September 16th, 2021
I just returned from the Glass Build Show. Attendance was light, but the attitude was not. Many of my customers who would have otherwise attended chose to stay home, mainly because they are just too busy. Those who decided to go, however, went with a mission in mind. You see, the window and door industry is in a state of flux. The forces of nature are hitting the industry in a bipolar fashion. The pandemic sparked unprecedented demand, but it also negatively affected our labor pool and the supply chain that feeds the fenestration industry. So, attendees were busy doing one or all of three key things – meeting with alternative vendors, looking at automated equipment and learning about new software. All three of these areas will be crucial to success in the coming years.
With supply chains being disrupted, fabricators are subjected to material and component allocations. So, relationships with alternative vendors are becoming more critical. Anyone that doesn’t have a plan B is seeking one. This is not a fun time to be a purchasing agent in the fenestration industry. “Every day is a struggle to make sure I have everything I need on the floor to build the number of windows we need to ship!” says the typical purchasing agent. “Every single component is critical because you cannot ship a window if you are missing something as simple as a 50 -cent lock.” The problem here is that while many seek new vendors, most vendors supplying similar components are in the same boat for supply chain disruptions. Many can talk to you about possible future business but cannot necessarily take you on as a new customer right away since they are in the same boat as your current supplier. Developing and maintaining strategic partnerships with vendors will be critical as demand for fenestration products continues to grow.
Automated equipment is in great demand, and many attendees were astonished by the new developments in this area as fabrication technology is improving by leaps and bounds. It can really be a game-changer because reliable employees are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Automation also greatly enhances quality since high employee turnover necessitates constant re-training of new employees. However, the problem with the automation solution is that automation is now in such great demand that lead times for automated machinery are now 8 to 12 months or even greater. Investing in automation will not have an immediate impact, but it is well worth the wait. The labor situation is not expected to improve anytime soon, and wages are going up.
Software solutions is a third area that seemed to spark a lot of interest. These are available to aid the ordering process, integrate orders with production machinery and track inventory. It can significantly improve the efficiency of operations and is well worth the investment. Ransomware is an area that is of great interest as well, especially since our industry has experienced a few ransomware attacks in the past year. If you think it cannot happen to you, rethink this because hackers are not in short supply.
Yes, the fenestration industry is growing like crazy, and fabricators are experiencing what I like to call “growing panes” which are exacerbated by these trying times. I keep telling everyone that it’s a great problem to have – much better than the alternative. Be sure to check out DWM’s excellent video coverage from the show.