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April 30, 2015
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Smart Supply Chain Management
By Katy Devlin

The rebounding construction market has made smart supply chain management more important than ever for glass companies. Increasing demand has put strains on material supply, creating challenges with raw material price increases, potential difficulties getting certain glass products and, in particular, longer lead times.

“During the slower market, fabricators and glaziers were able to rely on just-in-time service,” says Stephen Weidner, vice president at NSG Pilkington. “Fabricators would get glass from us and would give it to the glazing contractor in just a matter of days. Now, depending on the product, some glasses may not be as readily available. An order may come in for brand x glass, but [the manufacturer] might not be making it for another week or even another month. That means the fabricator can’t fabricate brand x glass and might not be able to supply it to the glazier. The lead times even at the contractor level could be extended.”

Contract glaziers report they are already seeing these supply issues. “The biggest challenge our company faced in 2014 was a lack of supplier capacity,” according to officials from Enclos Corp.

“Our customers expect schedules to always be met. Lead times from our vendor partners have lengthened within the past year and we see this as a challenge going into 2015,” adds Kevin LaPoint, vice president of commercial glass and entrances, from H.J. Martin & Son Inc.

However, good planning and close collaboration with suppliers and customers can ease pressures, according to industry officials. “With the good news and growth come challenges,” says Jeff Haber, managing partner for W&W Glass LLC. “Good organizations with good plans should be able to navigate the next year, while everyone else is playing catch up.”

Glazing contractors should communicate the current capacity concerns to general contractors and owners, and should incorporate longer lead times into bids when needed, industry officials say. Additionally, companies should work with their suppliers to ensure they are able to get the appropriate products on time.

“Communication up and down the channel is key for this construction cycle,” says Garret Henson, vice president of sales for Viracon. “Glazing contractors should utilize their key fabricators as an asset during their project bidding process. It’s all about transparency, trust and execution against a project schedule. If we’re not helping them manage the project, the project will likely manage them. That’s not the outcome any of us want.”

Despite current challenges, many glass company officials report they are optimistic about the busier construction market.  These challenges are “almost the polar opposite of the challenges that we were faced with just a few short years ago during the prolonged economic downturn,” says Lou Sigman, president of Horizon Glass. “Now, in a much improved nonresidential construction market, we are finding ourselves challenged to not over-sell our available project management and manpower resources. … We would much rather have this challenge than that of scrounging for good projects to bid.”

Smart management and careful planning can help contract glaziers capitalize on the busier environment and improve profit margins, sources say.

“It is going to be a better time for the industry, and the profits will trickle down to the glazing contractor, but, think about the long term. Find your sweet spot. Don’t try to be everything to everybody,” says Serge Martin, vice president of marketing for AGC Glass Company North America.

Want to learn more about managing the supply chain? Join us for the 10th Annual Glazing Executives Forum, September 16, at GlassBuild America, where industry executives will lead an interactive panel discussion on strategies for managing expectations and lead times at all levels of the supply chain.

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