At the 2015 GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window and Door Expo, I saw an industry moving forward by marrying technology and design. While companies presented the latest innovations in glass, hardware and curtain wall to meet the changing demands of the architectural community, exhibitors were also focused on addressing one of the major challenges facing our industry: the labor shortage.
Equipment suppliers offer solutions to our common labor problems of cost and scarcity of talent with mechanized fabrication advances and field installation assist equipment. Part of this solution comes in the form of automation.
Robotics and automated technology has become a part of the future of this industry. On the show floor, I saw automated machines cutting and fitting spacers on insulating units, while an operator simply watched and tweaked the process.
For contract glaziers, suppliers are offering solutions for the handling and installation processes. The numerous spider cranes on display at the show look threatening until you realized how many fewer field guys you would need if you had one. I spoke to a few curtain wall companies at the show who are trying to sweep up the next new technology to offer them an advantage, and I would direct them to some of the numerous lifting devices I saw showcased.
I am currently consulting on a project that will require lifting 7-foot by 20-foot unitized panels up onto the face of a roof parapet wall. This requires some doing, but I saw equipment up for the task—cranes of several types that could themselves be craned up to the roof and positioned to set the panels, and lifting cups that can handle even textured surfaces for setting the project’s large art glass wall panels at the interior.
Despite the advantages of investing in new equipment and machinery, it is not always easy to make the call. I spoke to one glass company owner from Chicago who was nervous about his decision to spend on new equipment. He has been around the industry’s ups and downs for decades and after 30 years suddenly found himself staring into the abyss. He told me, “Things got better just in time. Finally we are developing a nice backlog. But will it last?”
In the end, the owner told me he would go with his gut and get the cutting table he needs—his table is over 18 years old and needs replacing before interest rates start moving up. “Maybe it’s time to focus on improving my production capacity instead of arm wrestling with my banker over our credit line. You’re either moving forward or slipping backwards, but never standing still,” he said.
Glass Magazine asked industry veteran Craig Steele to walk the GlassBuild America show floor and provide an insider’s view at the technologies, trends and advancements in the glass industry. As a child, Steele began working at his father’s glass company, John Steele Glass, on the north shore of Long Island, New York. From 1987 until his retirement in 2008, Steele and his wife Donna ran Neversink Construction Corp., a contract glazing firm in upstate New York. He currently serves as a façade consultant.
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.