Fabricators Provide Regional Snapshots

What is the state of the North American glass fabrication market? Thanks to COVID-19, lengthy lead times and transportation troubles, the answer depends on when you ask the question. From an overhead view, the spectrum in the North, East, South and West constantly shifts shades. But a regional portrait demonstrates determination in the face of adversity.

Prices: 100%

According to new survey data from Key Media & Research (KMR), 100% of glass fabricators in the U.S. anticipate price increases from their main suppliers in 2022, and virtually all expect to raise their own prices as a result.

Purchases: 75%

Nearly three-quarters of fabricators plan to make significant machinery purchases in the year ahead. Lifting machinery and transportation are among the top categories they plan to invest in.

Northeast

The labor shortage is a pain for many companies, and Joseph Gudenburr says his region feels the pinch.

“I think the greatest challenge for our customers is their ability to get workers,” says Gudenburr, president and CEO of Syracuse Glass Company in Syracuse, N.Y. “There’s plenty of work out there. I know many of our customers are anxious to go out and pursue work. But they’re hesitant because of the instability and availability of labor.”

New Castle, Pa., is home to Consolidated Glass Corporation, which saw a 25% increase in its annual sales in 2021. Three of the company’s trucks head East and West two to three times a week. The company feels it has triumphed over recent transportation trials.

“There were times when we had trouble finding a truck if it wasn’t something we could deliver using our own fleet, but it has since lightened up,” says Howard Holesapple, vice president of sales. “Not only do we have our own fleet of trucks, but we can also ship all over the country directly to the jobsite or to the end user … We have been able to combat the recent trials.”

AGNORA of Collingwood, Ontario, does much of its work in the Northeastern U.S. The fabricator has dealt with a similar pain point. Gas and insurance prices have risen and COVID protocols remain, contributing to a scarcity of available drivers. “The feedback we’re getting from our trucking partners is that it’s tough right now,” says Brad Miller, chief financial officer at the company. “[We’re hearing it] from our customers, too—trying to arrange their own trucking. Costs have gone up across the board, and specifically because there’s not enough truck drivers to fulfill those loads.”

Trucking troubles, supply chain challenges and COVID-19 protocols have made transporting goods across the U.S.-Canada border difficult. “We are lucky to have strong relationships with our trucking partners, so [we] have managed to get through the last two years with minimal impact to our supply chain,” Miller says.

Machinery purchases allow companies to combat the labor crisis with automation, but Gudenburr says it’s not about replacement. “We’re in the middle of expanding one of our tempering ovens,” he says. “We’ve recently installed an additional water-jet/machining center and other processing equipment in our facility to not only enhance capacity but also enhance productivity. In our case, we’re not looking at how we can eliminate positions. We’re looking at how we can better use our workforce to take on growth.”

Holesapple, a former glazier by trade, used to work in the fabrication department. He started by cutting everything by hand, but times have changed with the implementation of new automatic fabrication lines.

“In 2016, [former president] Louis Merryman had a dream to implement a robotic line for polishing glass,” Holesapple adds. “It took a while for me to get on board. Automation is great, but it can’t replace an actual human. When we first put this equipment in, there was some pushback. Some of our employees said it felt like, ‘They’re putting this robotic line in to replace us.’ When in fact, because we’ve put this new equipment in, it has increased our capacity to the point where we are constantly looking to hire new employees in the plant.”

Holesapple says the company has found balance. “Now, with our automated robotics polishing line and our automated cutting line, we have found the perfect balance of investing in our employees and investing in the business, all while increasing our production and quality,” he says.

Midwest

Midwest Glass Fabricators Inc. of Highland, Mich., services Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Paul Mouton handles public relations for the company and notes an increase in projects facilitated by today’s global landscape.

“We’re getting a lot of work calling for more security-type glazing,” Mouton says. “We’re getting calls for insulating units that have defensive properties. I think architects are adapting to this new world, where glass as a divider is becoming more expected because of social distancing and things that will be in our psyche for years to come.”

Wolverine Glass Products in Wyoming, Mich., has combatted the labor shortage with machinery purchases, including lift assists that allow its employees to work in new ways. “You may have a job that requires a 6 foot, 200-pound guy,” says vice president Rodger Ruff. “Now, we can put a 5 foot 5 inch, 120-pound woman in there using the same equipment to handle the same glass.”

West/Pacific Northwest

GlasPro Inc. is located in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and has added an additional tempering furnace, laminated line and autoclave. The company has also added three to four trucks, expanding where they deliver to keep freight costs down. President Joe Green dubs the current market “spotty” but is hopeful for the future.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure projects going on in Los Angeles and Northern California as well,” Green says. “The public works market seems to be quite strong, with train stations and other metro-type projects.”

