These are not the easiest of times for our industry. They are not the hardest either. In many ways, the glass industry is suffering the effects of long COVID, and, though not life-threatening as it is to humans, it is difficult to handle and leaves us wondering when it will end. Let’s start by talking about supply.
Is there a glass shortage? The answer is the same as when I wrote a blog on the topic nearly a year ago. Is there a shortage? Yes, if shortage means you cannot get the glass you need in its normal timeframe and under normal pricing patterns, then there most certainly is. But if shortage means that you can’t get the glass you need at all, ever again, then the answer is no.
The reasons for the shortage are well known. A shortage of labor and the residual effects of lockdowns have led to reduced domestic production. The closure of many international ports has also been a cause. Most have reopened, but labor shortages make it difficult and costly to get materials into port and off ships. The Freightos Baltic Index pegs the market rate for a single 40-foot container at a little over $4,000—nearly quadruple what it was this time last year. Once off those ships, these products have to move, primarily via truck but some via rail. Doing so has become exceedingly time-consuming and much more costly. And look at what’s happened to UPS prices:
The increase in residential remodeling and new home building and the need for glass to retrofit everything from supermarkets to doctors’ offices have led to the rise in demand. This increase was largely unexpected in the early days of the pandemic, and many glass manufacturers and fabricators reduced production at that time. So inventory that typically may have been used to fill demand surges for a few months is simply not available.
North American manufacturers that were able to “requisition” stock from their European manufacturing arms cannot do so right now—and vice versa. Supply in Europe is very tight and vulnerable to transportation challenges as well. So neither can help the other.
Here’s an NBC News Report on the freight backup:
Long Industrial COVID has also made us conscious of how fragile our supply chain is when solely sourced from beyond our shores. There have been issues getting the materials needed to make everything from computer parts and circuitry to adhesives. Those shortages are beginning to lessen, but the fact that they occurred put a magnifying glass on frailties in our current supply chains that need to be corrected. I expect you will see that in the future as well.
Reports are that, generally, most customers have been understanding. As the principal of one of the larger contract glazing firms said to me, “It’s not like our customers can go to another glazing sub and get the materials from them. No one can get them. We are all victims of market conditions, and that is what saves us—for now.”
How long is the wait for certain types of glass? More on that in the next blog. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you are experiencing regarding availability and wait times.