Experts Predict Future Industry Trends

By Jordan Scott

From wider adoption of unitized curtainwall and building information modeling (BIM) to design-build project delivery, the past ten years brought great changes to the contract glazing industry and the way it operates (see related article on page 8). Looking ahead, experts in the field anticipate some existing trends will continue evolving while new trends could shake up how companies do business.

Glazing contractors aren’t the only ones who will have to adapt to new trends and technologies in the coming decade. The entire glass industry will face new challenges and advancements. Experts within the glass industry are predicting the biggest trends—and they include everything from performance to aesthetics and beyond.

Energy efficiency is a major topic of interest throughout the industry as architects and codes continue to favor sustainable and thermally efficient building design. Other important points include bird-friendly building codes, wellness in design, labor shortage challenges and evolving aesthetic demands.

It’s Technical

While many are looking ahead at technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), Jeff Haber, managing partner at W&W Glass in Nanuet, N.Y., says many contract glazing companies are still adapting to technology developed in the past ten years, such as 3D modeling and BIM.

“Most are struggling to catch up to technology and they are trying to bring in the right people, buy the right software and training to keep up with the advances of design teams. It’s a huge issue the industry is grappling with,” says Haber, adding that the technology used for modeling energy efficiency and thermal performance is moving in the right direction.

Mike Gilbert, president of Empirehouse Inc. in Mounds View, Minn., says he’s noticed a lag in technology adoption in the Midwest, though he believes it’s beginning to catch up. As the technologies advance, Gilbert expects internal manufacturing, scheduling and deliveries to all become further integrated in the next five years. One way integrated technology could be used is to show clients delivery methods and installation techniques. Another is to improve efficiencies.

“It’s important to have technology in place from a manufacturing and project managing end to fi nd ways to manage projects more efficiently,” he says.

Haber expects VR and augmented reality (AR) to be larger players in the architectural realm for advanced planning, but his company has used drones to help document jobsite situations.

At TSI Corp. in Upper Marlboro, Md., COO Thomas Cornellier says the company is seeing the potential for VR and AR in design and training, citing Schüco USA’s Virtual Construction Lab as an example. TSI engineering department manager Will Pounds adds that he expects wearables and field logistic programs to become integrated within the next five years.

However, as more and more work flow programs hit the market, Cornellier says it can be overwhelming.

“People want technology to be able to collect, file, manage and report accurately, but they don’t want to have to use seven or eight systems. People would pay for just one or two programs that encompass all of the needed functionality,” he says.

Further integration seems to be the key to technology and software advancements in the coming years, and the integration trend will likely have further reach into glazing contractors’ relationships with other project stakeholders.

Delivery Systems

Evolving project delivery methods such as design-build, design-assist and integrated project delivery are changing the ways glazing contractors interact with architects, owners and general contractors. Glazing contractors are being brought into projects earlier, during the design phase, to help with energy modeling and other design needs.

“This has put the burden on the glazing contractor to provide more information and services up front without being part of the job yet to make sure numbers work for everyone. It’s a Catch-22,” says Haber. “… Companies have to fi nd a balance between helping the client and helping their competitors.”

However, Haber says the benefit of what he calls “burden shifting” is that now glazing contractors are exposed to the upper end of the food chain earlier and more directly.

“Our message isn’t compromised and they hear it straight from the source,” he adds.

Cornellier says his company hasn’t competitively bid a project in a year or two due to the relationships it has with the players involved in design-build projects in its market.

“The team atmosphere and collaboration amongst the room changes and so does the risk discussion. We’re finding now that there’s balance on who’s assuming the risk,” he says. “In the past, everything was pushed to the subcontractor, especially coming out of the Great Recession. Companies would accept any terms they could get to get a project. Now there’s an earlier discussion on who is responsible for what that is rebalancing the risk level and creating accountability and collaboration amongst groups.”

Cornellier adds that in design-build projects, the value a subcontractor can bring is more important than the price.

“One of the hidden drivers of this is the ease of data collection. General contractors are coming into the process with much more data than they used to and they’re not blindsided by the big number,” explains Pounds. “… The numbers are tightening up year by year with the data we have today. Contractors are coming into the equation knowing what they’re going to spend which makes the discussion shorter. It becomes about the value they can get out of that.”

