Marking Time

Glasstec, the mother of all glass trade shows starts tomorrow in Düsseldorf, Germany. Just as the first day of school marks an exciting time for school children everywhere, glasstec marks this time for me. And because it’s every other year the changes it heralds are always pronounced. This is my 14th visit to the show. I have attended every show since 1984, save one in the late 1980s. The changes that have occurred during that time have been dramatic. Let’s look at the glass manufacturing industry first.

Exhibitor hall at glasstec 2010
The landscape of the industry was a lot different during that first visit. Oh, the U.S. still had less than 10 primary manufacturers as it does now but look at how they’ve changed. PPG Industries had just  a bit of a presence outside the U.S. and Guardian was just gearing up for major growth and didn’t yet have any strongholds outside North America. Ford Motor Company was a glass manufacturer (of both architectural and automotive glass by the way). It isn’t anymore. The other two primary manufacturers then –AFG and LOF– have been both been purchased and repurchased in the ensuing years and are now part of huge international conglomerates. Cardinal did not yet manufacture glass.The primaries were regionalized by nation then; today they are not. Most are large international companies and two of the U.S.-based ones (PPG and Guardian) have diversified way beyond glass. PPG identifies itself as a chemicals company; Guardian has a robust building products segment.There’s nothing surprising about smart companies making moves to advance their growth. But when you fast forward through that growth like a time machine, it jumps before you like pages of a homemade cartoon movie dancing by. Change tells time.

And that change is not limited to the glass industry either. On my first trip to glasstec, my colleagues and I gathered round and made one phone call to the office every other day where a receptionist read us the messages that couldn’t wait. Today those messages come right in as .wav files to the ever-present cell phone. And those files can be accessed, as I am doing now, from 39,000 feet flying over somewhere over Iceland.

You could argue that all these changes make the world smaller and bring us together. But I am not so sure. Being able to always connect with the familiar reduces the incentive to learn about the unfamiliar. Do we become more connected or more isolated?

Not sure we will ever really know. But I do know that glasstec ’12 will make its own new memories. I’m looking forward to that, as well as to celebrating a few birthdays over here … GANA’s Brian Pitman’s birthday is Wednesday and he’ll be here as will Charles Cumpston whose birthday is Oct. 28. Charles, alas, has decided to retire for good at the end of this year after 32 years as a glass journalist. We plan to raise a glass and toast this accomplishment from our stand on Thursday afternoon.

If you are at glasstec, please stop by and see us in Hall 13, Stand D53.