• Field Notes 03.04.2013 2 Comments

    The Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference has come and gone, with some good ground covered. A high point was when Guardian’s Scott Thomsen gave a strong call to action for our industry in his presentation the “Battle for the Wall.”  The key takeaway was if we don’t fight for the role of glass in energy-efficient construction (thermal performance and daylighting), then ASHRAE will force us to the sidelines. Do you want to go to work for the stud wall, stucco and masonry contractors, because ASHRAE’s current emphasis is to greatly downsize the percentage of glass in exterior walls?

    We as a glazing industry should be showing architects  there are many glazing products that WILL increase thermal performance.  Architects will help us win this war, but only if we get smarter about educating them on the newest, most innovative glass and framing products now available.

    We should also be assertive with noting the other construction types have as many problems, as well, that are now coming to light in this energy-conscious age.  As ATI’s John Runkle noted in his presentation on building commissioning, these are things the glazing industry has dealt with for years.

    Notably, when the surrounding wall systems – cavity walls behind masonry or panels, precast panels, or whatever construction –  have to start meeting the same water and air penetration requirements as windows and curtainwall presently do on a regular basis, then that bodes well for the exterior skin, as a whole.

    But there are some down-sides, too.  For example, testing the weatherproofing/air barrier to the AAMA and ASTM standards for water penetration  aren’t  realistic since it never sees that amount of rain in the finished condition if a brick or panel wall is placed over it.  Air test it, yes. But a full-blown, 5-gallon/hour/square-foot water test ON THAT SURFACE isn’t real-world.  Some of this is still in the developmental stage, but I expect it will catch on in one form or another.

    Does commissioning make sense for a total glass curtainwall? Probably not with the current regimen of pre-construction and in-field testing required in curtainwall and window specifications.  There are some that would argue the call for increased testing is an effort by the labs to create more work for themselves.  Yes, I can see that, but what good is it having an air- and water-tight window or curtainwall if the wall around it doesn’t perform equally as well?

    Another high point at BEC was the presentation on Chinese tariffs. Some of the USGNN.com newsfeed had comments from the Chinese manufacturers’ side of the fence that felt the presentation didn’t accurately present both sides of the argument.  That wasn’t likely to occur given the fact the person making the presentation was the plaintiff’s attorney.  When’s the last time a lawyer led a fair, objective and balanced viewpoint on something his clients were paying him to have just the opposite opinion on in order to properly argue their case?  But, the tariff issue is going to be in the news quite a bit going forward.

    One last note:  Having turned the odometer over on my age this year, my brother bought me opening day tickets in Philly next Friday.  And, my no. 1 son bought us Final Four tickets.  Only one drawback to the venue:  basketball was not meant to be played in a football arena, unless they put the court in the end zone.  When watching the game, the Philly Phanatic sitting down the right field line in the KU garb, or in the corner of the end zone in Atlanta with the biggest pair of binoculars known to man will be yours truly.  This is one thing I’ll be able to cross off the ol’ bucket list.  As I review this blog post one last time Monday morning, I hope Wichita can shock the world.

    Here’s hoping the Easter season, with the accompanying onset of spring weather, brings renewal of faith, hope and charity to you and yours.

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  • The Glass Association of North America’s Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) division wwill meet March 17-19 in Las Vegas. There’s a lot more that will come out of this event than just the annual meet and greet. For one, the Technical Committee is writing a “Curtainwall Fenestration Systems Manual” that’s meant to be a primer for new architects and industry newcomers on exterior glazing. We hope to have the first three sections published later this year. If you’ve been looking for a way to contribute to the industry, this is only one of many opportunities. Please contact Urmilla Sowell (usowell@glasswebsite.com) or Sara Neiswanger (sara@glasswebsite.com) if you’d like to contribute — even if you’re not going to Vegas.

    And, now for some random thoughts …

    BIM and Communication 

    According to one blog, BIM usage today is three times greater than what it was in 2010 – that’s a big change in only three years.

    And, the lawsuits are already starting to hit the courthouses. Check out this interesting post about a suit involving BIM and communication.  As good as BIM can be, the architect in this instance allegedly made an assumption about the construction sequencing and didn’t pass that on to the general contractor (GC). The GC sequenced the HVAC work differently than the architect envisioned, and the HVAC contractor couldn’t complete his work. Now, I don’t begin to understand how that scenario is possible, but it must have been pretty serious if it ended up at the courthouse. You can have the latest gizmos, whiz-bangers and ultimate software, but if communication doesn’t occur, it’s all a waste.

    As my boss frequently points out, “it’s like talking to your wife: nothing’s ever communicated by osmosis.” Give it another couple of millennia, and maybe our species will evolve to a higher level of communication where, “Forget what I did or didn’t say, you know what I was thinking” will work. For now, that response doesn’t cut it with spouses or the architecture industry.

    A similar point comes to mind when wrestling with the Third Rule of Customer Relationships:

    First Law:  The customer is always right.

