Winning Optimism

July 20th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

GlassBuild Put Its Game Face on in Atlanta

By Drew Vass

On the Sunday ahead of GlassBuild America, bars surrounding the Georgia World Congress Center overflowed with jersey-clad fans. Parking lots surrounding Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta filled with the booming sounds and smells of tailgating. By Tuesday morning, though, talks about a fourth-quarter nail-biter gave way to discussions about glass and fenestration.

Coming off of a year that roiled with tariffs and labor shortages, there was optimism across the show floor as approximately 8,200 exhibitors and attendees left some booths overstocked for the better part of a three-day exposition. In the show’s second day, the Federal Reserve announced a 0.25% reduction to the prime interest rate, producing what some believed to be a positive sign for industries tied to housing.

At Window and Door Dealer Day (WDDD), which took place prior to the show, attendees dealt with the industry’s issues head-on—in some cases even flavoring them with humor.

“Is anyone having issues with labor?” asked Grant Farnsworth, director of business strategy for The Farnsworth Group, facetiously. Dealers echoed Farnsworth’s humor with a laughter that seemed to say, “No kidding. Now, let’s move on with the conversation.”

In sessions about digital marketing, branding and geofencing, dealers pitched questions pertaining to how they might generate more leads and foot traffic for their businesses. At a time when door and window manufacturers want to automate their factories, many said they’re looking to bring more artificial intelligence to their dealerships.

“We need more things that are automatic,” argued one dealer, at a table that discussed how to utilize geofencing to target new jobs around existing customers. In a session about video marketing, the conversation turned to hiring.

“If you are experiencing difficulty recruiting, which I understand that you are, then video is also a great tool to use there,” suggested Angenette Natkowski, general sales manager for Salem Media Group. “Your best employees are your best promoters,” she added, suggesting that dealers post short testimonials for what it’s like to work for their companies.

Moving On

For the second year in a row the show floor featured an influx of automation designed to cool the issue of labor shortages among manufacturers. Robotics took center stage among machinery exhibits, including in GED’s booth, where a mechanical barista served attendees coffee.

“They supply our robots,” explained Laura Fiegelist, the company’s marketing communications coordinator about the interactive display provided by ABB Automation. “This technology is the same as what’s on our actual machines,” she said.

The idea for having one of ABB’s robots whip up a cup of espresso might sound complicated, but an onlooker whose company utilizes the same technology said it can be as simple as training the system through physical manipulation. A similar concept was promoted in Billco’s booth, where the company unveiled what it’s referring to as VisionGuided Vehicles (VGVs).

Developed in collaboration with Seegrid Corp., Billco’s VGVs are designed and programmed to move harp racks among processes across plant floors.

“They’re really easy to use,” explained Danielle Blewitt, the company’s marketing manager. “You drive a route once and the VGV will remember it and repeat when told to do so.”

Through a vision-based guidance system, she said VGV equipment requires no physical boundaries, stopping immediately for anything that interferes with its programmed path.

It’s those types of advancements that might eventually close the gaps in automation across manufacturing floors. Until such time, “All you really need [now] is someone loading materials in and unloading finished products,” said John Moore, GED’s vice president of marketing.

At GlassBuild 2018, GED tantalized the industry with RoboSeal, the first fully automated, robotic gas fill, close and seal system for insulating glass units (IGUs). The machine finishes the assembly process of both double- and triple-pane Intercept-based IGUs at a rate of up to six units per minute while eliminating the need for labor. But RoboSeal wasn’t officially offered for sale until this year’s show, when GED also unveiled Roboflow PT, a robotic machine that automates weld cleaning.

Sturtz introduced a similar, pass-through welding and cleaning line that’s capable of 800 squares per shift also through automation. Both machines require just one operator to load components, before advancing materials automatically through the process.

Syncing Up

When it comes to finished doors and windows, hardware manufacturers at the show looked to prove that they’re catching up. Companies such as Roto and Anthony Innovations invited attendees to open the industry’s biggest sliders and casement windows with “just a finger.” Based on our hands-on experiences, they made good on those promises. But bringing better thermal performance to those same oversized products is proving a little more difficult, as insulating glass manufacturers look to battle with the issues of weight and thickness.

To demonstrate vacuum insulating glass, Guardian installed a glass-fronted commercial refrigerator stocked with cold beverages in its booth. Not only were attendees welcome to partake in those refreshments but, in the process, when they touched the unit’s outside surface, they discovered the effectiveness of VIG at insulating.

In Quanex’s booth, the company provided a rare look at “thin triple,” an alternate form of triple-pane insulating glass (IG) that has yet to fi nd its way to the show floor via finished products.

Either VIG or thin triple could drastically improve the performance of doors and windows, but both remain in a soft roll-out among residential products in niche projects— even as development continues to percolate on thin-triple, said Joe Erb, commercial sales specialist for Quanex.

One challenge to thin-triple’s usage is how to secure and protect its thin, inner lite of glass, Erb said. The glass is more susceptible to breakage than those found in traditional triple-pane units. In an industry that’s “risk averse,” those issues will have to be fully sorted out before going to market. At the show, Quanex displayed a new spacer system that addresses the issue by suspending the inner lite of glass within a slotted, rubberized spacer.

Game Planning

GlassBuild consistently serves as a testing ground and incubator for new ideas, exhibitors told [DWM]—some of which show up at the next year’s show. “Our ideas start here,” declared Mark Imbrock, co-owner and vice president of EDTM.

One concept that exhibitors tested interest for in 2019 includes powered and automated features among windows.

ODL demonstrated a yet-to-be-released motorized version of its blinds between glass that remotely raises and lowers. In Caldwell’s booth, double-hung and tilt-style windows operated via a wirelessly connected device and app. Company officials demonstrated how such features might be tied to programs, triggering open and close functions based on things like indoor and outdoor temperatures.

“There’s a lot of interest at this level,” said Rick Denormand, Caldwell’s product engineering manager for residential. “But there’s an adoption rate that will take time,” he added.

With automation, Denormand and other exhibitors said it’s about finding the right partners and customers—which they hoped to pin down at this year’s show. It’s those and other technologies that exhibitors might place their bets on next year in Vegas.

Drew Vass is the editor of Door and Window Market [DWM] magazine.
dvass@glass.com

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