Green says the market for pricier systems is healthy, however. “The lower-profile sliding systems seem to be gaining momentum,” he says. “The more affluent customers tend to like those systems a lot; more glass in more expensive systems.”

Southeast

John Korff, president and CEO of Virginia Mirror Company in Martinsville, Va., and Virginia Glass Products in Ridgeway, Va., says there are new trends on the interior glass front. “Everybody wants to go big with the glass,” Korff says. “That trend has been here a while, and it seems like it’s continued. And we’re seeing increased demand for laminated glass.”

Press Glass Inc. in Stoneville, N.C., and Ridgeway, Va., recently installed a new tempering furnace and has another automated IG line scheduled for installation later this year. The company has also seen the demand for laminated glass products increase.

“We continue to see architects pushing size limitations to help provide unobstructed views through openings,” says Matt Sampsel, director of sales at Press Glass Inc. “They also want to use glass that has lower solar heat gain coefficients to help reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.”

Korff says his company is uncertain about rising fixed-rate mortgage rates potentially slowing single-family construction. Overall, though, he’s entering the first half of the year with hope.

“We feel [optimistic] getting COVID under control, the slowing of the spread and the increase of the vaccination rate,” Korff explains. “People and architects are going back to the office. We see more opportunities for new construction on the commercial side. Virginia Glass Products’ business, primarily, is commercial construction. When they start
building offices and remodeling, that benefits us.”

Trulite is headquartered in Atlanta, and has 33 glass and aluminum production/distribution facilities across the U.S. and Canada. CEO Kevin Yates says labor was the most significant challenge facing the business in the second half of 2020 through the third quarter of 2021. Over the last three to four months, access to labor seems to be improving for the company, albeit not back to pre-pandemic levels.

“We continue to see most specs for the balance of light transmission and thermal insulation,” Yates says. “However, there is growing interest in various products. In some cases those products are geographically-focused, like bird-friendly glass in Canada and the upper Midwest of the U.S. … We also see expanding requirements for laminated glass applications in coastal regions of the Southeast.”

Southwest

Tristar Glass has operations in Catoosa, Okla., Grand Prairie, Texas, and Houston. President Tim Kelley says neutral reflectives seem to be the hottest glass products currently. The company has also noticed a significant uptick in custom silkscreens and custom colors for spandrels.

“The commercial glass segment has been strong in some areas and spotty in others,” Kelley adds. “For example, Austin has remained strong and steady throughout the last couple of years, while Dallas had a very off year last year. A lot of this has to do with the larger work being delayed or gone. It seems that office buildings and other commercial towers haven’t been funded or built over the last couple of years, but the smaller commercial projects have remained pretty strong and steady.

Mexico

Escobedo Nuevo León in México is home to Grupo Vidrios El, which has 12 different retail centers in four different states in the country. Managing director Carlos Benet says the shortage of materials worldwide is the company’s greatest challenge. Laminated glass and IG units are trending upwards for the company right now.

“We just bought one CNC, a digital printing machine and a tempering oven (all of them jumbo),” Benet adds.

Cristacurva’s main facility is in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. The company also has another facility in San Juan del Rio, Queretaro, Mexico, located about 90 miles from Mexico City.

“We continue to see a lot of coatings,” says Javier Sanchez Gil, chief operating officer. “In Mexico, coatings are growing; in the U.S., it’s more of a stable market. They’ve been growing for the last eight to ten years. Laminated glass is also growing in Mexico—people are more concerned about safety.”

Canada

Prelco Inc. has three architectural glass manufacturing plants in Canada for a total plant capacity of 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The company’s industrial market sector is currently relatively flat and is projected to remain that way for the next 12-24 months. Global competition and supply-chain issues are keeping projects, namely transit and rail, sidelined, but Nathan Shannon, vice president of sales, says there are bright spots.

“New commercial construction is still strong and should remain that way for the foreseeable future,” Shannon says. “The biggest challenge will be the supply chain and stability in start/completion dates for many of the commercial projects we have and are bidding. Delays due to these two issues are frequent and go hand-in-hand. There are many new construction projects forecasted—especially public-funded projects—[that] are at the
architectural design and/or building stages.”

Prelco Inc. has observed an uptick in the laminated safety glass markets, with monolithic and laminated insulating glass units trending upwards. Shannon attributes the climb to environmental, public safety and crime issues.

“Larger glass sizes, as well as bird-friendly glass, are on the rise throughout the North American markets,” Shannon adds. “This has been slowly increasing each year for the last five to seven years. It’s picking up pace due to legislation being passed to reduce or eliminate the number of birds killed every year.”

Key Media & Research is the parent company of USGlass magazine. For more information on its research division, visit keymediaresearch.com/research or contact Nick St. Denis at nstdenis@glass.com

Chris Collier is a contributing editor for USGlass magazine and assistant editor at Key Media & Research’s Window Film magazine. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook.
ccollier@glass.com

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