Who is right about the future of the Glass Industry?

Global Business Development Manager for Eurotherm by Schneider Electric, René Meuleman presents some differences of opinion.

Throughout a busy 2016, I visited many global events, trade shows, seminars and customers. In fact I have followed a similar routine for the past 10 years but lately, it has become clear to me that the world is beginning to change much more rapidly. 

However, even though the company I represent regularly brings innovative process and power control solutions to the glass industry, I have to admit that we sometimes get a bit frustrated because the pace at which we would like to move does not line up with the conservative speed at which the industry is buying into new solutions. It also seems that the way the different global regions want to manage future energy efficiency is drifting apart, instead of coming together. 

For example, having technical discussions in India can be completely different to those same discussions in the USA. One is looking for the highest power factor and energy efficiency, the other is looking to get the lowest price. Even though it seemed that global warming and the need to reduce CO2 had finally been accepted, lately some have started to question that again, just when others want to drastically reduce their emissions. So who is right?

FOLLOWER OR LEADER?

Is it really an option for the glass industry to sit and wait until disaster or political decisions hit us? The clock speed at which the glass industry is capable of adapting its manufacturing systems to meet the latest legislation is already very slow.

Missing opportunities to introduce beneficial, perhaps necessary innovations could present a huge risk to future operations and competitiveness compared to others who take the initiative. Today, not many businesses like to be the first to implement novel solutions but being a technology follower might result in your company becoming a loser. I like to think that being a technology leader will result in becoming a winner. Again I ask the question, who is correct?

The efficiency improvements of traditional melting technologies have now been fully explored and it is very unlikely that we will be able to squeeze out another 25%. In comparison, new melting technologies are showing great results and it seems that smaller, all electric furnaces could enable a step change, especially if electricity pricing goes down, which in some regions has already started to happen. Some regions are already close to the turnover point where renewables will become cheaper than fossil fuels.

Lowering CO2 emissions and consequently paying less environmental taxes will, of course, have a different impact on businesses in individual regions as well. Should you wait or should you act?

THE WAY FORWARD

Of course, as an electric power systems supplier, Eurotherm by Schneider Electric is a little biased but there is merit in looking at all electrically-heated, smaller, high pull rate furnaces, even if they do have a shorter lifespan, as long as they can produce similar cradle to grave pull rates to traditional melting systems.

Talking to many people at glasstec last October showed us that we are not alone in having these ideas and opinions and that is why I asked GlassTrend to put it on its agenda this year and have a seminar dedicated to all electric heating and CO2 free glass. Although we all come from different regions and we are all strongly influenced by local situations in which we need to manufacture competitively, we all still need to question if - and when – we will need to make drastic changes. I ask you to take a look back at your own business. When was your latest step change and is it time to think about the next one? Should you consider becoming a leader if you are a follower today?

As a system supplier, we have similar discussions. Even if we believe that we are still a leading solution provider, staying in that position is not a piece of cake and takes a lot of creativity, vision and of course investment. The bottom line is that we might never find out who was right in the end but I strongly believe that if we share more of our thoughts and work together, the whole glass industry will benefit and the question may never need to be answered because the world cannot do without glass.  

Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to discuss this subject at one of the next GlassTrend seminars. Keep an eye out for that and as always I welcome you all to share your views.

About the author: René Meuleman is Global Glass Business Development Manager
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