One of the largest energy consultancies in the world, Schneider Electric specialises in industrial automation and digitisation, energy management strategy advice and services, pioneering its ‘industrial sustainability triad’:
- Digitisation and software to enable energy efficiency;
- Process design and designing primary operations;
- Applying a high level of automation to optimise core processes.
This approach has the potential to reduce energy and resource requirements for the glass industry at new levels or in other words achieve eco-efficiency.1
Schneider Electric’s ‘Green Glass’ team advocates green electrical energy as the cleanest and most energy-efficient vector to decarbonise glass manufacturing. The company is dedicated to helping customers decarbonise by electrification and digitisation and to this end works closely with partners on optimal furnace designs, and on integrating power and process transformation in plants that increase their boosting capacity or go “all in” and design new furnaces of the future.
A complete solution
“We already offer process control and increasingly our energy management portfolio to the glass industry,” explains Bas Mutsaers, SE’s Global Strategy, Technology and Marketing Lead. “Sometimes for partial electrification. Sometimes for full electrification, as is already the case in some glass categories. We want to expand on this in our own ways based on our strengths."
“The focus is on the furnace where the energy is mainly used, and how the furnace can be redesigned… but also up and downstream from the furnace, there are a lot of things we [can] automate such as drives that run conveyor belts, advanced process control and energy controls that are all going to be more important moving forward,” he notes.
“In addition we bring a consulting portfolio in sustainability and cleantech, process electrification and digital transformation,” adds Alex Richards, Vice President & Regional Segment Leader – Mining, Minerals, Metals. “This, coupled with a strong industrial software portfolio (including ability to model through digital twins such as ETAP) [in 2020 Schneider Electric took a controlling stake in ETAP Automation, a market-leading software platform for electrical power systems modelling and simulation] allows us to properly support the industry transition [from fossil fuels to green energy]. It’s really about looking across the portfolio of what Schneider has to bring, so when we talk about Green Glass then we have capabilities at Schneider and through our partners [it is possible] to answer the challenges across the breadth of everything entailed; and when you start to consider that as a complete solution, then it becomes extremely powerful for glass customers that agree that not only CAPEX but merely OPEX is key for their operations.”
The current energy crisis just highlights this point and is also putting pressure on industries that are electro-sensitive, notes Mr Richards. “Many customers are looking at how to balance their businesses profitability while decarbonising… and we can help with consultation around energy procurement, clean tech advisory services, process electrification, digital transformation etc… So it’s not always about the technical solution; it’s about bringing to bear the capabilities and expertise in the group to consider all those factors and look at the best roadmap. We bring a level a unique set of skills that can be highly valuable to the glass industry.”
“It’s about combining power and process together, as they will be one now,” adds Gary Cafe, International Account Manager – Glass,”but also staying there side by side with the client with our ongoing power management, maintenance and digital services to ensure they are supported in this new world that expects continuous improvements long after installation. We are not just looking to electrify their furnace; we are there for life.”
To support the Green Glass team – originally a small group focusing on sustainability with long-term energy sourcing/advisor contracts such as Saint-Gobain (the companies have worked together for nearly 20 years) – Schneider Electric is now “ramping up” the whole programme, according to Mr Richards. “We’ve had a capable team in place so are absolutely not starting from scratch; there’s a lot of good work commercially and technically that’s already been done,” he points out. “With the additions of Gary [Cafe, previously Consultancy Director – Climate for SE’s Energy & Sustainability Services, who has accrued 15+ years’ experience guiding multinational companies through the energy transition] and René [Meuleman, who moved from CelSian to join Schneider Electric in May 2022 as Green Glass Senior Solution Architect], who both bring their unique skills and experience, we are now accelerating and increasing the speed and momentum of the programme.”
“Gary brings a wealth of knowledge from our Sustainability Business Unit,” confirms Mr Mutsaers. “This would include energy strategy business case development and exposure to many scenarios in brownfield. René is simply put an icon in the glass industry and involved in both technical and commercial considerations. I love his passion for glass and his energy."
“As I set the strategy and our technology directions, I’m involved in keeping the balance between investment and achieving our growth. This is an important consideration in how we globally develop capability at Schneider Electric and is very similar for glass between other initiatives we drive. The good thing is that the portfolio fit is strong and therefore we expect continued development over time. To shed some light on this, you might be surprised that some of the glass accounts are in the ‘impact top 10’ for our segment over some large steel and mining clients. We hope to mean more for clients with ambitions in the glass industry.”
Mr Mutsaers won’t be drawn on whether Schneider Electric is prioritising any particular regions or sectors (flat, container, speciality, etc.) other than to give assurance that, “We can and have addressed each of these sectors that you mention and believe we can grow our market share [...] Our portfolio suits quite well in most of these categories. We have a regional approach and a well thought through sequence of how we want to address the global glass market and how industry verticals like CPG, transport and the building industry rely on it. Many drivers and government decisions play a role and this is not a static decision for us. We will go where the market is going and where governments help clients accelerate their decarbonisation through sound and matching policy.”
