Transporting Glass: Equipment Shortages Hamper the Glass Industry

The trucking industry is vital to the glass industry. However, this important profession has failed to attract workers. The American Trucking Associations states the industry was short a record 80,000 drivers in 2021. The U.S. Transportation Department reports that more than 250,000 truck drivers leave the profession each year, often for a career change or to retire.

Pat Iaquinto is the owner, chief financial and chief operating officer of Michigan-based Midwest Glass, a commercial glass fabricator. Iaquinto says his company has experienced the shortage firsthand, especially on long-haul routes. His company needs at least “four more full-time drivers to fulfill its last bit of struggling routes.”

The shortage has forced Midwest Glass to adjust schedules, add stops and routes. “Our schedules have had to be altered to fill the trucks with double the stops to ensure all deliveries are made,” says Iaquinto. “Some drivers have new routes to take on to help in cities with higher demand.”

The schedules are further scrambled when a driver takes the day off. Iaquinto says it’s tough to find a replacement when a driver calls out. Midwest Glass used to have enough drivers on call to fill in before the pandemic. That’s not the case anymore, says Iaquinto.

Brian Savage, supply chain manager at Minnesota-based Viracon, an architectural glass fabricator, says that while the company has not experienced widespread driver shortages, it has noticed a scarcity of drivers for specialty materials. Savage says, however, that Viracon actually receives more cold calls from companies looking for freight to haul.

“We are seeing an overall loosening in standard freight hauling, so that hasn’t been as big of an issue for us,” he says.

Savage adds that Viracon has had to ensure that its forecasting, ordering and inventory processes are robust enough to allow for shipping delays.

Deregulating the Trucking Industry

The life of a truck driver has never been romanticized. Long hours, low pay and time away from home are often cited as reasons to avoid the industry. However, statistics show that the industry’s decline can be pinpointed to the passage of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which deregulated the industry. The bill’s passage cut the cost of moving goods by truck and led to a decrease in driver salaries, states Business Insider.

Before the bill’s passage, the federal government set the price to move products. Trucking companies had to apply for the right to carry a particular good, which meant fewer companies could deliver goods. This resulted in higher pay and better treatment for drivers.

The bill ended that system. It allowed anyone to haul anything, anywhere and at any price. This forced many trucking companies to shutter, only to be replaced by an array of startups. According to Business Insider, the number of trucking companies doubled from 1980 to ‘90, which increased competition and decreased wages. The outlet analyzed truck driver salaries and found that their pay decreased by more than 21% since 1980. In some urban areas, they’ve declined by as much as half.

Iaquinto says that Midwest Glass is aware of the perception of truck driving. That’s why the company is doing its best to entice workers with bonus and incentive programs along with the promise of a positive work environment.

Shortage of Glass-Carrying Vehicles

Drivers aren’t the only transportation necessity in short supply, glass-carrying vehicles are as well.

Amber Deimler, vice president of sales at New Jersey-based MyGlassTruck, a manufacturer of glass transport racks, truck bodies and trailers, says obtaining a glass-carrying vehicle has been a challenge for the glass industry.

“There is a large demand for glass-carrying vehicles; however, the manufacturers aren’t able to keep up with demand based on their own supply chain challenges with components to finish vehicles,” says Deimler. “So, while our industry is growing, and customers need more vehicles, the availability has been far less than what is needed to keep up.”

John Weise, president of Wisconsin-based F. Barkow, a manufacturer of glass carrier systems, says that the shortages are due to the same old issue: supply chain issues, specifically computer chips.

Iaquinto says Midwest Glass has adapted to offset the shortage of glass-carrying vehicles. The company typically hunts for bargains and purchases used trucks, but the prices of used vehicles have nearly doubled in recent years — automotive analysts from J.P. Morgan report that used vehicle prices jumped 43% from February 2020 to September 2022. Midwest Glass has instead signed leases on two new Penske trucks, says Iaquinto. Even then, the delivery date is over a year out.

That long of a wait is not uncommon, says Weise. He states that some of his customers have waited up to two years for new trucks only to have the manufacturer cancel the order.

According to Deimler, these delays typically involve the truck chassis, vans and pick-up trucks. Larger truck chassis take longer because of the complexity and the difficulty of locating components. The availability of vans and pickup trucks has improved, but the biggest obstacle to obtaining them is a lack of pre-planning.

“Lots used to have tons of inventory on the ground, and we see a fundamental shift in how dealerships and manufacturers do business,” says Deimler. “They are having most vehicles be ordered versus in the past where you could go to look at a van on a weekend and own it by Monday. That’s not the climate we are seeing.”

Steve Lawler, president of Kansas-based Unruh Fab Inc., a provider of glass transporting equipment, says it’s been a battle dealing with the shortages. He adds that he has half a dozen bodies built that are waiting on trucks.

“They’ll show up someday,” he says. “It’s just that nobody can tell you when that day is. That’s what’s frustrating.”

The shortage of certain glass-carrying vehicles has forced glass companies to keep their current fleet longer than intended. Weise says that because of this, vehicles need more maintenance. He adds that everyone knows it isn’t a question of “if” a hardworking chassis will have problems but “when.”

“Some customers are really struggling because their intention was to refresh the fleet and they have not been able to do that,” he says.

Joshua Huff is the assistant editor of USGlass magazine. Email him at
jhuff@glass.com and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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