“Following university, I never expected to find myself in a role within the glass industry” confides Erin Miller. “After graduation, I was extremely interested in sustainability and so applied for the Cheshire Energy Hub (CEH) graduate scheme (a multi-engineering, science partnership between organisations in the region including Encirc, Urenco and Scottish Power Energy Networks). Encirc decided to hire me for their graduate scheme based on my education and experience.”
As a Graduate Engineer for Encirc, Erin spent her first few months “familiarising myself with glass” before being allocated to work on a project researching biofuel in partnership with Glass Futures, the not-for profit company focused on creating a long-term future for the glass industry.
“Once on the biofuels project at Encirc, I attended meetings with Glass Futures to better understand the organisation’s ambitions for the industry” explains Ms Miller. “I, along with others from the business, represented Encirc at these meetings and established a close working relationship with the Glass Futures team. As part of the CEH graduate scheme, in March 2020, I was preparing to leave Encirc for a year to complete six month placements in other industries. However, due to the Covid-19 crisis, these placements were postponed. As a result, both Encirc and Glass Futures thought that it would be a great opportunity for my development to second me to Glass Futures so that I could act as the liaison between both companies.”
During her time at Glass Futures, Erin Miller was actively involved in the Industrial Fuel Switching project – a study into hydrogen research projects across the UK. Her contributions included gathering data on biofuels to inform Encirc’s experimental programmes, producing a scoping document for an engineering study into how to convert a glass plant from natural gas to hydrogen fuel and leading an exercise to produce a specification for a multi-fuel pot furnace capable of melting up to 100kg of glass.
Conscious of the glass sector’s need to decarbonise following the Government’s 2050 emissions targets, Erin Miller believes Glass Futures’ Industrial Fuel Switching workstreams “will be a key contributor to the longevity of the glass business sector and the industry as a whole.” Achieving this goal “is something that I am passionate about” she declares.
Over the eight months that Erin Miller worked for Glass Futures, the team grew from five to 12 people, while navigating Covid-19 restrictions. “It feels like I have witnessed the growth of the company” she reflects. “It’s fantastic that Glass Futures has shown resilience and teamwork despite the fact that some team members have never met.”
Working across the fields of academia and industry with Encirc’s partners and contractors exposed Ms Miller to the multi-faceted nature of the glass industry, as well as boosting her communication and networking skills. “I’d say the biggest highlight from my time at Glass Futures was having the opportunity to work with a variety of different people” she says. “Taking their words of wisdom on board will allow me to make more informed career decisions at Encirc.”
A rewarding career
A mentor of sorts emerged for Erin Miller in the form of Richard Hulme, Senior Glass Technologist at Guardian Glass and on long-term secondment at Glass Futures working as a Technical Director. “His passion for the industry is motivating and somewhat contagious” Ms Miller remarks. “He has taught me to think pragmatically in my approach to glass and to challenge the status quo. While working with Richard, he has encouraged me to not coast through a career but to really care about what I do and that if I can help others in the process, then even better.”
As Encirc’s Batch and Furnace Manager at Elton, Erin is responsible for managing the site’s two furnaces (the largest of their kind for the glass container industry) and managing the control of raw materials that enter the furnace, with the help of an assistant manager and the rest of the batch and furnace team. According to the company, she has already made a significant impact and contributed towards pioneering projects and initiatives.
In 2019, Encirc hosted the Society of Glass Technology Melting Technical Committee. Co-hosting a tour of its facilities, Erin Miller discussed future aspirations of the company, including Industry 4.0 and encouraging young people to join the glass industry through the CEH graduate scheme and Encirc’s IGNITE apprenticeship scheme.
“At Encirc, we are always investing in the most cutting edge and innovative technology to make our products” she notes. “The relationships we have with our suppliers are key to continuous improvement and unlocking the potential of Industry 4.0.”
Women in manufacturing
In a traditionally male-dominated manufacturing environment, Erin Miller sees Encirc’s ‘Women in Manufacturing’ campaign as “an extremely positive initiative” to attract females into the sector. She is a role model and advocate for the movement, not only for existing colleagues but for women and young people entering the glass industry.
“As well as empowering and encouraging women to work in a male-dominated environment, I feel it has been highly educational for all within the workforce” she clarifies. “It’s clear to see from discussions with other women across the business that the manufacturing world is not visible enough in secondary schools, especially to young girls. By creating this initiative, I feel as though the company has helped raise awareness of the issue. ‘Women in industry’ is a hot topic and through recognising this, Encirc has created a support system for more females in the manufacturing environment.”
As part of her involvement in the ‘Women in Manufacturing’ campaign, Ms Miller filmed an informative video interview, which aims to inform and promote equality and diversity within the manufacturing industry and raise the profile of women engineers and consequently work towards eliminating current perceptions of the manufacturing industry.
Rising Star recipient
Last year, Erin Miller received the Rising Star accolade at Glass Focus Awards 2020, organised by British Glass. Open to any individual under the age of 30 engaged in a formal apprenticeship or graduate/training programme within the glass industry, the award honours young talent in the industry. New for 2020, the Rising Star category was sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers of London
“I felt extremely overwhelmed to receive the Rising Star award this year as I felt as though all of the nominees (James Miller, Allied Glass; Liam Appleyard, Allied Glass; Rob Windley, Allied Glass; Mathew Coffey, Electric Glass Fibre) were equally as deserving” she says. “It was incredible to have my efforts recognised by people outside of Encirc and Glass Futures and experts in the field."
“Having worked with Richard Katz (immediate Past Master of the livery and CEO of Glass Futures) I was aware of the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers of London and through discussions have been made aware of their activities” she continues. “Since winning my award, I have been invited to attend a Court and Livery Dinner (when safe to do so), with the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers of London and I look forward to hearing more about the livery company.”
Of the awards organisers, British Glass – the representative body for the UK industry - Erin Miller believes the trade association is “extremely relevant, as the industry continues on the path to improving standards. They encourage research, which can also challenge the status quo within the industry.”
“The most rewarding aspect of my role so far has been how much knowledge I have developed in such a short space of time” Ms Miller reflects. “In the glass world, every day is different, with new challenges arising that require creative solutions. So, for me, the problem solving tasks are the most rewarding. The greatest challenge is that you never know what you are going to walk into from one day to the next. My understanding is whether you have been in the industry for 10 years or a year, you are constantly presented with new challenges, some of which you have never faced before.
“The most common phrase I have heard since working in the industry is ‘every day in glass is a learning day’ and I have definitely experienced this first-hand” she continues. “No two days are the same and although you may feel like you have experience, something always comes along to surprise you when you least expect it.”
And the people are just as important as the product. “The thing I like most about working within the glass industry is that you find that the majority of people who work in the sector have been there for quite some time and have a wealth of experience and knowledge they are eager to share."
“I would recommend the glass industry to others” Erin Miller states unequivocally. She offers a thoughtful insider’s take on the sector: “I think it is an area in manufacturing in which the process and products can be easily overlooked and taken for granted. It’s interesting when you take a step back and see just how much glass is all around us.”