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Published in Glass Worldwide, 2009

Nowadays almost everybody is suffering from the economic downturn and having talked to many people in the glass business at various trade shows, they do not have much reason to be optimistic. I suppose we all agree on the fact that almost the whole glass industry is affected and that it happened at a pace we never envisaged. So now, all we need to do is to wait until it all starts moving upwards again, right? Wait and suffer?

We started discussing a long time ago that the conservative glass industry needs to change to survive in future. We all agreed that we needed to save energy, find new melting glass technologies, consider upgrading our forming process, find solutions for CO2 emissions and have another look at waste heat recovery. It is obvious that as soon as the crisis is over, energy prices will start increasing again. The worst case scenario would be that the crisis will last longer and energy prices will start climbing sooner than we expected them to.

In that respect,is now not the time to be innovative? Should we not put all our available resources in to these energy subjects and should our governments not start to support us to find barrier-breaking new methods right now?

In the on going struggle to keep the shareholders satisfied, technology has been pushed back and we have became short-sighted in an industry which is built around its major resource, the furnace, which has a lifetime of more than 10 years. Doesn’t the glass industry need foresight and vision anymore?

Just recently we met a global purchaser who didn’t ask us for any extra discount but for new, innovative ideas. He was not just looking at the money, the lowest price-no, he was looking for added value and reducing his cost of ownership. We at Eurotherm admit that this was a surprise new challenge for us; we carried on discussing 

this in the car, during dinner and until late into the evening as we were excited by that simple demand:” bring us innovation”. We became enthusiastic and highly motivated by this message, as we all know enthusiasm and motivation drives innovation and business.

Eurotherm is a strong believer in innovation; the company believes that if we stop now, due to the economic crisis, the initiative to find new methods of producing glass in a sustainable way could result in the glass industry not. suffering now, but could result in it being left behind.

Those who are moving on and putting their bets on innovation will be the winners of tomorrow. Is it an option to slow down research, lay off engineers and developers,  trim the company down to production only or to draw back from important university glass improvement initiatives?

We all need to get over this crisis and get out of it in a better state than we were before. This is not only a financial issue but more so a technical concern. Slowing down R&D, cutting down innovation or stopping production improvements might work against those who are doing that right now – they might find that, as soon as the 

economy gets going again, the competition will be a head of them. The glass industry should not be left alone since these initiatives do focus on potential energy savings and therefore should be highly subsidised and supported by their governments.

Eurotherm is a supplier of process and power control systems to the glass industry; we will carry on listening to our customers, participate in new initiatives and keep on improving our solutions but we know this is not enough. We need to switch from improving to new ‘never did it before’ with visionary new solutions to stay in business and to support our partners who believe in innovation. The Eurotherm glass team will keep on pushing our management and R&D to try and help all in converting their ideas into running, sustainable solutions. We should all strive to make glass even greener than it is already.

About the Author:
René Meuleman is Technical Director Global Glass at Eurotherm

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