by Bob Beranek
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There are benefits and drawbacks to both mobile and in-shop installations. However, the introduction of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) has again brought this issue to the forefront, and added another reason why in-shop installations may be better than mobile. It is possible to reverse a consumer demand for mobile installations to a demand for in-shop installations if you make the decision and change your marketing efforts.

In Europe, glass shops have never stopped practicing in-shop auto glass installations and they don’t have a problem convincing their customers to choose quality over convenience. Their customers don’t demand mobile service because it is not offered. In the United States however, we have a problem of our own making. Mobile service began in the United States in the 1950s and we have been doing it ever since. Even with the introduction of moisture curing polyurethane, larger glass parts, one-man sets and now ADAS, we still feel that if we don’t provide mobile service we will not succeed.

Think for a moment how much you pay for tools, supplies, vehicles and equipment for delivering mobile service. Think for moment what problems mobile service creates for the delivery of your product. Think for a moment how many callbacks were caused and how much time was wasted because of mobile service. Think about the long-term injuries that result in one-man trucks and mobile service.

I challenge all of you owners to put a pencil to the calculation of what mobile service costs you. Then take that revenue saved and see where you could put that money to better use. Would it be in marketing in-shop installation quality?  Upgrading your facility to make your customers more comfortable when they are waiting for their vehicle?  Renting cars for those that must leave?  Buying faster cure urethanes for faster turnaround time?  Of course, you can just put that saved revenue directly into your pockets as profits earned.

Winter is coming, and in many parts of this country glass shop owners worry about business, both in the number of jobs booked and the weather related issues revolving around the mobile install. If you communicate the importance of a controlled environment installation to your customers they will be more apt to bring their vehicles to your shop for service. It seems like common sense that their vehicle will be serviced better in controlled conditions than to have glass replacement done outdoors in inclement weather.

I do realize that mobile service is not going away completely. Some of you don’t even currently have a shop. I also realize that it would be foolish to flip a switch and change everything overnight. However, I feel that through the right planning, training, and implementation, in-shop installations can be increased and eventually take over the percentage of installs now taken by mobile installations. This is not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking; it does work. I will wager that the analysis you make will open your eyes and you will see the benefits of changing your business plan from primarily (or only) mobile service to primarily in-shop installations.

This week is the 2017 Auto Glass Week™ in West Palm Beach, Fla., at the Hilton West Palm Beach Resort. Most of the time, this is the venue where industry friends and colleagues meet to renew friendships, discuss business and learn new things impacting the industry. I have been going to these events since 1991, but this won’t be a typical year. This year the industry will learn much more about Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and get a gut check that may change the way we do business going forward.

Changes have occurred in our industry before. In the late 1940s, the issue was curved glass parts.  Cutting tables disappeared, NAGS patterns started to deteriorate, and shops got bigger to handle the room necessary to stock large numbers of curved glass parts. Distributors became more important as our warehouse and as a “just-in-time” inventory provider. New skill sets were needed and those who had the skills required to cut parts became “just” installers. Slowly, the skills and art of glass fabrication became lost. Auto glass shops had to completely change the way they did business.

Then came the first glued-in auto glass parts in the late 1950s. A whole new industry was born in auto glass removal tools. Innovation and adaptation were the words of the day. Tools were designed and technicians needed to learn adhesion and sealing skills. What the heck is butyl? Can I get Polysulfide?  Again, the industry had to change and learn new skills.

Then this new stuff came along in the 1970s called polyurethane. Boy, was that stuff strong. I remember the first time I inserted my cold knife into that stuff and tried to pull it. I swore somebody tried to install the glass with liquid concrete. New questions and concerns emerged. We heard “What do you mean the vehicle has to sit for 24 hours?”; “Are you nuts?”; “I can’t provide mobile service if it takes a day to cure.”; “What about shop jobs?”; “I don’t have that much parking to hold a vehicle overnight.”  However, just like before, the industry innovated, and, with the help of our adhesive manufacturers, we overcame another curveball thrown by technology.

I suspect that each one of the trade shows that introduced those game changing innovations for our industry gave off the same feel that this upcoming one is giving me. The innovation that is going to change our industry is going to be every bit as big as the ones before. We have had some previews the last couple of years but ADAS and the new technology it spawns is going to be huge. It will develop new sister industries, it will demand new skill development, it will teach us new ways of doing things, and it will design new tools for us to use.

This year’s Auto Glass Week™ may go down in auto glass history like the ones mentioned above. If you can still find a hotel room, it will be well worth the effort to attend. This is a milestone that our industry sees only occasionally. Don’t miss it.

Look at all the acronyms. Most of my readers already know what these mean: ARG – Aftermarket Replacement Glass, OE – Original Equipment Glass, and ADAS – Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. You probably also know the problems we have been having lately. In this blog, I will attempt to explain why some ARG parts cannot be used in (some) vehicles that have been equipped with an ADAS.

The first thing to understand is that fractions of an inch make a huge difference. When aiming a projectile or a beam, any fraction of an inch movement at the source will result in huge differences at the target. It may result in the target being missed completely. If the opening that the projectile or beam must go through is limited in size and configuration, then the aiming is limited to that opening. Recalibration is the aiming of a lens of a camera or a beam at road markings to align, stop or steer the vehicle. If the aiming of that device is off by even tiny fractions of an inch, it can mean the difference between life and sustaining injury. 

If you notice, most glass parts used in a vehicle with ADAS have a unique parallelogram cutout in the third visor frit near the mirror. This cutout has the parameters that the camera, laser or LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) can be aimed through or adjusted within. If that cutout is smaller, deformed or misplaced, the aiming device may not be able to be adjusted to meet the criteria of the vehicle specifications. It is imperative that the frit cutout is precise to allow for adjustment. Now add to that the mounting bracket attached to the interior windshield surface. If that bracket is off another fraction of an inch, that can compromise the calibration as well.

Frankly, I can understand the carmaker’s requirement of OE parts being used when ADAS is present. Do I find this as a problem for my business of auto glass replacement? Yes, I do. It means that I must order my glass from the appropriate dealer, then wait for delivery to that dealer, then spend time to pick up the part at the dealer and finally pay the dealer a much higher price than an ARG part. If the glass was not damaged in shipment by inexperienced glass handlers, then I replace the windshield and take it back to the dealer for recalibration and pay another fee for the service. I find this arduous at best. I’m just being nice, it is freaking ridiculous.

In a past post, I discussed my optimism in ARG glass manufacturers “upping their game.” I do believe this to be true. I believe that they will improve their “reverse engineering” practices. I believe that they will tighten their tolerances to closely match the OE. I believe that they will improve quality control standards to make them viable and competitive.  Because, if they don’t, they won’t be here very long. I urge all of my readers that if they find that their ARG part is deficient in regard to safety, make your displeasure known. Retain the offending glass part in case the glass manufacturer wants it back to examine it.

I also believe that “cheap” windshields will no longer be a common product. We will have to pay more for quality goods, and we will have to “up our game” as well. Will cheap windshields still exist? Yes. However, be prepared for the possibility that the ADAS will not be able to be calibrated.

I believe that our industry is going to improve and be better for this technology boom. I think this safety technology will weed out the riff-raff and reward the true professionals with better quality goods, higher labor charges and more profits. If you can survive this industry-altering change, you will be stronger and better off for it. That is my belief.

Bob Beranek is the president of Automotive Glass Consultants Inc.