The glazing industry, like many others, faced unprecedented issues with availability of materials and extending lead times during 2021. David Clarke of ID Systems explains why these challenges are likely to continue for the foreseeable future
The Covid-19 pandemic saw an unforeseen surge in all home improvement products as people were at home more and spent less on things like holidays and new cars.
When the pandemic hit the UK in March 2020 nobody could have predicted this demand, indeed most of the retail glazing sector shut down expecting a nationwide slowdown. Why would anyone want new windows during a lockdown? The opposite happened and demand was higher than ever. At a time when most in the supply chain prepared for less work, demand shot up.
There are critical glass shortages across the entire supply chain. While the double and triple glass unit manufacturers are ready to make the glass, their stock comes from the global glass processors – supplying float glass in various thicknesses. These top-level suppliers have been hit, especially in 2021, by the container shortage and shipping price issues.
This issue has affected the whole world, but the fact that most of the major float glass plants in the UK have closed over the past decade has certainly left us more susceptible to global supply chain issues than other countries.
Beyond the glass and even the aluminium frames, there has also been a shortage of component materials including plastics. Top-end producers of the raw-materials that make the plastics in the glazing industry were locked down at the start of the pandemic – particularly in China. In addition, the global move towards alternatives to plastic for consumer goods has also impacted the wholesale production as those top-level producers begin to diversify their product range.
Laminated glass, required under Building Regulations for security in new build homes, is in high demand, and the plastic interlayer needed for this glass type is in short supply. This plastics shortage is having an effect on PVCu windows of course, but also critically in the polyamide thermal breaks used in every aluminium door and window.
Polyamide thermal breaks that prevent cold bridging between inner and outer aluminium window and door frames, are in short supply. This shortage comes as a result of a reduced production of a critical raw material Adiponitrile (ADN), that is impacting a huge number of industries globally.
The shortage extends back before the pandemic, and while alternative plastics are being introduced this is another issue that the glazing industry is facing.
2022 & beyond
The outlook for 2022 and beyond is more positive, however while the raw material supply is beginning to return to something that more closely resembles ‘normal,’ the time scales for this to filter through to finish products is long. Just as the initial impact of the pandemic on the glazing supply chain was only really felt 12 to 18 months after it began, a similar timeframe for recovery is likely.
What will complicate matters is that the return to normality will likely be hugely fragmented. While certain products from some suppliers may be available quicker, other systems and suppliers may be impacted for a longer period – particularly those from smaller scale fabricators or for more niche products.
The fragmented outlook is also further complicated by larger companies ‘hedging’ their supplies of components over the past six to 12 months. These larger companies with the capability to stock-hold reserves of components will be best placed to provide stability, however that could come at the expense of smaller suppliers – particularly those who rely on third-parties to fabricate and install on their behalf.
Now more than ever, communication between architect and supplier is crucial. Factoring in likely product availability even at the initial design stage is a question well worth asking and may influence specification and even design of projects.
Going further up the supply chain is also an option, identifying companies that fabricate, supply and install products is a useful step because not only does it take out some of the uncertainty, it also means the information you receive regarding availability is likely to be more timely and accurate.
While there has been a surge in demand for residential and domestic projects, it is still best practice to identify those tried and tested suppliers whose experience and capabilities are not only best placed to support your designs and manage the progress of your project, but are also ideally placed to offer advice and ideas for alternate solutions should the need arise.
David Clarke is marketing manager of ID Systems