Gilbert adds that people involved with the building enclosure need to be involved from the beginning to keep a project within budget and on time.

“Systems are changing constantly; upgrades in glass are happening monthly. It’s important that we provide our expertise and give the owner a great project that’s not been value engineered out,” he says. “Projects often get the insulating glass and meet U-values but they could have had triple-pane glass for more savings.”

Gilbert expects integrated project delivery methods to become more prevalent in the Midwest in the coming years. However, he says partners in these project styles need to understand how risk is shared.

“The construction-manager-at-risk method needs to have parameters around it that bring more qualified partners onto the project to get [the job] done right with high safety and quality standards,” he explains, adding that the coordination of teams working on the façade needs to be strong and integrated early on for all aspects of the project.

The Near Future

Going forward, the industry will continue moving toward environmentally friendly and sustainable products, according to Haber.

“The world is pushing everyone to become cognizant of these issues and to look for better alternatives,” he says. “If a company can position itself to be a leader in those areas, instead of fighting it, they will be better for it in the long term.”

Another trend glazing contractors should look out for is increased modularization. Pounds says the industry was ahead of its time with unitized curtainwall, but questions where the industry will fit into large-scale modularization.

“We’ll be looking at hotels where every room is a container with windows, stacked ten stories, and everything comes pre-built,” he says. “What’s that going to do to window contractors? Will the installation move from the jobsite to a warehouse? And whose scope is it from that point?”

The upcoming decade will likely present several challenges for the glazing industry to rise up and meet. The industry may see many of them coming and prepare, while other trends might catch glazing contractors off guard. No matter how the construction landscape evolves, adaptability is key heading into the 2020s.

Safety Check

Drones, wearables and other technologies are being introduced onto the jobsite, in part, to improve the safety of those in the construction industry. While W&W Glass managing partner Jeff Haber says drones can be used for surveillance and to monitor jobsite situations, he believes interpersonal communication is the key to improving jobsite safety going forward.

“It’s incumbent on business owners to make sure people are trained and have access to technology and equipment. They also need to have regular communication about how to operate it in a safe way and in a safe environment,” he says, adding that having more interaction with workers is critical.

Empirehouse president Mike Gilbert believes that safety needs to be planned and thought out from a standpoint of risk mitigation. Culture plays a big part in safety, he says, adding that people need to be more comfortable so they can report issues when they see them.

“Transparency and a strong safety culture in an organization is important,”
says Gilbert.

However, Empirehouse does integrate technology with its safety program. The company uses Hilti’s ON!Track program to track its tools and to certify and inspect its equipment to make sure it’s being used properly and safely. He expects to see glazing contractors adopting technology that provides new ways of tracking people on the jobsite going forward.

Alliance Glazing Technology corporate safety manager Steven Evans thinks technology has a huge role to play when it comes to safety. He says drones can be used to bring things to people working at height or to monitor them to ensure they’re working safely. One benefit of a drone monitoring a jobsite is that it prevents an engineer from having to get into a harness and put themselves at risk. Other technology innovations are less flashy, such as
harnesses that fit the body better or mini cranes that prevent workers from hurting themselves.

“Technology is growing so fast and it’s so unique to the construction industry,” he says.

One concern Evans has is that as baby boomers continue to retire they will take their safe practices with them and be replaced by a younger generation that isn’t as focused on working safely.

“The only thing that could hurt safety going forward is that new people don’t care to learn. It’s scary,” he says. “… If people can’t accept what they need to do and stay focused it’s going to be hard for them to be safe in the future.”

Demand for Sustainability

Helen Sanders

The market environment in which the glass industry will do business will likely change significantly in 2020, according to Helen Sanders, strategic business development at Technoform North America. This, she says, will be in response to the need for more sustainable buildings and changing labor market needs.

