Why Am I Doing This Again?

GANA president Jeff Nixon of Glass Coatings and Concepts presents BEC member (and USGlass magazine blogger and columnist) Chuck Knickerbocker of TGP with the BEC "Member of the Year" award.
GANA president Jeff Nixon of Glass Coatings and Concepts presents BEC member (and USGlass magazine blogger and columnist) Chuck Knickerbocker of TGP with the BEC “Member of the Year” award.
PPG's vice president of flat glass Richard Beuke  held the audience in rapt attention at today's BEC Conference.
PPG’s vice president of flat glass Richard Beuke held the audience in rapt attention at today’s BEC Conference.

When I got in my car at 3:45 a.m. yesterday (read: Sunday) morning it was 22 degrees outside and pitch black. As I road along the empty road, I had one of those “why am I doing this again?” moments. You know those moments–you’ve had them, too. They are usually preceded by the internal dialogue that starts “I must be totally crazy, what am I doing and why am I doing this?” Well, by 11 p.m. that night, I knew the answer.

That’s because 11 p.m. my time was actually 8 p.m. Las Vegas time and the closing hour of the first day of the Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference, sponsored by the Glass Association of North America (GANA). It didn’t take but 15 minutes of participation to be reminded of what a worthwhile event this for a whole variety of reasons, chief among them: education, new products and networking. And whatever you call yourself—a BEC, a contract glazier or a glazing contractor, I can think of no more vital event to attend than this one, which is held every year usually in March and usually in Vegas. Even getting up at 3 in the morning on a Sunday is more than worth it for BEC.

Things always change a bit over the course of the year, but this year appears to be the start of a radical and sweeping transformation of the way the contract glazing business works. And if you are in the business, your head probably hurt by the end of the day as you contemplated all the changes occurring in the business.

The morning began with a welcome by BEC division chair Jon Kimberlain of Dow Corning and the first presenter, Richard Beuke, PPG’s vice president of flat glass. Beuke began his presentation by talking about the new business acronym—similar to TQM or six sigma—called VUCA. “Most managers now look at their businesses in terms of VUCA,” he said, enumerating that VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. He went on to stress how our industry is undergoing an amazing amount of each. “We have always had a number of changes in our industry,” said Beuke, who took the audience back memory lane with a flash of logos of companies had been prominent 20 years ago—such as Hordis, Shatterproof and LOF, among others.

Top Take-Aways from Beuke’s speech:

 First the good:

  1. The glass industry is back. In a theme also echoed by attendees everyone, the business has improved significantly and more business is on the way. “My backlog is up” or “my backlog is way up” were common comments heard from attendees, and it’s true for manufacturers as well.
  2. Architects still love glass. And that’s not going away. What is challenging is creating glass products that have the performance and other characteristics (such as flexibility) that architects want. “This is where we lose business,” said Mic Patterson of Enclos in a session later in the morning. “It’s when the architect wants to use glass, but glass just isn’t flexible enough.”
  3. There are mechanical alternatives to human labor ahead. Beuke mentioned that robots are beginning to handle glass on job sites with increasing frequency—and have just completed the installation of two floors of curtainwall on a building in South Korea. “Think about a radical disruptive technology,” he said. “This is it.”

Now the Bad:

  1. The numbers of available glaziers are being reduced. The number of construction workers continue to dwindle as baby boomers retire and no replacements rise among the younger generation. This dearth will create quite a crisis in the next 10 years or so in all construction trades, particularly the glass trade. Of course the use of robotics (see above) could be an antidote to this problem depending on your point of view.
  2. Time compression continues. The pressure to complete buildings in less and less time continues to increase. Beuke told of a building in China that was put up in 15 days.  (If you want to see it, click here.)
  3. Litigation will result in higher penalties and higher numbers of parties involved because of the complexity of the work.

All this plus super networking events abound at the BEC. It was great to see Ed Zaucha, excited for the launch of Glasscon Global in a few months … and Darijo Babic sporting an Enclos badge. “I just started Friday,” he said. Ted Krantz was in attendance working for Technaglass and it was nice to see Craig Carson, less than a year into his new venture opening the Alliance Glass office in Denver. GANA officials said attendance was up more than 40 percent from two years ago and to me the real story of the success of BEC was the number of people I met who told me this is their first time attending. I’d say a full third of the people with whom I chatted told me that, making that the biggest success story of the event.

More to follow later.