There are many ways to end up in the glass industry…by chance, by career change, or by establishing early on in life that you want to work in glass. This is the route Terutaka Maehara took.
“I became interested in glass when I was building an astronomical telescope as a club activity in junior high school. It turns out that the performance of a telescope is greatly influenced by the glass composition of the lens. I think this led to my interest in glass materials science, which has a bit of a craft feel to it,” Mr Maehara explains.
After this initial interest in high school, from 1995 to 2005, Mr Maehara began to study inorganic materials science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Under the guidance of Professor Tetsuji Yano, he received a doctorate in engineering in 2005 for ‘Structural analysis of glass melts by high-temperature Raman spectroscopy’.
It was later in 2005 that Mr Maehara and AGC first crossed paths, when he took a role at the company’s Central Research Centre. Mr Maehara wasted no time trying to leave his mark, so much so that within a year of joining, he began working on a TFT (thin-film transistor) glass substrate composition development. Here, he devised a new glass composition, which was put into trial production. Mr Maehara proposed an improved composition by using the composition-properties database that his seniors had previously accumulated, but slightly tweaked from the composition before. Excitingly for Mr Maehara, the idea was accepted and the glass he proposed was melted in a real-world melting tank and formed in a real float bath, which he says was a “very intense experience” for a newcomer to the company.
However, this first project was not successful “because I was unable to propose a clear strategy for improving productivity with the improved melt properties of my glass,” he details.
But despite a bittersweet experience, it was this moment that really confirmed to Mr Maehara that he wanted to study glass production technology, so he moved from material design to this department.
Mr Maehara spent the next four years engaging in investigations of chemical reactions occurring in float baths, solving problems relating to redox reactions and fining reactions in glass melts and gaining important knowledge he could use later in his career.
In 2009, Mr Maehara had the opportunity to spend two years in Belgium at AGC Glass Europe’s Research Centre, and it was here that he became familiar with the workings of GlassTrend, something he would come back to in the future.
Following this spell in Belgium, he returned to Japan and to Yokohama to work on the development of glass melting technology in several roles, including leading a small research and development (R&D) project looking at energy saving in melting tanks.
Mr Maehara’s responsibilities have gradually expanded, to the position he sits in now as leader of the Hot Process Team at AGC’s Innovative Technology Laboratories.
“Hot Processes Team at AGC’s Innovative Technology Laboratories plays a key role in bringing new glass products to market and sustaining the supply of existing glass products”, Mr Maehara explains. “The invention of technology that gives competitiveness to the production of specialty glass, which requires a variety of product characteristics and is often in low volume demand. Innovative technology for making the mass production process of commoditised glass carbon neutral. Both development topics are important to us. Although they may seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, the scientific understanding required for these developments is common. A set of R&D tools based on general principles can actually work for both."
“We carry out projects in collaboration with business unit development departments and manufacturing sites to deploy innovative technologies and continuously improve manufacturing processes. We also collaborate with external partners to advance innovation in the glass industry.”
The role of Hot Process Team Leader includes managing his team’s performance for glass melting and forming needs and providing training and development opportunities to improve skills and knowledge. But Mr Maehara can also remain a ‘member of the team’ by still being able to take part in R&D activities such as verifying new concepts.
While Mr Maehara first heard about GlassTrend in 2009, it wasn’t until two years later when, back in Japan, he started to properly familiarise himself with the organisation, participating in several projects in his role at AGC.
In 2018, Mr Maehara began serving as a working GlassTrend committee member for the that year’s ICG [International Comission on Glass] Annual Meeting in Yokohama, planning and managing a co-sponsored session with GlassTrend. This relationship has grown year-on-year, so much so that in autumn 2023, Mr Maehara helped plan a half-day online seminar as a co-sponsored event between GlassTrend and Japanese organisation the New Glass Forum. This coincided with him becoming the first Asia ambassador for GlassTrend.
Mr Maehara explains: “The ambassador system for each sector and region began two and a half years ago, and I am the first Asia ambassador. Compared to Europe and America, GlassTrend activities are not as well known among glass-related companies based in Japan and Asia."
“The ambassadors of each sector and each region respect each other’s unique situations, and at the same time aim to organise them as common and generalised issues. This is a great collaboration.”
GlassTrend does much to bring the glass industry together, observes Mr Maehara. “It is possible to enjoy lectures and development projects planned in the spirit of ‘collaboration before competition’ for technical issues and future needs beyond sectors and regions,” he says.
The organisation has helped AGC in many projects, such as ‘GT31: Heat Transfer in Hydrogen Combustion’, in which GlassTrend helped to connect external technology suppliers to AGC, explains Mr Maehara.
He also makes a point of crediting Oscar Verheijen, Board Chairman of GlassTrend, and the other ambassadors on the board with co-ordinating GlassTrend’s continued productivity, remarking on how, “Oscar always provides excellent leadership and draws out the co-operation of all of us board members.”
Present and future
Sustainability is the talk of the whole glass industry, and within AGC that is no different. Mr Maehara concurrently works within AGC’s Carbon Neutral Technology & Strategy Office, where efforts targeting carbon neutrality are focused on drawing a complete picture of global trends, as well as the nuanced energy circumstances and policies in each region – and across different sectors.
“Since carbon neutrality is a goal that all industries are working towards, ideas for new technologies often come from outside the glass industry,” he points out. “AGC also has a chemical business with a long history, so internal communication with them is functioning effectively.”
To protect its future, one of the key projects AGC is undertaking is to improve melting efficiencies, something that could lower emissions. Mr Maehara explains that these are in part due to AGC’s oxy-combustion based technology, along with the implantation of Operational Excellence (one of AGC’s ‘Shared Values’ across the company). AGC has also trialled ammonia as a glass melting fuel, which brought some interesting results.
“Ammonia combustion is one of the anticipated technologies in Japan, where there is a need to transport alternative gas produced using cheap and clean electricity from overseas,” Mr Maehara observes
“In June 2023, we conducted a combustion test with a 200kW burner,” he continues. “But we are planning to conduct an ammonia combustion test with a 1MW class burner during the national project period until the spring of 2026. At the same time, we are also investigating the effects of the ammonia combustion atmosphere on glass melt and refractory bricks.”
A better future
It remains to be seen whether these projects will bear positive results for the AGC and the future of the glass industry, but with Mr Maehara aiming to establish already firm connections with glass industry colleagues via his role with GlassTrend, there is no doubt the sector is in capable hands to move the flat glass industry forward.
Image: (L–R): Mr Maehara; Mr Shirai – AGC’s Ammonia Project Manager; and Mr Kamihori – Head of Carbon Neutral Technology & Strategy Office in front of a view of the oxy-combustion furnace where ammonia combustion tests are being conducted.