It was in 1998 that Quinn Glass decided to build its first greenfield glass container plant in Derrylin, Northern Ireland. The project represented a huge investment for the privately-owned Quinn Group and some industry experts questioned the merits of the decision. However, the necessary finances were available and with its own local sand deposits that were high in silica content, Quinn wanted to add value to its raw materials resource. “At the start, customers, employees and even suppliers may have been dubious but we broke down barriers and established ourselves” Adrian Curry recalls.
Mr Curry joined the project team for this ambitious initiative in 1996, making him its longest serving employee 24 years later. After a turbulent period in the late 2000s especially, the company’s name and ownership may have changed but many of the original assertive investment instincts remain. Adrian Curry took over as Managing Director of Encirc in 2004. He is also a member of the Vidrala executive committee and a board member of the industry-led Glass Futures project.
Pushing the boundaries
Having successfully operated the Derrylin plant for several years, Quinn Glass decided to build a second glassworks, this time on the UK mainland, in the north west of England. According to Adrian Curry, while the underlying concept for the Elton plant in Cheshire may have been a natural step entrepreneurially, it was not necessarily a natural step in terms of gaining market share and further establishing Quinn Glass in the industry. It represented a huge capital investment that pushed the boundaries in terms of furnaces, emissions, IS machines, automated warehousing and filling on the same site. To prosper, it was necessary to develop and grow the demand for filling, while also converting market share from established glass producers. In addition, there were many planning permission challenges to overcome, a process that ultimately took six years to navigate before the greenfield project was finally completed.
By 2009, however, the factory was operating as envisaged. It featured the world’s largest glass container furnace, the lowest emissions and the first examples of the 12-section NIS forming machine. In total, nine NIS machines were acquired from Bucher Emhart Glass, operating at quad gob production speeds for the first time. “We were very disciplined within the marketplace and as well as being disruptive, we were very responsible throughout” Adrian Curry explains. “We’d invested in new technology and new plants and we grew the market by bringing products in that were being filled elsewhere in the world, so we behaved responsibly and also brought new norms to the industry in terms of technology.”
The global financial crisis of 2009 impacted the performance of many businesses but the parent Quinn Group soon found itself in serious financial difficulty because of its shareholding in one of Ireland’s major banks. By 2011, the situation had become untenable, so a receiver was appointed to the business and share capital ownership was transferred from the Quinn family to a consortium of lenders.
This changed the ownership dynamic within the business significantly. Quinn Glass was no longer owned by a billionaire who was prepared to support the company’s drive for the latest technologies and new developments. After more than a decade of sustained growth and investment, until Vidrala acquired the business in 2015, it was now all about consolidation and improving what Quinn Glass already had, growing the business in terms of volumes close to maximum capacity and utilising the assets that were already there to the best of its ability.
The management team recognised the strengths of what had already become an attractive standalone business and set about maximising its potential. As well as introducing lean manufacturing methods, it was decided to rebrand the business as Encirc and to promote its 360 goals in terms of how sustainability could benefit brand owners, retailers and consumers. This approach was widely appreciated by customers and remains at the core of the company’s strategy for the future.
Since its acquisition by Spain’s widely respected Vidrala glassmaking group in 2015, Encirc has continued to operate as a separate business unit, largely maintaining its existing management structure. “Five years later, we enjoy a fantastic relationship with Vidrala” Adrian Curry confirms, the Encirc MD having also been appointed to the Vidrala executive committee, as well as assuming responsibility for a factory in Italy.
Today, Encirc represents approximately 35-40% of Vidrala Group turnover and is firmly established as an important brand within the organisation. A technical resource has been introduced in the UK, in addition to which Vidrala’s highly respected Technical Department delivers valuable support in such areas as batch compositions and the planning of major capital investment projects.
The Encirc academy, created in 2012, has been reorganised at group level as the Vidrala Academy and is responsible for co-ordinating training and standardisation across all European plants. Some external consultancy work is also undertaken.
Recent initiatives include the Vidrala Operating System, which is geared to delivering standard systems across the group. Assisting with technical capabilities, quality and performance criteria, potentially this system can also be implemented if other plants are acquired in the future.