“With the 2030 and 2050 climate action goals in place in cities and states around the U.S., there will be an increased drive toward yet more stringent energy codes, plus there will be more lifecycle thinking, with embodied carbon considerations coming to the forefront to counter-balance the current primary focus on in-use energy performance,” says Sanders. “Twenty years after the introduction of the LEED certification program, the conversation has moved beyond recycled content and above-average energy performance. In addition to addressing lifecycle impacts such as embodied carbon and end of life, the focus is on how the built environment affects people’s physiology and psychology. While the mantra of ‘first, do no harm’ is a good place to start, there’s so much more at stake when we
spend 90% of our time indoors. The focus on ‘building for people’ will continue especially with the U.S.’s continued reliance on the knowledge economy. Competition for knowledge workers, and the need to increase productivity and creativity, will increase and will drive comfortable and productive built environments.”

Sanders expects to see these trends culminate in an increased focus on how glass and aluminum products are manufactured (what energy source was used, energy intensity and sustainability of materials used) and where they are manufactured such as how renewable the electric grid is.

Code Drivers

Paul Bush

Paul Bush, vice president of quality and technical services at Vitro Architectural Glass, anticipates a major emphasis on how codes drive development in the glass industry over the next ten years.

“Without question, current code drivers, such as sustainability and the demand for energy-efficiency, will accelerate over the course of the next decade. Just as glass coatings and other technologies have advanced to bring us to where we are today, it is likely that we’ll see a continued evolution in products and processes that improve glazing performance, most notably U-values. While triple glazing, vacuum insulating units, dual facades and multiple coated surfaces are already in use, we can expect to see an increased market penetration of these technologies,” says Bush. “Now that the National Fenestration Rating Council has added energy to its mission, industry advocacy for the adoption of higher-performing glazings will result in more and better energy codes across the country. The drive to net-zero buildings has only begun. In addition, as newer building codes emerge, states and large cities begin to address other environmental factors, such as bird-safe glass, acoustical performance, global warming potential and security, opening up niche opportunities for glass fabricators.”

The Workforce of Tomorrow

It’s unclear how long the labor shortage will last into the next decade but as it persists in 2020 glazing contractors are looking for new pools of qualified candidates. For many this means trying to recruit high school students uninterested in a four-year degree. For others this involves finding ways to recruit women into an industry dominated by men, especially since technological advancements in recent years make lifting heavy glass possible
for most people.

Empirehouse is known for being a Minnesota State Certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise and president Mike Gilbert says women have a large part to play in the glazing industry.

“The industry needs women,” he says. “We’re very fortunate here because we have women in management, executive seats, fabrication and installation. They’re huge drivers and love their jobs. We need to hire women and prove that women can be successful in the industry. We have a lot of successful women here to prove that.”

One of those women is Empirehouse project manager Kim Deibel. She says that it’s time to change the assumption that construction is a man’s job.

“I might not be able to lift 75 pounds, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand how the building is put together,” she says.

Companies that would like to encourage women to join the industry should get their current female employees in front of young girls and describe what the industry is all about, says Deibel.

Another group working to retain and recruit women are the Iron Workers and the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust. The organizations implemented a paid maternity leave benefit program in order to boost the retention and recruitment of women in the union.

However, on whom the responsibility for recruitment falls, no matter who is being hired, is a matter of opinion. Jeff Haber, managing partner at W&W Glass, says it should fall on the industry.

“It’s unrealistic that individual companies have the time, energy and wherewithal to present at school career fairs or offer internships,” he says.

Taking an opposite standpoint, TSI Corp. COO Thomas Cornellier believes it’s up to individual companies to recruit upcoming generations.

“General contractors do a good job but when it gets to the subcontractors, recruitment falls off,” he explains.

Gilbert says there needs to be a unified front by individual companies, the glazing industry and the government to educate students about opportunities in construction.

“There’s this thought process that construction is dirty, but it’s amazing to see the beauty of the projects we’ve built. Now there’s technology used to lift heavy pieces of glass or curtainwall. Anyone and everyone should be able to do it,” he says.

Material and Market Changes

Attila Arian

Energy efficiency and acoustical performance of the building envelope will drive the development of new products such as interlayers, spacers and framing systems, according to Schüco USA president Attila Arian.

“The use of composite materials in facades such as glass reinforced polyester and glass reinforced concrete will also increase,” he says.

Arian anticipates that the interest in oversized glass will continue to advance in the industry.