    Second Law:  When the customer is wrong, see Rule 1.

    Third Law:  What do you do when the customer is wrong, punt?  Lord knows, telling them they’re wrong isn’t the easiest thing to do. What if they ask for something that really is not in your company’s best interest?

    My bet is most of us would try, to the best of our ability, to give the customer what they are asking for, within reason. But on occasion, a line is drawn that cannot be crossed when it goes against company standard operating procedure. In a case related to me by another project manager, the customer thought they knew the cause of a glass stain, but had made incorrect assumptions. Their claim was not even remotely possible.

    Again, the key here is communicating the situation to the customer in what I can only describe as “the most polite manner possible.”  Not that I’m the one to give lessons on this, but I’ve been fortunate to have worked for project managers or sales guys who are really good at doing this, and they’ve helped smooth the way through difficult situations.  Take advantage of those resources; they are priceless.

    So, too, are your suppliers, if they can lend credibility to the discussion regarding the matter in question.  Don’t squander their technical expertise; they are most willing to help.

    One past employer had the quintessential in-house communication form; they called it an “AVO” for Avoid Verbal Orders. You may have talked to everyone about a problem and the resolution, or given clear and concise verbal direction, BUT if it wasn’t put in writing, it never happened. Copies of the AVO went to all concerned/involved in the matter. It was great documentation; it never resulted in one of those, “he said/she said” conflicts.

    Quoted in a previous blog is the classic line said by the warden in Paul Newman’s movie, Cool Hand Luke: “What we have here …” Our spouses will hopefully forgive an occasional “failure to communicate,” but it is an essential problem to avoid in the glazing/construction industry.  Don’t let a lack of communication lead to disaster.

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  • I attended the Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference in Las Vegas this week. One thing I picked up was about the new turtle codes for glass. I’m told this has been all over the industry publications, but I’m having a hard time believing we have to now design glass for turtle safety. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We’re using glass to create electricity, protect occupants during storms and bomb blasts, etc. But I think I have now heard it all. It’s true that learning is a lifelong process.

    This got to me to thinking about all I have learned over the years. Bill Swango hired me straight out of college and told me it would take five years to teach me everything I needed to learn about this business—to know what glass strength is; how annealed, heat-strengthened, and tempered glass respond in loads; and their relative strengths, along with all the thousands of things about aluminum, gaskets, sealants, fasteners, and other components that go into curtainwall. I had to learn about finishes, coatings on glass, compatibility and adhesion, building movements—all of it in those first formative years.

    And then came the other side of the coin: it would take another five years to see if I could properly apply what I had learned the first five years before it could be determined if I was going to be a “keeper.” The “apprenticeship” was going to last ten years. And that’s why, in hindsight, I wasn’t going to be getting paid the same as the guys who had done their time. As young as I was, I thought I could do anything they could, and should be paid the same. Ah, the folly of youth. I was wrong, but I had to get older (which, by the way, also takes time) before I learned how wrong I was.

    It has also occurred to me that the “apprenticeship” program is probably true of any profession. College can teach you how to think like a (fill your major in here), or you can learn it by jumping right into it as a glazier or ironworker. But the time has to be spent. There’s no way to go from kindergarten to graduation immediately, the time has to be put in. Some may be better/faster learners, but time must pass in some quantity before you can learn a subject in depth.

    How do we pass this information on? If you’ve got a keeper in your organization, send them to BEC to interact with others in the profession and see how much knowledge and expertise is out there. Mentor someone in your organization.

    Where do you draw your talent from? Here are a couple of ideas:

    There are a lot of good college programs teaching project management and/or construction. Seek recruits from their ranks of graduates. Bringing them in after graduation, they can learn it without the “habits” of having already worked in the industry.

    Speaking from personal experience, I learned in school I wasn’t going to be an architect, but completed my degree and sort of fell into something related. Fortunately, I’ve never regretted working in the glazing profession, and have not looked back once.

    There have got to be people with that same background in the architectural schools who could be involved in the one construction trade that deals everyday with what they learned in school. Plus, the draw that the glazing biz pays better than architecture has to have at least some attraction, right?

    And get involved in the trade. One of the technical issues we dealt with at BEC this week was to try to determine how clearance distances between glass and metal came about as listed in an industry standard. Some of this has been around longer than the “long-in-the-tooth” guys can remember. And there doesn’t appear to be anyone who sat down and put all their notes in a form that someone can use all these years later.

    Because of the time taken to teach me the business, and for the joy and happiness being involved in it has brought me, I’m going to take this on as a passion, to take what I know and pass it on, somehow. I know I can do that participating in the technical committees, but there are probably other ways, too.

    I learned about having passion for our work this week, too, at BEC. It hasn’t all been turtle codes and Vegas stucco. Plus, there was golf yesterday afternoon, and that doesn’t happen very often in Seattle this time of year …

    In your own career, what actions do you take to keep learning, and to share your expertise with others?

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