Hitting the Spot

By Debra A. Levy

Trade shows, and the industries they encompass, have a cyclic rhythm. Companies engage in a fair amount of research and development, then cycle over to applying new technology to products that they then introduce at trade shows. This, in turn, starts a whole new round of R&D and well, here we go again.

The 2019 GlassBuild America, held in Atlanta in September, hit the industry’s sweet spot as we cycled from the heavy R&D of the last few years to the introduction of game-changing new products and processes. Here’s my take on the top trends this year:

1. Automation Innovation: If you can move glass a certain way, then you can automate that movement. This year’s exhibitors showed great advances in moving, lifting, storing, transporting, advancing and disposing of glass. Whether large or small, straight or curved, new automatic methods of movement were on display.

2. Hitting a Triple: Three was the number of choice in Atlanta, both in glass and coatings. Triple glazed units, and the efficiency they offer, were on display and becoming more common. And just as coatings pulled from the periodic table changed the face of the industry years ago, multiple layers of coatings with different materials are beginning to do the same now.

3. Large Lites Old School? Well, not really, but large lites are no longer the scary curiosity they were when introduced a few years ago. Instead larger lites are now beginning to attract value-adds like curves, coatings and more. And the technology to move said lites is available as well (see numbers 1 and 8).

4. A Sino-the-Times: Though still there, the presence of Chinese and other Asian exhibitors was far less than in years past, no doubt a result of the trade and tariff issues at hand.

5. Software Comes of Age: Fabrication software that is. The need for and use of software in the fabrication process has gone mainstream. Such providers had a strong presence on the show floor and singled a move from software proprietary to certain machinery to software that can be used on multiple types of machinery by multiple manufacturers.

6. Keep It Private: A number of stands featured glass that either kept information in—or out. This new field of cyber-security glazing is just beginning to develop but it includes glass that can block (or allow) all types of technology from Wi-Fi to television and beyond. It also allows glass to be transparent or opaque depending on the viewing angle. Way, way back in the early 1980s I saw a then-secret demonstration of glass that could block television and radio waves at the then-Pilkington headquarters in St. Helens. It looked like magic to this very young reporter. I was told it was a great technology, but there was some debate over whether or not there would be any demand for the product. No debate anymore.

7. Scariest Moment, for Me Anyway: Came when I stopped by one of the companies that was working to provide solutions to the labor shortage. The enthusiastic booth personnel explained how they were helping to fill the need for glaziers. Great idea. “So how do you know,” I asked, “the guys you are sending are glaziers—that they can do the job?” “Simple,” was the reply. “They all have to go to our school for three days before we send them out.”

8. Very Important Glazing (VIG): Well, VIG actually stands for Vacuum Insulating Glazing. The technology continues to gain acceptance and advance in greater numbers with higher levels of sophistication that was well in evidence at the show.

9. For the Birds: Amid the study released the week of the show that there are 29 percent fewer birds in the United States and Canada today than in 1970, it was heartening to see at least four different companies display bird-friendly glazing products.

10. Required Robotics: The show has included some robotic displays for the past few years. Though not on the scale of what we see at glasstec, the number of robots engaged in some part of the fabrication process on the show floor had increased significantly. And something else had changed as well. In the past fabricators would look at the technology with envy in their eyes, but no real thought of purchase. Not now. As one fabricator said to me, “For years, I would think to myself ‘I’d love to have that in the plant.’ With today’s lack of available labor, it’s not a question of want, I gotta have that in the plant.”

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