Little doubt that Topic “A” for the roofing industry continues to be the economy. Most roofing contractors I speak with express concerns about levels of business in the near future as well as down the road. “Down the road” is what has me thinking lately. It seems that “down the road” is not so far and our world is in for changes that are coming faster than ever.
I believe the convergence of needs and technologies will drive the commercial roofing market through economic recovery and into the future. The design community, on orders from their client the building owner, continues to demand roofing systems that offer sustainability and a superior energy efficiency proposition. Throw in enhanced storm-water mitigation in some cases. While there is a growing appreciation for life-cycle cost and overall building performance, delivered cost still drives an awful lot of decisions around here.
Many technological improvements have been brought to the roofing market by way of manufactured systems. Roofing and insulation product manufacturers have done a remarkable job leveraging technologies in their plants to continuously improve their finished goods while keeping costs in line. Computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) has broken out of the factory and is now available in jobsite metal roofing applications. There are doubtless other opportunities in commercial roofing to develop other CIM applications. We know from the manufacturing side of the business that computer integration into the manufacturing process provides for superior quality control and labor savings. Technologies making their way to the roof construction phase include the many communications devices we take for granted such as smart phones with cameras and laptops wired with sufficient bandwidth to instantly connect the worksite with the roofing contractor’s office. These devices allow for better communication, faster resolution to technical questions and truly better customer service.
Tools that have been around for a long time, including computer-assisted estimating, are also being improved. Building-integrated modeling (BIM) should ultimately bring the AEC community together to deliver buildings with fewer technical challenges occurring on the job. This three-dimensional modeling of buildings should go beyond the delivery stage to offer building owners an “operator’s manual” as they take charge of the structure on completion. This kind of information will prove invaluable when it comes time for roof maintenance and repair.
Speaking of roof maintenance and repair, I believe we may have reached, or may soon reach, a tipping point in the world of commercial roof repair contracting. The sustainability factor being looked at in building design today is likewise being considered for built spaces. The day when a roof was almost automatically removed after X number of years or after X number of leaks could soon be gone. Many forward-thinking commercial roofing contractors started roof repair divisions operating with a different mission (often with a separate P&L statement) from the legacy roof installation business.
Owners want more, and while it may seem counterintuitive to aim your commercial roof contracting business in the direction of what would seem to be less volume, you cannot afford to ignore this trend. The good news is with improved technologies you can reasonably manage more crews and more geography without adding a lot of back-office support.
The economy being what it is may be telling you that “down the road” is not so important right now; and you may be right. But in spite of the way things seem today, you must always be an observer of emerging trends in your business. Who knows - you may develop the next great CIM app for the roofing industry and change all our worlds.