This year alone, Encirc will complete an investment of approximately €275 million across its three production sites (Derrylin and Elton in the UK and Corsico in Italy). The former O-I plant in Corsico was brought into the Encirc business unit because of a shared commonality of large customers.
At Derrylin, there are eight production lines and while one furnace has previously been rebuilt, the site’s second is scheduled for rebuild in 2020. Natural gas has only recently been introduced to the plant, with significant environmental and financial benefits already generated.
One of two furnaces at the Elton site is also earmarked for rebuild this year. Its nominal melting capacity will be increased to more than 850 tonnes/day, with an additional production line also introduced. This will be the plant’s fourteenth production line and its first Industry 4.0 line. Featuring another 12-section quad gob NIS machine, this will be one of the glass industry’s most versatile and flexible lines, as well as being one of its most highly productive.
According to Adrian Curry, the global Covid-19 pandemic has delayed project commissioning slightly but an October 2020 start-up is still planned. “The IS machines are already in place and we remain 100% committed to this investment” he confirms.
Working closely with Bucher Emhart Glass and other suppliers, the new production line will feature cutting edge technology, whereby the hot end will be digitally connected to the cold end. It will make use of in-built intelligent swabbing, laser identification marking and state-of-the-art inspection machines, which will be fully integrated to work alongside human operators.
If an operator or a machine identifies a defect at the cold end, the hot end operator will be supplied with different solutions that the system will learn from. The next time the machine picks up the same defect, it will ask the operator to act accordingly and the time after that, the system will automatically adjust the machine to rectify the defect.
“The top level we are looking for is the hot and cold end inspection equipment to see statistically when defects are prone to occur and prevent them by making adjustments” Adrian Curry explains. “It will take a number of years but the technology is there and we have such partners as Emhart and Siemens to assist us” he adds. “Glass Futures will also play a part and ultimately, we see this ‘cobot’ (collaborative robot) machine assisting human operators. AI and machine learning will enable a high level of productivity with little human invention and complete flexibility in the line, for example, be able to make two if not three products at the same time on one machine in the future. We can see very clearly that this investment will enable very positive change, with a very different level of operators.”
Some aspects of this technology are being installed elsewhere in the Vidrala Group but Mr Curry is confident that the Encirc line will be the most advanced in the world after installation this October. “Elton was the ideal site not only because of the investment at the plant and having space for an extra line but because we receive 50% of raw materials by rail, we have large furnaces, we are putting in new technology to ensure our emissions are low moving forward, as well as having an automated warehouse and filling on-site” he confirms.
“In terms of reducing our carbon footprint at Elton, we can imagine a point where this end-to-end solution is highly sustainable” he explains. “We are also looking at traceability in terms of coding and being able to attach information all the way through the process to a finished product. This is our long-term goal.”
In Italy, a complete transformation has been undertaken of the former O-I Corsico glassworks. The latest technology has been introduced, including the country’s first quad gob forming machines. The plant’s two furnaces have been rebuilt, both with a nominal capacity of approximately 300 tonnes/day, new batch plants have been constructed, four NIS machines have been acquired and a new cold end installed.
“Apart from the structure of the building, everything else is completely new… even the building was expanded” says Adrian Curry. “Corsico is doing really well and is part of the Encirc family, with an excellent Italian team that we support in terms of training.”
Positive long-term partnerships are maintained with some of the glass industry’s leading international technology suppliers. Many have been involved with the business from the outset, including DSF, EME, Emhart, MSK, Interprojekt, Sefpro, Pennekamp, Parkinson-Spencer Refractories, RHI Magnesita, ZIPPE and XPAR. For Encirc’s latest furnace projects, the company is using SORG, based on the German supplier’s longstanding partnership with Vidrala and the desire for standardisation across the group, wherever possible.
Another recent successful partnership has been established with Socabelec, in this instance with respect to the acquisition and operation of swabbing robots. This partnership resulted in the two companies sharing the 2019 Glass Focus Award for ‘health and safety action’. Adrian Curry confirms that by the end of 2020, all machines at Elton will be running ‘cobots’ to increase production efficiencies. He also emphasised that no job losses have resulted from this investment, with operators able to spend more time on tasks that add greater value.
