BEC Day Two–Future Shock

Change is often the theme of conferences; that’s nothing new. But the amount and complexity of the changes taking place in the contract glazing business, as detailed at the Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference, which ended just minutes ago, has been staggering. The seminars and private discussions reiterated one fact over and over again: this is not your father’s contract glazing business.

Here are the top five trends glazing contractors can expect to affect them in the next five years:

Mic Patterson of Enclos makes an impassioned point during his presentation yesterday morning at the BEC Conference in Las Vegas.
Mic Patterson of Enclos makes an impassioned point during his presentation yesterday morning at the BEC Conference in Las Vegas.

1. Design-Build is out and replaced by Design-Assist. Design-Assist, which I define as the process of helping to develop the glazing system before the job has been awarded, is going to continue to increase. Those companies that provide these types of services will continue to gain competitive advantages, and more jobs, than those that do not.

2.  The Curtainwall Consultant is here to stay. What was once an occasional fad is now just about a certainty. Given the increased complexity of many jobs in so many areas, especially in energy and performance, curtainwall consultants are becoming de rigueur on large jobs. The days of adding a “consultant tax” to your bid may be over, because almost every job is going to have one. When Mic Patterson of Enclos showed a number of project slides complete with the credits—including owner, glass supplier, installer AND curtainwall consultant—on every one, I know that the consultant-free ship has sailed.

3. Growth in modularization and pre-fabrication practices. It’s faster, cheaper and more easily controlled, so watch for more and more jobs to be pre-fabbed before reaching the jobsite. And foreign erectors very comfortable with the process will force domestic glazing companies in that direction, whether they want to go there or not. Richard Beuke cited a 32-story New York City high-rise made up entirely of modules that were then erected on-site.

4. Robotics—The lack of qualified construction workers in the future, coupled with advancement in robotics, will lead to increase reliance upon them for glazing installation and erection. Robots are currently installing glass in South Korea, two floors at a time, and such technology will  continue to grow. This will radically change the contract glazing company of the future.

5. Uber-customization—A level of customization in building system design the likes of which has never been seen is on the horizon. A number of speakers showed pictures of buildings that used 10, 20, even 39 different types of glass on the exterior. This level of customization, coupled with the new enhancements that technology such as 3D printing brings, also will change our glazing landscape.

Let me explain. 3D printers enable dies and unique parts, that once would been cost-prohibitive to create, to now be created. This opens up a whole new level of uniqueness in design that will only grow as these printers become capable of doing more with different materials.

It’s an exciting time to be a contract glazier. It’s also a very scary time. The companies that are able to adapt will evolve into this new higher level of business and those that don’t won’t be around.