Gerresheimer’s Primary Packaging Glass Division maintains a leading position in the production of high quality, specialty products, making glass in Europe, North America and Asia. For moulded glass, three plants are operated in Germany, plus one each in Belgium, India and the USA. Separately, nine plants are located in Europe, North America and Asia to convert tubular glass.
For customers in the pharmaceutical industry, the product range covers vials, bottles, jars, parenteral, perfume flacons and cream jars, plus special glass containers for the food and beverage industry, all made from soda lime type III or borosilicate type I compositions in flint and amber. In addition, type I borosilicate tubing is converted into ampoules, injection vials, cartridges and syringes etc.
The product portfolio for the cosmetics industry encompasses glass containers for perfumes, deodorants, skin care and wellness products. A diversity of clear, coloured and opal glass compositions are offered, with a wide range of shaping, colouring, printing, spraying, frosting and exclusive finishing technologies available.
And for the food and beverage sectors, Gerresheimer supplies both standard and custom miniatures, as well as other bottle sizes for liquid foods and spirits etc. Its products include a range of variations such as amber, flint, coloured and opal glass, diverse shapes and numerous finishing options.
According to Andreas Kohl, Global Senior Vice President Operations, Technics and Quality Moulded Glass, the Gerresheimer Group is always looking at the big picture. “Delivering our products correctly and with no defects to meet all notable quality certified standards is one thing but providing all the extra support pharma companies need is quite another” he explains. “That’s where our field quality engineers come in. They give advice on product selection and specification, plan and optimise filling processes at the pharma company, qualify new products, help with inspection systems, train people to recognise influences not previously mentioned, solve problems and generally reduce the total cost of ownership.”
Traditionally, Gerresheimer uses a high proportion of cullet for many of its glass melts, a strategy that makes an important contribution to conserving resources and reducing emissions. Now, the same approach has also been made in the cosmetic glass sector. Drawing on innovative processes, the group has increased the proportion of recycled glass in its glass melt to 35%, while maintaining high quality. This approach has been well received by customers.
Andreas Kohl graduated in 1994 with a degree in glass and ceramics engineering and joined Gerresheimer Lohr as a Project Engineer the same year. In 1997, he was named Assistant to the Technical Co-ordinator at Gerresheimer Glas AG in Düsseldorf and has subsequently managed numerous projects in Germany, China and the USA. In 1998, he returned to Lohr as Production Manager, becoming the plant’s General Manager in 2003. Since 2016, he has been Global Senior Vice President Operations, Technics and Quality Moulded Glass.
As Operations Manager for Gerresheimer, Mr Kohl can apply his decades of experience in the company’s glass production to all parts of the world. His focus is on creating a globally uniform quality standard for customers, while at the same time initiating sustainable production processes.
“Our pharma customers want to prevent health risks for patients” says Andreas Kohl. “Hence the growing demand for the perfect primary packaging that guarantees the pristine condition of medications.” According to Mr Kohl, pharma companies are increasingly moving toward zero defect manufacturing and as a primary packaging provider, Gerresheimer is doing the same. “We are constantly expanding our quality offerings so we can offer customers the best solutions. That applies not only to improving product quality but to all other processes as well, such as product qualification and technical services, product development and regulatory support, through to advice on filling processes.”
Via computer simulation, Gerrresheimer is able to preform the perfect glass container digitally. Glass drug containers must be break-resistant and free from defects. Traditionally, guaranteeing this status took months of testing with sample moulds on actual production lines. “Today, however, our simulation experts can do it all digitally” Andreas Kohl confirms. “They calculate the perfect glass thickness in all areas and then simulate the flow of glass within the mould, as well as the cooling process, all on a computer. Before making the first series mould or forming a single glass container, we already know exactly how it will work, delivering huge savings in terms of development time, raw materials and energy. So by the time we use the very first glass gob, we already know we’ll get the best possible product.”
Having successfully mastered this initial step in the process of digitalisation, however, Mr Kohl believes that the next steps are even more challenging. “It is all about entering the future of the perfect glass manufacturing process” he contends. “Developing artificial intelligence in that process and making it independent from external influences is the next level of our manufacturing.”
