In the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to attend the FIT Show in the UK and the AIA Conference on Architecture in Las Vegas. With the two shows happening so close together, it was interesting to compare trends from around the globe. There are some definite similarities and common themes dominating the commercial market:
1. Oversized glass. Traditionally, the FIT Show has been focused on doors and windows with the architectural glass portion being a relatively new addition to the show. But there’s one thing you couldn’t help but notice – the scale and size of the doors, windows and glass on display. And my experience at the AIA Show was no different.
A number of recent studies have shown the correlation between access to daylight and productivity, health and wellness, and occupant satisfaction and today’s buildings are being designed with that in mind. Architects are looking for every opportunity to blur the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces and fabricators around the world are answering with new innovations, including wall-to-wall bi-fold doors and automated sliding glass door products that completely open to access the outside when desired and close to protect from the elements.
What I found is that whether in the UK or closer to home, today’s technologies, including high-performance glass, vinyl/PVC framing and spacer systems, have made it possible to build larger units that meet and exceed thermal and structural performance requirements. I expect to see this trend continue and expand for years to come.
2. Increased interest in safety. With larger architectural glass comes larger risk. Successfully transporting massive glass units down the line can be physically taxing and create additional safety concerns for your workforce, and your risk for potential quality defects can increase as more hands touch them.
Automated and semi-automated technology can be part of the solution to reduce touch points and human risk. But at AIA, there was an emphasis on lift devices to safely handle and transport glass. Again, I expect to see new and emerging technologies that allow for even more efficient and safe transportation of oversized glass.
3. New solutions to old problems. We’ve established the many benefits of daylighting and the innovations that make them possible. But there are still some drawbacks, including concerns over glare and solar heat gain that can create discomfort and inefficiencies. Dynamic glass has been around for a while and has helped address these issues.
As these technologies continue to advance, we will see even more innovations in the way that they can be integrated with the building’s control systems, with smart lighting and HVAC to truly optimize efficiencies and make the best use of daylight.
4. Labor shortages are happening everywhere. As my colleague, Charlotte Mercer of Edgetech UK, pointed out in a recent article about the FIT Show, the UK is also seeing a labor shortage because of an aging workforce and fewer new workers entering the industry. This global phenomenon made automation as the way to address the labor shortage a hot topic at both shows, while also ensuring precise, efficient and consistent fabrication and improved safety and ergonomics on the plant floor.
In the U.S., there was also a lot of buzz around modular construction and prefabrication that would reduce the need for costly, on-site construction and additional skilled labor.
5. Wider adoption of emerging and smart technologies. With rapid and ongoing growth in the commercial segment, adoption of emerging and smart technologies has accelerated across the industry, whether to operate more efficiently with fewer people, to improve safety or to reduce costs. Drones are being used for site surveys and inspection and virtual reality is being used to perfect designs before products are made. In short, we’re experiencing a tech boom within the commercial market.
Indeed, there are virtually endless opportunities to adopt new technologies, but I also see another potential benefit: recruitment. As our industry turns more to technologies as a solution, I hope we’ll be able to generate more interest in younger generations to consider careers in construction.
Overall, the trends we are seeing here in the U.S. are being seen all around the world. Based on the conversations I had, the outlook for the commercial market is optimistic with many companies experiencing continued growth. I am hearing from many fabricators that they are using this time to retool, invest and position themselves for the future whether through new products, new technologies or safer solutions.
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