Crisis in the Glass Industry? Shattering the Fears.
It seems like every material has its turn. Hurricanes cause spikes in wood prices, the Chinese boom caused a spike in steel prices; strikes caused spikes in cement prices. And well, now it appears to be glass’ turn.
Translucent materials such as glass and glazing have been used as an architectural building material since Roman times. Although these early windows had insignificant visual characteristics, the idea of allowing natural light into enclosed space while keeping a barrier from external elements was born.
Todays glazing systems not only allow light into spaces, but they can also serve as structural elements, ultra violet protection, and thermal barriers for a building envelope. The systems have become very environmentally friendly being manufactured from recycled goods. They also have the potential of increasing the employee’s experience and satisfaction in the workspace, which can add to greater productivity.
With these added benefits, it is no wonder why more and more buildings are being constructed with increased glass and glazing systems. On September 8, 2015, the Wall Street Journal issued an article raising a red flag on the supply of glass in the United States. The primary glazing system that was specified was curtain wall, which is typically used for multi-story facades. According to the article “manufacturing plants in North America between 2007 and 2014” (Whelan, 2015), were greatly affected by the economic downturn of the overall economy during the recession (Whelan, 2015). This downturn closed many plants, but with demand starting to rise in the last quarter of 2014, the question has been whether or not to reopen these plants. Many have stated the internal rate of return of building new is greater than reinvigorating old plants. All these factors have contributed to the recent increases in glazing pricing and lead times.
After that article was published a number of nationally recognized publishing groups including Glass Magazine came out with additional information on the topic. They have reported that there is not only a shortage of glass manufacturing, but also glazing installers (Perilstein, 2015). A project could be on time and budget, but without the qualified personnel, these glazing systems cannot be installed, effectively widening the already ailing project. Although not all glazing systems are complicated to work with, the specific system that is continuously stated in the articles is curtain wall, which is a complex system that takes experienced craftsman to install. Overall, with seeing an increased demand in architectural designs for large daylighting glazing systems, the need for qualified installers will only increase.
How will the construction industry deal with this double threat to the glazing industry? Obviously increased manufacturing is a quick and easy answer to that question but there are many factors that have to be accounted for when analyzing this potential. Is it more cost efficient to build new or renovate old? Regardless of which one you decided, which parts of the glazing industry will you get involved with? In addition to the supply issues, will there be enough qualified craftsmen to install these ever so complex glazing systems that engineers and architects are continuously designing? Should vocational schools start teaching specifically the usage and installation of glazing systems to better educate an aging workforce? These are all questions that will not be answered today or tomorrow, but are questions that need to be addressed before we are forced to neglect aesthetics due to shortfalls of the industry.