This Side of Uncertainty: Tackling 2017’s Challenges

Lacking a working crystal ball, nobody truly knows what 2017 has in store for the commercial glazing industry. As the new presidential administration begins its term, there is a good amount of uncertainty in terms of investment in the building and construction space that may or may not be made, along with policy changes that may or may not come to pass.

The Labor Shortage. For one, the building and construction industry overall continues to grapple with a labor shortage that threatens efficiency and margins, with many players competing for a shrinking pool of skilled labor. Whether you’re a glazier, an IG fabricator or a window manufacturer, finding and retaining the right people continues to pose a significant challenge.But while we forge into the new year with a bit of “wait and see,” there are a few things we do know for sure—and there are a few ways we’re beginning to see the industry address them.

But over recent months, I’ve sensed a rising effort in our industry to invest in our workers as we figure out how to potentially operate with fewer of them. Consider the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Association (IGMA’s) ongoing IG workshops, two-day seminars providing hands-on training on the technical ins and outs of IG manufacturing. USGlass magazine’s Nick St. Denis attended the IGMA workshop late last year and reported back on his findings. In short, the workshops offer detailed, exhaustive information for IG fabricators and others in the industry.

It’s this kind of investment and education that will continue to help our industry deliver high-quality, high-performance solutions that our customers demand. If we, as an industry, continue building and incentivizing high levels of skill and expertise in a new generation of workers, we can bolster the skill levels we need to continue succeeding and innovating well into the future.

Seizing Opportunity with New Technologies. It seems like commercial IG fabricators have been talking about automated technology for a little while now—and with good reason. High-speed automated lines have helped fabricators realize significantly larger volumes (and larger units) while reducing labor. Processes that once required 12 line workers may now require three or four, enabling organizations to allocate their most skilled workers to high-value tasks throughout their plant.

But as more fabricators continue to invest in high-speed automation, it’s becoming increasingly clear that to maintain a competitive edge, fabricators need to begin thinking differently about the overall operations of their plant. When more companies can deliver high-quality IG units at increasingly high volumes, what’s setting your business apart?

As 2017 gets underway, I believe we’ll begin seeing these efforts take shape by innovative manufacturers and fabricators in the commercial glass space. Whether it’s a focus on high-margin, high-value products, new ways of thinking about plant layout, and beyond, anticipate moves from fabricators looking to sharpen their competitive edge.

And I’ll be here to offer my thoughts and insight on these movements along the way. I’m excited with the opportunity to author this blog for USGNN.com™; watch this space for my thoughts on glass technology, industry trends and ways in which fabricators can move forward confidently in a changing industry.

Joe Erb is a commercial sales specialist at Quanex Building Products.