What Happens in Vegas

Ted Hathaway of Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope™

Yeah, I’m in Vegas again, my second home this year. And this time it’s for a great reason — the Glass Association of North America’s Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference. Well, that Ted Hathaway of Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope™  is such a fooler! You won’t believe what he did at the conference and this time, what happens in Vegas isn’t staying here.

You see, he opened the conference with a presentation that, at first look, seemed like it was going to focus solely on how a number of innovative glazing projects were done, including London’s famous Gherkin, the new basketball stadium being built in Brooklyn and a number of other ones.

Each used extremely innovative technology and the project details were fascinating and energy-focused, but it was the very subtle subtext of the speech that told contract glaziers the real story. And that story is that most of companies in the audience were going to need to change the way they do business to prosper in the future.

Hathaway pointed out contract glazing companies are going to be involved with jobs long before they are awarded, early in the design phase. “The biggest obstacle to smart buildings is a lack of collaboration,” he said. In order for smart buildings to truly work, design must be integrated across disciplines and trades. “I do not understand why our industry still can’t build things digitally before they build them structurally,” he challenged. A riveted audience then followed Hathway through the software and computer systems used to design/build the stadium in a fully integrated system used by all the players. It was web-based and contained just about every bit of info about that project for all involved.

But he wasn’t done yet. Then Hathaway introduced the audience to a new technology promulgated by a company called HeliOptix.

Based in New York, he called HeliOptix a true building integrated PV system that surpasses any existing technology and can be used on both new construction and retrofit.

“The current standard PV system needs a lot of land to work and has at least a 20 percent energy loss. How does this make sense?” he asked. “HeliOptix takes the same technology used in utility farms, minaturizes it and incorporates it into the building’s skin.  It also greatly reduces solar heat gain and harvests and converts solar energy at the point of use.”

Hathaway said, “the technology is shop-fabricated and basically plugged into the building.” It converts the solar energy at the skin rather than allowing it to enter the building. The units are ten inches square and the facade needs to be at least 14 inches deep. It can be configured to work with the traditional glazing profile. “This technology has enormous potential to take buildings off the grid,” he said.

And then, once again, came a subtle message of potential: Technology will change the value proposition of the building envelope. It will allow us to enter into different relationships with building owners. “Other industries do it, why not ours?” he asked.

Hathaway was followed by Victor Cornellier of TSI/Exterior Wall Systems who discussed the role of leadership in contract glazing businesses. He sadly noted that the Ironworkers Union logged 126 million man hours of work in 2009; 85 million in 2010 and that 2011 is still trending downward. He asked for a show of hands as to how many people were beginning to bid private work again and about half those in the room raised theirs. “It is starting to come back,” he said, mentioning that problems included banks, bonding, cash and credit.

“The national banks are very difficult to deal with right now,” he said. “It’s almost impossible for our industry. You might be better looking for a community or local bank … and these days, we are the bank,” he added. “We have all become banks to our customers, just look at how old your receivables are.”

Cornellier also talked about what he called the “stigma” the contract glazing industry has with bonding companies. “There are a lot out there that just won’t touch us.”

So it’s been a really thought-provoking morning and I am looking forward to this afternoon. Nothing I heard today dissuaded me from my view that contract glaziers are both the heros (and the tight-rope) walkers of the glass industry at the same time.

Shout Outs

Some shout-outs to people who deserve it … Bernard Lax and Kelly Green for completing the sale of California Glass Bending to Pulp Studio … and yes, it was a true sale, not an asset purchase, which is so refreshing these days … to Oliver Stepe of YKK attending his first BEC and asking a very insightful question of Vic Cornellier … to our own Megan Headley who headed to New York City this week to represent USGlass as a finalist in the Neal Awards (the Pulitzer Prize of B2B media). This was our second nomination in four years and we were thrilled to be included … to Russ Ebeid, who had his grand club re-opening yesterday in Dearborn (for more on his new venture, read this blog post) … to those of us who made both GANA’s Annual Conference a few weeks ago and this meeting, people like Jeff Nixon, Mark Silverberg, our crew and GANA’s staff  and a whole variety of others of course … to one of the industry’s hardest working women, Heather West  … and to PPG’s famous and infamous Ted Krantz who is starting, just starting to talk about slowing down. But we all know he never will.

Long blog today, I know, but lots to share. Have a great week this week.