Recent investment priorities
Whenever any of the large furnaces at Gerresheimer’s glass manufacturing sites are refurbished, associated forming and inspection processes are updated with the latest available technologies. A major project of this type was undertaken at the Essen plant in Germany last year, for example. When a furnace was upgraded to significantly improve the group’s flint glass capacity in a more energy-efficient manner than its predecessor, the opportunity was taken to add another production line, while also increasing the capacity of existing lines.
The cleanroom has also been expanded and the options for type II glass significantly increased, quality checks updated to state-of-the-art standards, packaging further automated and in parallel, the entire production process has been digitally networked. This mammoth project was completed in the space of just eight weeks.
Separately, in recent months, the group has opened its Glass Innovation and Technology Centre in Vineland, USA. This facility represents an important milestone in driving future innovations in primary packaging glass, harnessing pooled competencies to develop and test innovative glass products, as well as new process and inspection technologies before deploying them at the production plant next door. Laboratory services will also be offered. “Besides product innovation, it is important not to underestimate the need for innovative manufacturing processes” Andreas Kohl confirms. “We have already mentioned the increasing role of digitalisation. Self-regulating processes enhance our quality and processing capabilities in our production systems for syringes, glass or plastic pharmaceutical packaging and drug delivery devices. By the same token, digitalisation will become part of the products themselves by intelligently connected devices” he adds.
According to Mr Kohl, digitalisation is needed for intelligent production and intelligent products. “When you look at our products, you can’t always see the complex, multi-tiered production and inspection that go into them. Harnessing the opportunities digitalisation unlocks is very important at all our plants. We have already digitally networked all machines, production steps and machine operators in many of our glass plants and the rollout continues; it’s all about manufacturing execution systems.”
Reducing the carbon footprint
Gerresheimer is actively involved in one of the world‘s biggest environmental initiatives, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a London-based, non-profit organisation that surveys corporate greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and develops strategies for companies to react to climate change. The glassmaker is convinced that it will improve medium- and long-term performance if it acts in a responsible and environmentally-aware manner.
With 58 out of a maximum of 100 possible points, Gerresheimer is currently one of the top 6% of companies rated by the EcoVadis sustainability platform in the comparison industry of pharmaceutical suppliers and medical technology.
“Environmental protection concerns and threats associated with climate change motivate us to improve our energy, resource consumption and emission management” says Andreas Kohl. “Our production facilities already rank among the most modern in the world and we are involved in various projects to safeguard our progress in the field of environmental protection. They benefit our customers, investors, suppliers and employees, as well as society as a whole.”
Raw materials and resources are used as efficiently as possible, while standardised methods and tools are employed to ensure waste-optimised and low emission processes along the entire value chain to bring about continuous improvements. Gerresheimer ensures strict adherence to international environmental regulations, the positive effects of the measures implemented often far exceeding national statutory requirements.
Towards CO2 reduction
With every furnace renewal, Mr Kohl is confident that Gerresheimer is moving closer to its goal of CO2 reduction, as the introduction of the latest furnace technology helps to save electricity and become more environmentally-friendly.
Together with 20 other leading glass container producers in Europe, Gerresheimer is an active participant in the Furnace of the Future project, co-ordinated by FEVE. “Sustainability is an important strategic goal and reducing our carbon footprint plays an important role” Andreas Kohl confirms. “This project represents another important step for us and the entire industry on the way to greater sustainability and efficiency. We are happy to contribute our extensive experience of the glass melting process and hopefully, we will be able to use the new technology in a few years’ time. This furnace is a fundamental milestone on the path we have taken towards a low carbon economy and thus towards climate-neutral glass packaging. It will be the first large-scale hybrid oxy-fuel furnace in the world to run on 80% renewable electricity. It will largely replace the current fossil energy sources and reduce CO2 emissions by 50%.”
Mr Kohl explains that while the industry is already working with electric furnaces on several of its 150 glass production plants across Europe, these melters are used only on a small scale and exclusively for the production of clear glass with new raw materials and therefore contain only a very small or no proportion of recycled glass. “With the new technology, it will be possible to produce any glass colour in melting furnaces larger than 300 tons/day, using a high proportion of recycled glass.”
Gerresheimer already operates a 100% electrically heated furnace with a slightly lower capacity for the production of cosmetic packaging made of clear and opal glass in its plant in Momignies, Belgium.
Andreas Kohl is confident that Gerresheimer’s investments and innovations in the glass business will pay off, helping the group to remain an attractive and efficient partner for customers in the future.