To assist with the scale and efficiency of its solutions for clients, SE Green Glass is keen to join with relevant partners and parties that understand design and can deliver complex projects in brownfield situations.
“Having the opportunity to engage across the ecosystem, be that industry bodies, process OEMs, end-users, technology partners, is most welcome,” affirms Mr Richards. “We are currently taking stock of which bodies Schneider should be part of.”
“We are looking at the best decarbonisation pathways and will take new technology and principles into account as [they become] available,” says Mr Mutsaers. “We already have some strong and existing relationships that we intend to strengthen and broaden in line with the strategy. “We are one of the most open systems on the planet,” he insists. “We also have one of the most significant partner models of any companies in our category. This includes training our partners but also sharing our learnings for them to help us scale. I have not seen this at the same scale in other companies in the industrial automation space and currently [this] would set Schneider Electric apart. […] Equally, we are well-equipped to complete projects on our own and go direct, should that be best for the customer.”
“You are going to see partnerships in the glass world in a range of different categories, such as system integrators that have great glass knowledge and consulting companies we can work with,” believes Mr Richards. “We are looking to develop new initiatives around modelling, for example. Partnerships are a key part of the strategy moving forward.”
This includes a continued partnership with Eurotherm – provider of temperature, power and process control, measurement and data management equipment, systems, software and services for global industrial markets – which Schneider Electric sold to Watlow, a manufacturer of complete industrial thermal systems, on 31 October 2022. (Under new ownership, Eurotherm’s sites in Worthing, UK and Dardilly, France will be established as Advanced Development Centres for Watlow’s electronics and controls product offerings, while the facility in Poland is destined to become a Manufacturing Centre of Excellence.)
“We see the partnership with Eurotherm continuing for a long time to come,” says Mr Mutsaers. “The sale was a portfolio choice by Schneider, but we see a continued partnership because their portfolio and frankly great people have a good fit with our offerings and our strategy for this market.”
“There is absolutely a complementary fit and suitability between Schneider and Eurotherm and the new ownership doesn’t change the desire and willingness to work together,” underlines Mr Richards. “We will continue to collaborate with the Eurotherm team.”
Schneider Electric’s Green Glass team is pursuing sustainable and profitable growth “as you would expect from us both now and in the future,” continues Mr Mutsaers. “As this is a strategic initiative, we cannot disclose everything we are considering but with our portfolio and that of our partners AVEVA and Eurotherm, it is not hard to imagine that we want to be involved in the redesign with our partners from inception all the way to maintenance and support. We would include in our considerations both the CAPEX and OPEX challenges for our clients. Design is a key factor of the furnace but also the electrification for efficiency. In Schneider Electric we have a lot of knowledge and offers in this space, particularly on the energy management side in leveraging some first principles of the ‘Grid and the Glass process’. Also, we intend to rely on some partners we believe would help great sustainable outcomes for our target clients that are global in nature as the glass industry transitions. This is a long-term bet as there are many furnaces globally that will be considered.”
Transitioning to a greener energy source can, but should not affect glass quality according to SE’s Green Glass team. Other anticipated challenges include determining how much power can go to a facility and how it can be applied effectively to the right processes without losses. “Electrification efficiency stands out in the overall optionality within efficiency factors and explains our focus,” adds Mr Mutsaers. “Heat transfer is key too, and there are several constraints that are begging for a closer look: air, and also air with other components that would react different under different circumstances. Cullet also comes with nasties we cannot prevent without other upstream improvements.”
“To build on that, there are certainly challenges in taking the concept of grid to glass through to fruition, not least some of the constraints on existing grid systems,” observes Mr Richards. “For this reason, we consider it is important to consult with end-users on available options, but also to consider availability/resiliency and sustainability of supply."
To support the glass industry moving forward, Schneider Electric will draw on both its global reach and local support, and its experience with electrification design (ETAP) microgrids, digital twins, AI and modelling that is set to play a central role in the transition.
“It’s really about the end-to-end solution of good process control, efficient energy infrastructure, to the digital enablement story, to offering the ongoing services,” sums up Mr Cafe. “Our portfolio gives us a life cycle with the client, and that’s what they are after.”
“Our procurement and risk management teams trade €30bn per annum of power, gas and carbon on behalf of our clients globally and have saved our clients >€10bn to date through the crisis,” reports Mr Mutsaers. “We know the market and play actively in grey power, renewables and natural gas so are ready to lend our both wide and deep experience to our glass clients globally that traditionally do not need to know too much about energy strategy."
“Electrification of their process allows our clients to switch between grey power, gas and find long term security through renewable Power Purchasing Agreements – spreading their risk and increasing their opportunity. [SE is] involved in a handful of exciting heavily-boosted glass furnaces as well as full electric or 80% electric projects – keep your eyes peeled for this in the future.”
“Our resilient and sustainable future – A call for industrial eco-efficiency”