“The architectural demand for big glass and maximum transparency will drive the development of new operable systems including windows and sliding door systems to go in tandem with custom curtainwalls,” he says.

When it comes to the ways the industry does business, Arian expects that developers will engage more directly with glazing contractors in the next decade and demand for them to not only cover the initial installation, but the maintenance of the building envelope. He also predicts that the development of installation robots will impact pricing and scheduling of glazing installations.

Arian also says digital fabrication methods will enable fabricators to build complex facades at competitive pricing over the next ten years.

“This will, however, lead to a larger concentration of fabrication capacity in the hands of fewer companies,” he says.


Brent Boyce

Brent Boyce, building envelope director at Guardian Glass Science and Technology, says the line between workspace and living space is blurring, forcing building owners to offer spaces that are comfortable and enticing. This is leading to a greater focus on wellness in design, which he expects to continue.

“Biophilia is becoming an integral part of the design planning process. The biophilia hypothesis indicates that human beings have an intrinsic need for interaction with nature. Research indicates that looking at or immersing ourselves in nature can change the attention restoration mode in our brains, which can promote creative thinking and concentration,” he says, adding that occupants name access to daylight as the most important workplace amenity. Boyce says manufacturers in the industry have made many positive advances in glass science and technology and will gain a boost in the next decade through the third-party expertise of education partners.

“Collaboration—for example, the Guardian-Taubman Research Alliance, which connects our internal research and development with the University of Michigan—is allowing us to delve deeply into how the visual, biometric and environmental properties of glass applications can promote healthy and productive work environments,” he says. “Guardian Glass is also examining how glass health and wellness solutions are impacted by standards bodies (like LEED or WELL), value engineering and other influences throughout the design and construction process.”

Unitized United

Chuck Knickerbocker

While Chuck Knickerbocker, curtainwall manager at Technical Glass Products, sees code changes affecting the glass industry this decade, he also foresees having to fight for its place on the façade. He expects bird-friendly glass to make it into the International Building Codes after inclusion into some city’s codes, and also anticipates more retrofitting of existing walls built prior to the 2000s.

“Somehow, we have to upgrade the existing stock, built when energy was cheap and abundant, as well as catching the existing walls up to the bird-friendly standards. Efforts such as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ‘lay down the law’ efforts have to be tempered with reasonable, but necessary, approaches on how we fix the ‘way things used to be done’ or mistakes of the past. Were they mistakes if we didn’t know any better when we did them?” asks Knickerbocker.

“The battle for the wall will turn into a war,” he adds. “We have to get a handle on cleaning up the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) approach (or better yet exceeds NFRC) that realistically models and accurately predicts wall performance, including spandrel areas, insulation and materials used in windows/curtainwalls other than glass (metal panels, stone, etc.).”

Knickerbocker says he also expects unitized walls to be taken one step further by enlarging the section that is installed on a project from a one-module wide by one-story tall (say 5 feet by 13 feet and 6 inches) to a one-bay wide by one-story wall panel (say 30 feet wide by 13 feet and 6 inches tall).

Knickerbocker hopes fabricators will see more parametric generation of parts drawings directly from the architect’s 3D models of the project.

Lack of Labor

Steve Schohan

Steve Schohan, marketing and communications manager for YKK AP America Inc., foresees the labor shortage continuing to impact manufacturers and contract glaziers into the new decade.

“Shop fabrication, unitization and ultimately on-site fabrication are trends that we are likely to see given today’s budget constraints, increasingly tight schedules, the need for rapid building close-ins and the shortage of skilled labor,” he says. “Labor shortages in the U.S. and across the globe will continue to challenge glaziers as well as manufacturers. This will drive research and development efforts into innovative construction technology like robotics that will address these challenges and enable more rapid building close-ins.”

Several aesthetic trends have cropped up in the architectural community in recent years, but Schohan expects a shift from minimalism to maximalism over the next decade.

“Maximalism is a newer trend that is gaining traction after many years of minimalist design,” explains Schohan. “These more intricate designs are likely to replace boxier designs that have been the standard for several years. Manufacturers will continue to focus on innovative product development to enable these intricate designs to work in lower-cost buildings.”

Jordan Scott is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. She can be reached at

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.