The “I” in the Sky: BEC Sessions Hone in On Industry Knowledge

by Ellen Rogers

They say in Vegas the eye in the sky is watching us all, but it’s a different “eye” that takes the stage once a year when the contract glaziers head into town. I-words, instead, were the name of the game during the 2014 Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference, organized by the Glass Association of North America, which took place March 16-18 at the Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino. Here’s a look back at five key themes that resonated throughout this year’s event.

Insightful
Richard Beuke, PPG’s vice president of flat glass, provided the opening keynote address, with a look at anticipating and managing change in the glass industry. One unique acronym carried his entire presentation: VUCA. This, he explained, is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, which was first used by the military in planning for unpredictable enemy invasions.

“Business leaders have started to adopt the same terminology,” he said, explaining it provides a means for trying to understand what happens in the future. “The business of change is constant,” he said.

He provided a word-by-word breakdown of VUCA.

Volatility: Meaning sudden, unpredictable change. Major events can cause volatility and have an impact on our lives, he said. Beuke described the commercial construction market as a poster child of volatility, having experienced extreme shifts in demand. Even overbuilding, he said, can cause fluctuations and volatility. Looking at the glass industry specifically, he said a number of companies are no longer supplying coated glass, etc.

Uncertainty: meaning the possibility of multiple outcomes. This is happening even in terms of traditional building assembly. Beuke said we are starting to see early stages of modular building in the construction industry, and a number of projects are in the works with modular pieces.

“We don’t know where this trend will go, but it might impact the traditional contract glaziers,” he said. Another example is in new building envelope designs, such as dynamic glazing. As this trend evolves will the glazing contract of the future also need to be an electrical contractor?

Complexity: Signifying what’s intricate or difficult. This type of change requires high levels of capabilities and competencies, he said, adding that we are seeing increasing complexity in the construction industry. Even selecting glass can be a complex process for architects he said, as there are an estimated 2000+ low-E products in the LBNL windows library.

“Designs are more complex today than they were 10 to 20 years ago,” he said, comparing the stick and unitized systems to the new “origami,” non-linear designs. “We’re adding tremendous complexity to the envelope,” he said.

Ambiguity: Such as interpreting a situation more than one way. Beuke cited the advent of LEED and green building as examples. “Did you ever foresee/imagine we’d talk about environmental product declarations, cradle-to-cradle, etc.?” He also offered questions to consider: what will the consumer of the future want? What impact will it have on construction? What will modern society do now and in the future?

“What will be your approach to change? VUCA helps us understand and anticipate change and prepare for the change we know will come,” he added.

And speaking of glass specifically, he said, “Complexity is what keeps us up at night … [there are] a lot of challenges on the float glass side.”

Interactive
When Jon Kimberlain of Dow Corning Corp., welcomed attendees during the opening address, the chair of the BEC Conference told the crowd that this year’s event was designed to be interactive. And several panel discussions took place, covering a range of topics, beginning with a look at different types of glazing systems. The program also included discussions with groups of both consultants and fabricators.

While microphones were set up throughout the room where attendees could stand and ask questions, that was not the direction they took. Instead they opted to text in their queries. In the first session someone, for example, asked about the expected life cycle of different types of glazing systems. Larry Carbary with Dow Corning said the honest answer is “I don’t know.” He said in June there will be an ASTM symposium on the durability of adhesives and sealants, and noted that the first silicone job was in 1958 and is now being restored. He said it’s (the silicone) still rubbery and flexible like it’s new.

A question about increasingly larger lites of glass was asked during the fabricator panel. Panelists agreed this is a trend they are seeing. Rick Wright with Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope® added it seems to be a very niche market, pointing out that most of these large units are coming in from Europe. “The reality is at some point there will be a need for replacement,” he said, stressing that’s a consideration that will need to be taken into account as these projects are designed.

Innovative
Building facades are changing. That was a message Mic Patterson of Enclos Corp. brought to the conference, as he looked at innovation and rapid evolution in building skin technology.

“The thing about innovation is it’s not magic,” he said. “It involves research and development and investment of resources.” He said in North America the glazing industry has not invested enough in research and development and as a result technology here is behind that of Europe.

He asked the question, “What are the drivers of change going on right now?”

“I’m an advocate for more stringent building codes,” he said. “I saw what happened in the 1970s and 1980s in Europe where energy efficiency was mandated by law,” he said. “And that drove developments in an amazing fashion that put Europe probably 20 years ahead of the U.S. We [in the U.S.] spend time arguing about whether double-skin facades really have merit … and they just build them over there. More stringent codes will benefit the industry.”

Patterson also said to expect a lot of change in terms of analysis and evaluation.

Informative
GANA energy codes consultant Tom Culp provided an update on some changes and developments in the codes arena, taking a looking at the continuing “battle for the wall.” In January, he explained, the glass industry was successful in defeating the ASHRAE 189.1 addendum that would have reduced window-to-wall ratio by 30 percent.

“We won, but we can’t rest on our laurels,” said Culp. “There is huge pressure at [ASHRAE] 90.1 for the next step in window performance requirement in the 2016 edition, and window-to-wall area will come up again as part of it.”

Speaking of ASHRAE 90.1, Culp said the trend is toward increased stringency, particularly in terms of window requirements, pointing out they are seeing a decrease in U-factor, while solar heat gain is pretty much stable.

He said the 2013 edition of 90.1 is overall good for the industry: there is no reduction in glazing; no new minimum visible transmittance requirements; there are expanded daylighting/orientation requirements; the envelope trade-off method includes credit for daylight and shading but not reducing window area; and there was no relaxation in air leakage requirements.

Investigative
Courtney Little, owner and general counsel of Ace Glass delved into a topic about which many contract glaziers were unaware: OSHA’s proposed crystalline silica rule. OSHA is proposing a reduction in the permissible exposure limit of crystalline silica for the construction industry.

“Silica is the most common construction and manufacturing material in the world,” said Little, adding that it’s nearly impossible to control on a jobsite.

“You will have to use HEPA vacuums, wet methods and no dry sweeping—I can’t imagine a jobsite without  a broom; I can’t imagine how you will be able to enforce or do this on a jobsite,” he said.

Little said the rule change could be extremely costly. He noted that OSHA estimates the cost to be $658 million annually for compliance, averaging $1,242 per year in real business. According to Little, OSHA concludes that for construction, most or all costs arising from this proposed rule would be passed on in higher processes then absorbed in lost profits, about a 5- to 7-percent increase.

He said the rule will also require increased training, initial training, ongoing training and updates. He explained employees will have to demonstrate their knowledge of the training subjects in written tests, etc.  It will mean slower production (putting on protective gear and taking it off every day) and establishing/policing avid restrictive areas.

There will also be the cost of employee health monitoring, including an initial health exam for employees who may be exposed to silica as well as follow up exams every six months. Other costs may include retaining an industrial hygienist to test each job site, which costs $200 to $400 per test; purchasing/maintaining personal protective equipment; and higher costs of materials from suppliers who are subjected to the same costs.

For more on the BEC Conference look to www.usglassmag.com for our daily video coverage from the event.

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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