Operating since 1996, Guardian Glass’ float glass plant in DeWitt, North America received Energy Star certification from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year. Rick Zoulek, Executive Vice President of Guardian Glass Americas, spoke exclusively to Glass Worldwide to explain how a major capital project to expand glass production and add the latest environmental control technologies contributed to the company’s enviable energy rating. The full version of this article appears in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue that has been mailed globally and is also now available free of charge in the digital archive*.


GW: What activities are undertaken at the Guardian plant in DeWitt?

The Guardian Glass float glass plant in DeWitt, Iowa produces float glass and coated glass for commercial and residential construction, as well as mirror glass and oven door glass.

GW: How does the plant fit within Guardian’s American glassmaking activities and what is its market focus?

Guardian DeWitt, one of six float glass plants in North America, is strategically located for a number of customers in the central US seeking Guardian SunGuard coated glass for commercial and Guardian ClimaGuard coated glass for residential construction, as well as our Guardian HB+ coated glass for oven doors.

As with the other US float plants, about 75% of DeWitt’s production stays within its region, however, the plant also supports the other plants as product demand requires. The plant ships from Western Canada to the Eastern United States.

GW: What are the prevailing market conditions for architectural glass in your region?

While residential glass demand has flattened, we still see coated glass opportunities with our residential customers within their product offerings. Commercial opportunities remain strong.

GW: What did it mean to the plant to earn the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star certification?

In March 2021, Guardian DeWitt earned the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR certification, which signifies that the plant performs in the top 25% of similar facilities nationwide for energy efficiency and meets strict energy efficiency performance levels set by the EPA. Our Energy Star certification is a source of pride within the plant that extends into the community. We’re proud that as part of Koch Industries’ Stewardship Framework, our efforts at DeWitt bring value to our neighbours.

GW: What were the highlights of the major capital project in 2017 and the determining factors for Guardian’s investment at that time?

The complete furnace rebuild included installation of emissions control equipment and additional improvements that contributed to our ENERGY STAR certification.

As is standard in float glass plants, the furnace at Guardian DeWitt had been operating non-stop since the plant started up in 1996. This was standard maintenance that allowed us to capitalise on the downtime to make some additional improvements.

DeWitt’s Energy Star certification on the heels of the furnace rebuild are great successes that have positioned the plant to make great strides, including successfully implementing the digital investments and pilot programmes in place. We’re excited about our team members’ opportunities to take on more ownership and building new skillsets.

GW: What are the highlights of recent investments since 2017?

We’ve made a number of improvements that together help us continue to be a preferred partner to our customers by supporting their evolving demands with better efficiencies and improved quality. Some examples include:

  • New inspection system on vacuum coater line
  • Upgraded HVAC system throughout the plant
  • Improved lighting throughout the plant
  • New power factor monitor to clean energy coming into the plant

GW: How do you partner with technology suppliers to assist with investments?

The new power factor monitor is a good example of partnering with technology suppliers, and we’re constantly looking for opportunities to do more of this. When we’re able to identify partnerships to create programmes for one plant like DeWitt, we look to scale and apply that technology across our plants around the globe to maximise the benefits for Guardian and our partners.

GW: Are any other major investments planned at the site during 2022 or in the foreseeable future?

We will increase our ability to service our customers by replacing a cutting line that will include adding an inventory yard.

GW: What strategy is the plant adopting for increased digitalisation?

Guardian Glass has many global, scalable pilot programmes in different stages of development testing across multiple plants. The DeWitt team is leading asset management programmes that include:

  • Remote monitoring utilising vibration sensors
  • Expanded operator ownership of equipment maintenance and operation
  • A new enterprise asset management software system

GW: How many people are employed at the DeWitt site and how important is investing in the workforce to achieve the plant’s goals?

As of November 2021, Guardian DeWitt employs approximately 230 people. Like all major employers, Guardian is fighting labour challenges at every level during the pandemic. DeWitt in particular has done a great job of transforming by improving the culture to create an environment that encourages self-actualisation, a component of our Market-Based Management framework that encourages employees to be lifelong learners, develop aptitudes into skills that create value and help them realise their potential, which is essential for fulfilment. As you become increasingly self-actualised, you will better deal with reality, face the unknown, creatively solve problems and help others succeed. The team has successfully reduced employee turnover and improved productivity.

GW: Are you particularly pleased with any recent product launches?

The DeWitt team is proud to have launched the Guardian SunGuard triple silver, or SNX, coated glass product collection in the US and continues to produce SunGuard SNX coated glass along with several other high performance architectural coatings and interior mirror glass. Most recently, the plant started producing Guardian HB+, the company’s coated glass product for consumer oven doors.

GW: What are your hopes and expectations for the DeWitt plant in the short, medium and long-term? 

It’s our intention to continue to transform how each of us work day-to-day. Today’s digital investment and improved equipment will help individuals evolve their responsibilities from manual tasks to digitally monitoring and managing with expanded decision rights.

One of the most important benefits, even more so than helping our employees grow, is removing them from potential hazards. The safety of our employees is our top priority. Allowing equipment to do the work and our people to contribute at a higher level and develop new skills means we have a safer environment and greater employee fulfilment, which helps us in our goal to be a preferred employer by creating greater value in our production and therefore for our customers.

GW: What are the main challenges and opportunities you face in DeWitt?

DeWitt, Guardian Glass and the US glass industry is not alone in fighting inflationary pressure in a tough labour market and looking for ways to manage supply chain disruption. DeWitt and every Guardian plant is doing a terrific job of identifying and addressing inefficiencies and leveraging knowledge, but we must continue to accelerate transformation.

We’re proud of our achievements at DeWitt, and we’re inspired and motivated by the work of our colleagues at Guardian Glass and throughout the Koch Industries family of companies. We look forward to future opportunities to transform and to create new virtuous cycles of mutual benefit for our customers.

SunGuard and ClimaGuard are registered trademarks of Guardian Glass

Further Information: 

Guardian Glass (Global Headquarters), Auburn Hills, Michigan, USA
tel: +1 248 340 1800
email: info@guardianglass.com
web: www.guardianglass.com


 * The full version of this article appears in the Jan/Feb issue that has been mailed globally. The digital version of this issue can also currently be read free of charge in its entirety alongside back copies in the Digital Archive (sponsored by FIC) at https://www.glassworldwide.co.uk/Digital-Issues. To receive the paper copy, all future issues and a free copy of the Who’s Who / Annual Review yearbook, subscribe now at https://www.glassworldwide.co.uk/subscription-choice

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