagonal tank, so it's a little more difficult to actually use cross clamps, so we use these band clamps that are pulling it really, really tight to hold the frame together. Here's an example of what I meant by the removable frame. This center brace framing system has hardware that goes all the way through that if you want to put a big huge stump or a big piece of coral rock or something in there while this tank is empty, you can take these pieces out, pull this frame out, put your hardscape in and you can put these back together and it is just as strong as it ever was. We've shown spiramentally that this is much stronger than a single one-piece plastic frame that gets brittle over time and as the tank expands, you can get breaks and stuff in it.

This is a patented part of what we do. We're the only company that can produce frames this way. This is a hexagonal aquarium. We can build very large and very small hexagonal aquariums. The clamping all looks extremely complex, but what we're seeing here is in order to be able to keep this tank together for curing process you have to have pressure holding the tank together so that the silicone starts to expand it doesn't actually push the glass apart. On a hexagonal tank, we polish and bevel the glass so that the edges of the panels are coming together in a perfectly parallel position. If you used 90-degree glass that just has regular square edges, they would come together point to point, and you'd have to fill the gaps with silicone and it's not a very strong seal.

In order to make a really good hexagonal aquarium, you have to bevel the edges this way. Then we also have a framing system that goes on top which is basically a wheel and spokes which also provides that really strong support across each of the pressure lines on top of the aquarium enabling us to make really, really large aquariums. We have built hexagonal aquariums that are six or seven feet across from flat edge to flat edge. That's a pretty big 400 or 500-gallon hexagonal aquarium. They are just as strong and just as secure as any other customers. This aquarium that's underneath our lifter here probably weighs about a thousand pounds, and if you can imagine how do you get a bottom frame onto a tank like this.

We have this apparatus which allows us to lift very large aquariums. It's basically a crane with suction cups on the sides and we use this for all of our really, really large tanks. Smaller stuff people can pick it up on the really big ones we have to use this lifter. Once the aquarium is cured once the frame is being cured then the tanks are stacked up over here by the door and they're on a pallet and they're going to get moved from here over to another building where they're going to be packaged for shipping to where they need to go/ The entire process from cutting glass all the way to getting it over to packaging to go out the door can be six weeks or so sometimes a little faster sometimes a little slower depending upon the size of the tank. Lead times for aquariums at Custom Aquariums varied based upon the size of the aquarium is being done, but also how many orders that we have in the queue. One of the questions that get frequently is, "Why is it taking you so long to build my tanks?" Well, it's really not taking us all that long to build your tank, but it's taking us a few weeks to get to your tank in the order. That's what lead times mean. It's not just building it, it's waiting for your turn to have your tank built. One of the types of aquariums that we build here, we call the amphibious aquarium. They're really like Paludariums where the bottom half is an aquarium, the top half is air.

This is one that's having the doorframe for the sliding glass panels that are used for the top half of the aquarium being installed. These are really, really popular especially with people who have dart frog tanks or Paludariums or vivariums. Turtle tanks are actually designed as a turtle tank.

Tyler: All right, guys. That was the glass shop. That's where we are now and we just took a look at the glass shop. Now, we can go, check out where a lot of the other stuff is made. There's another area where they make the stands for all the aquariums and they also make their Custom Cages. That's also where they pack a lot of this stuff onto the crates and actually ship them out from. We can go check that out next.


Ted: Here's an example of one of those amphibious aquariums. This one is packed up and ready to go. This is actually going to be used for a crate show. I'm not exactly sure which one it is. We build three different types of aquarium stands, Custom Aquariums. This is a welded steel stand. This has been powder-coated. We also build a solid wood stand, cabinetry stand and then we have a hybrid which is for really, really big tanks. If you want a wood stand, we actually encase a welded steel stand like this inside our custom cabinetry.

It's the best of both worlds, the beautiful wood stand as well as the strength of the steel stand. This particular setup is in the process of being packed up for delivery. When the stand tanks come over from the glass shop, they're on a pallet and then we build the crate around the tank. This one is actually going to be probably a double-stacked crate. We'll actually put the stand on here and we'll build another crate up around it. If you can imagine a truck showing up with your house with one big huge crate, that's going to have both the stand and the tank in it.

The last step in you getting your aquarium is for the truck drivers to come up and load these things on the truck and deliver them to you. Once they leave our facility, it usually takes two or three days for the tank to actually get to where they're going to go. Our shipping and handling policies allow the tanks to be dropped off at the curb outside your house. If you buy one of our tanks from us and if the shipping and handling is going to get to your curb, make sure you have a couple of friends around to help you get them inside.

One thing that we do do is we actually rent suction cups.

The suction cups, we're going to put on the outside of an aquarium and lift it up. You can rent those from us. You have to pay a deposit. Then when you return the suction cups to us, we'll refund that deposit to you. If you're going to move a large aquarium, it's worth getting the suction cups.

Tyler: If you guys saw my video where I unpacked my aquarium from Custom Aquariums, then you saw that it came on a crate just like one of these and I had to unpack it. Luckily, I did have people helping me. It was a lot of work, but they come really, really well packaged. That's how they guarantee that it's going to come to your house pretty much all in one piece. It turns out I never filmed an intro for this video so I want to give you a huge thanks to Custom Aquariums for bringing me out there and allowing me to take a tour and show you guys everything that they do.

They're really amazing. I would highly recommend checking them out. I will link Custom Aquariums and Custom Cages down in the description below if you want to check out some of their Custom Aquariums and custom caging options. They are a really amazing company. Of course, the birds decide to make sounds now. I'm standing behind my custom aquarium that I had made for me by them and it's all set up. That's going to be one of the next videos that come out is me setting this thing up because it turned out amazing. I don't want to show you guys it yet, but I'm really excited for it.

Huge thanks to Custom Aquariums for showing us how they are made. If you guys like this video, make sure you hit a big thumbs up. Subscribe to my channel. I post videos every week. I will see you guys in my next video.


About Tyler Rugge

"My name is Tyler Rugge. I have a lot of pets and I make videos with all of them! I have a variety of pets from dogs to more exotic things like reptiles, and aquatics ranging from my snakes, lizards, reef tank, birds and more!"

In addition to his recent purchase of a 75-gallon aquarium from Custom Aquariums, Tyler's channel features his many pets, including Gypsy the African Gray parrot, Desmond the Giant Flemish rabbit and others.

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