Mr Curry is also a huge supporter and board member of the UK glass industry-led Glass Futures initiative, the global centre of glass excellence in R&D, innovation and training. He contends that no single player can resolve the industry’s reliance on hydrocarbons, identifying how to increase recycling rates, deliver greater lightweighting and continue to innovate. “Support from within the industry is gaining momentum because they can see Glass Futures is real, is going to happen and will provide the industry with many unique opportunities” he adds. “Glass Futures will be a significant factor in driving the glass industry on and securing our long-term future.”
Expressing industry-wide concerns
A former President of the British Glass Manufacturers Confederation, Adrian Curry also expressed some wider industry-related concerns that are shared by fellow UK glassmakers. One involves the UK Government’s net-zero strategy and decarbonisation roadmap. He acknowledges that this issue represents a huge challenge for the nation’s glass industry but stresses that there are many ideas that can generate real opportunities for those prepared to embrace them. “We’re working with partners and are very engaged but there’s a long way to go” he says. “For fuel switching/alternative fuel trials, we will conduct furnace trials this September in Derrylin just before the scheduled rebuild. However, it’s not just about the furnace and with respect to non-melting energy, Encirc has achieved more than we expected by investing in new compressors and new infrastructure for our plants.”
The decision by the Scottish Government to proceed with its Deposit Return Scheme has been widely rebuked by UK glassmakers and many of their key customers. “I am very clear that it will be negative for glass and will reduce glass recycling rates” Mr Curry explains. “So we are working with British Glass and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to look at alternatives to DRS that can work. British Glass has a major role to play.”
A shared passion for technology, development and sustainability
An engineer with a passion for technology and development, in recent times Mr Curry has also become much more aware of sustainability and is excited by the prospect of bringing all three elements together. “Our entire team is highly focused on this task, as we had to find our place in the industry by employing the latest technology for best efficiency alongside customer service and quality.”
From the outset, the adoption of new technology has been part of Encirc’s DNA, something which the Vidrala management team recognised from day one. “They have been a stabilising influence, without stifling our energy for new technology and technical developments” says Adrian Curry. “They have supported us so well and their technical resource has been a great addition. We have been a really good fit for each other.”
Since the acquisition was completed in 2015, Encirc has almost reached maximum capacity at the company’s beverages filling hall in Elton. Today, in fact, the beverages business is the glass plant’s biggest customer. The operation fills wines, beers, soft drinks and RTDs, packaging them and placing them in the supply chain. “We are now preparing pallets for store, so a buyer in central London, for example, could place an order and we will prepare a pallet of all the wines, beers and soft drinks that go directly to that store” Mr Curry confirms.
The company is currently considering investigating the use of robotic technology to perform this task.
Sustainability is assessed with respect to people, environmental and economic considerations. In terms of the environment, compared to a traditional supply chain where wine is bottled and shipped to a different continent via three or four warehousing legs or storage, Encirc is adopting a very sustainable model, effectively direct to store. “It’s a whole new dimension to the beverage industry and interestingly, uptake since the onset of Covid-19 has been incredible. We believe home delivery and e-commerce will become increasingly popular in the future and this suits our model.” In addition, he contends that the model works well because the UK imports so much wine, whereas many European countries are self-sufficient.
Turning to the people-related aspect of sustainability, Encirc’s advanced production technologies are expected to attract young people to the company and its very different working environments compared to traditional sites. “We have a major culture change programme running within Encirc, which is helping to self-motivate, engage and make everyone understand more about the business” says the company’s MD.
A gym has been built in Derrylin and another is planned for Elton. In addition, Encirc runs an extensive engagement programme and using Workplace, the Facebook-owned app, during the Coronavirus pandemic in particular, about 90% of the workforce can be contacted at any time of day.
For Adrian Curry, it was exciting to have been involved in the Quinn Glass project from the very beginning, when a strategy was adopted to purchase the latest technology available to gain a competitive edge. Similarly, however, he is equally excited about creating a new Industry 4.0 line that will be one of the most versatile and flexible lines ever built. In Vidrala, Encirc now has an owner with long-term goals and who has consistently invested in its businesses. A positive relationship has been created and future success is on the cards.