At the 25th anniversary of the BEC Conference in Las Vegas this month, we celebrate the remarkable advancements in glass during the previous 25 years, and we look ahead at what the next 25 might hold. In anticipation of the industry’s leading gathering of glazing contractors, I issued a call to industry leaders to get their take on where we’ve been as an industry and where we’re headed. From those conversations, I present a few of the most impactful changes in the industry.
The previous 25 years saw insulating glass and low-emissivity coatings become standard, all while the industry developed higher-performing glazing systems with thermal breaks and emerging technologies such as dynamic glass.
“The biggest change in the glass industry since 1998 is the opportunity to use technology to improve fenestration performance with cost-effective low-emissivity glass,” says Nicholas Bagatelos, head of Net Zero Envelope. “The next 25 years will see cost-effective R-20 walls using vacuum insulating glass, warm-edge electrochromic solutions, aerogel coatings and transparent photovoltaics for fenestration component battery charging. Buildings are going to get a lot smarter, better, more comfortable and less expensive. The glass envelope will lead the way.”
The industry made the transition from analog to digital as glass companies “got rid of the old scale ruler and huge blueprints,” explains Melanie Dettmer, business development, NGA. In its place came “the use of 3D software to automate manufacturing and project coordination,” says Bagatelos.
Looking ahead, Bagatelos anticipates an emergence of artificial intelligence in glass “to connect our industry more directly with the owner, contractor and building designer. This will allow for streamlined envelope orders that will load directly from owners’ 3D models into fenestration manufacturers' robotic equipment,” he says.
The digitalization in glass changed the factory as well, with a move toward automation, says Syndi Sim, vice president of marketing and business development for DFI Solutions. “Whether you are exploring options for new product lines, facing labor shortages or production capacity, automation is at the heart of all these situations. I have also seen the Internet of Things as a significant catalyst for automation, and the importance of complete automation to ensure all systems are integrated, optimized and run efficiently,” she says.
Advanced manufacturing has become the norm for factories of all sizes. “The use of advanced fabricating equipment (tempering furnaces, laminated lines, automated IG lines, digital printing and coating equipment) is no longer isolated to the ‘big’ fabricators,” says Bill Sullivan, president and CEO at Brin Glass Co.
The face of the industry has been transformed through mergers and acquisitions. “[Private Equity] has changed the landscape of the industry on many levels, as has consolidation. Both will continue to transform the business over the next 25 years,” says Rich Porayko, head of Construction Creative Marketing & Communications.
Many of today’s glass and glazing assemblies would have seemed impossible 25 years ago. “How we define the terms ‘big’ glass and ‘thin’ glass has changed dramatically and will continue [to change]. The normalization of the use of unitized wall systems has advanced into storefront systems,” says Sullivan.
Such advancement will continue going forward, he says. “The use of thin glass in IGs will be the norm with the advancement in equipment to produce VIGs and thin triples; smart glass will look different than it does today. This will happen because our industry continues to attract some of the brightest talent available,” Sullivan explains.
For more, look to our coverage of the BEC Conference on GlassMagazine.com and @GlassMag on Twitter. The conference runs March 5–7 at Caesars Palace Las Vegas and is hosted by the National Glass Association.