René Meuleman sees important signs of change within the glass industry's approach to manufacturing innovation.
It has been said before, and not only by me, that the glass industry is very conservative and risk averse. But to be fair, commercially viable glass manufacturing is not easy and could be considered one of the most complex physical and chemical processes around. The most recent major breakthroughs and mind blowing innovations are decades old now but I am sensing a 'wind of change' and again, I am not the only one.
Chemically hardened glass has entered the automotive industry, newly developed pharmaceutical glasses are arriving on the market too, while some companies have started exploring all-electric melting methods with the aim of stepping away from fossil fuels. It seems to me that we have finally entered a new, very interesting age of glass manufacturing, stirring up new developments and waking many of us out of our hibernation mode. This is good news, even though regional differences are still huge and if you want to stay asleep on top of your huge oil and gas reserves, be my guest ... but don't complain afterwards!
Blame me for being naive but being part of a new movement trying finally to make some maior steps in carbon footprint reduction, getting rid of NOx and SOx and exploring ways of developing new compositions and applications cannot be wrong. Failure will live alongside success and the statement made by former racing driver Mario Andretti is still valid: "If you wait, all that happens is that you get older."
Illustrating the fact is that Europe and Asia-Pacific have become very active in their thinking and development of new 'green' melting technologies, next to the USA, who develop very exciting new glass but seem to hang behind in energy efficiency. I keep questioning if it makes sense to try to squeeze out those final percentages of efficiency, making glass melting extremely complex by adding batch preheating, exhaust gas recovery systems and Syngas chemical reactors. Why not keep it simple and leave these technologies to suppliers who generate thousands of Giga Joules, instead of those who use a few Giga Joules, like ourselves?
Keeping it simple and extremely energy efficient seems to me to be the best choice, although there are still some hurdles to take to get this technology right. Having been in this industry for almost 40 years, my most productive and exciting years were those in which we tried, tested and developed new technologies like the introduction of IS machines. electronic timing, distributed control systems, cullet and redox, NNPB and oxy-fuel. Many of you, my friends in the industry, say the same. We are now standing in front of a new threshold that needs to be overcome: Let's do it by being critical, by kicking back, by thinking, innovating and finding those solutions, instead of leaning back and waiting. Because if you wait, all that happens is...
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
René Meuleman is Business Leader Global Glass at Eurotherrn by Schneider Electric