Steklarna Hrastnik’s decision to refocus its activities entirely on premium quality spirits and perfumery glass packaging manufacture has not been taken lightly. It is the culmination of a detailed three year investment programme that helps the company to focus on its core strengths of operational excellence and environmental responsibility. “Our strategic goal is that we are positioned in the niche premium quality segment of spirits and perfumery and to capitalise on our main strengths, namely the exceptional quality of our glass, the knowhow of our employees to produce the technically most demanding products, together with our flexibility and agility” Peter Čas, CEO confirms.
Mr Čas took over the management of Steklarna Hrastnik in 2017, drawing on his previous experience of leading other production-based companies, where one of the key strategic goals was achieving operational excellence and EBITDA margin improvements.
A subsidiary of Switzerland-based GlobalGlass holding, Steklarna Hrastnik calls on a rich tradition of glassmaking expertise, dating back 160 years. This knowhow, combined with the company’s highly experienced 550-strong workforce, has created an essential platform for the consistent delivery of innovation in the areas of product development and manufacturing expertise. A flat management structure is operated at the Hrastnik glassworks, involving just eight managers plus line managers, covering all main production areas. This approach gives improved flexibility and agility between processes.
The glassmaker’s transition away from tableware and its concentration on premium packaging manufacture has created conditions for the implementation of even more capable and efficient production. In the long-term, this positions the business to be highly competitive in the global perfumery and spirits sectors. The French, Italian, UK and US markets are key strategic targets, where the most important customers are high end brand owners and glass packaging distributors.
Latest production shop
This August, Steklarna Hrastnik initiated its biggest production-related investment in more than a decade, specifically the investment of €18.5 million in a new oxygen-fired furnace and associated technologies for the production of premium glass packaging. In addition to the establishment of G furnace, the project called for the purchase of new IS machines and the automation of complementary production processes.
The latter includes setting up the factory’s own oxygen production, upgrading the batch plant, transport automation of batch and cullet etc. The project is scheduled for start-up in November 2020.
“Of course, this investment plays a key role in achieving our strategic goal regarding the increase of the market share in the high end segment both in the spirits and perfume markets” says Peter Čas. “It will enable us to incorporate the latest and cleanest technologies and innovative approaches into our production. For example, the new G furnace is a good example of clean technology, because it will run with the joint use of oxygen, electricity and natural gas. Additionally, it will enable us to produce even more complex glass containers and to win the most prestigious projects.”
According to Mr Čas, compared to the site’s existing furnace, the new G furnace will also be more effective, as the use of best available technology and future upgrades will enable even higher capacities. The investment has been planned with a strategic view of the future in mind. The furnace will be prepared for the implementation of innovative technologies that also allows for the use of hydrogen as a fuel source.
It also provides an additional, separate production facility that will be used exclusively for the production of glass packaging, bringing additional security for customers.
More efficient than the factory’s existing furnace, G furnace will deliver 120 tons/day. This raises the site’s total production capacity to 285 tons/day. The main supplier for furnace technology and engineering is SORG, while the company’s nominated supplier of IS machines is Bucher Emhart Glass. Batch and cullet systems have been sourced from EME and the annealing lehrs have been acquired from Antonini.
Other suppliers involved in the project extend from well-known European companies in the glass industry to local suppliers in installations, service and engineering. An on-site cryogenic oxygen plant will be installed in 2020/2021 that will deliver pure and sustainable oxygen. This technology will be delivered by Messer Engineering.
Automation and digitisation
A series of key projects will also be undertaken in the areas of digitalisation, automation and robotisation in the coming months. These investments will include the purchase of advanced inspection lines with inspection machines, automatic palletisers and automation in logistics (AGV), as well as other logistic solutions and technologies. The Steklarna Hrastnik investment team is already engaged in the intensive development of these project.
Together with Siemens, the glassmaker had previously developed a customised digitalisation road map for the five years to 2023 that includes scheduled technology recommendations and return-on-investment data. According to Peter Čas, this document is extremely important for the company’s transformation into Industry 4.0. “With smart transformation, we will be able to additionally upgrade our ability to produce the most technically complex shapes and achieve even greater precision in our production. It will enable us to further increase quality, productivity and efficiency, which will radically shorten the time to market.”
Another important investment project is linked to decoration. Last year, Steklarna Hrastnik began the DEKOR pilot demonstration project for smart decoration and functionalisation of glass products. A major aspect of the project involves eco design.
“We aim to use only colours that do not contain heavy metals, as well as to introduce so-called bio additives into classic colours, thus making them even more sustainable” Peter Čas explains. “We will be monitoring this aspect through the platform.”
The project will include the installation of a new automated decoration and finishing line. Using AI and augmented reality, it will be possible to monitor all processes more precisely, thus optimising the consumption of raw materials such as colours and solvents, as well as energy. Both will contribute to increasing the use of environmentally-friendly processes. This project will be completed over the next two years.
A further project involves bringing hydrogen-based glass melting technology to an industrial level and represents one of the glass industry’s largest sustainability-oriented projects. Having recently completed the pilot stage of this innovative technology, this project enables the replacement of a part of fossil fuel energy (natural gas) with hydrogen, thereby reducing the carbon footprint. Potentially, its main benefit lies in the option of implementing the system with existing furnace technologies that are fuelled by natural gas, as well as the system’s flexibility, as it enables decarbonisation by using hydrogen at any stage, subject to available renewable energy sources. “This means that we can set, during the very process itself (mid-process) how much hydrogen and how much natural gas we will use” says Peter Čas.
As previously mentioned, G furnace will include everything necessary for the implementation of this innovative hydrogen technology. The project focuses on an alternative technological procedure for hydrogen production. Within the scope of the pilot project, green hydrogen is extracted from water using electrolysis and energy from renewable sources (solar power plant). “We will extract hydrogen without a carbon footprint on an industrial scale using water electrolysis and green electricity as an energy source.” It is planned to reduce CO2 emission on an industrial scale by 20% over the next five years.
In these and other areas of the production process, the industry’s suppliers are widely encouraged to achieve and deploy new technologies and solutions. “We are a unique glass producer due to having the highest requirements in terms of product quality, a very high level of versatility (range of portfolio), very demanding shapes in the portfolio and high demands for sustainability” Mr Čas confirms. “As a result, we require suppliers that are flexible with solutions and very often at Steklarna Hrastnik, an opportunity is afforded to test technology, as we are often a ‘pioneer’ in advanced technologies. Together, we can therefore exploit this potential as a win-win situation.”
Investments also bring changes to the profiles and numbers of employees and within the last three years, Steklarna Hrastnik has been gradually but sympathetically reducing these numbers, especially in positions that have been replaced by machines. At the same time, the glassmaker is attracting high quality, highly educated staff to Hrastnik. This challenge was tackled both in-house and externally by building ‘Employer Branding’, which is in charge of the Human Resources Department and has a strategic role within the company.
“In-house, we devote special attention to the new associate onboarding procedure, which has also been overhauled” Peter Čas explains. “All new employees receive a welcome pack and a mentor and internal coaches make sure that new arrivals become accustomed to their new environment as easily and quickly as possible.”
Coaches play more of an informal role. They are tasked with making sure that the first day at work is pleasant and well-structured but also with instilling the candidate’s confidence in the organisation. Circulation, onboarding and education, an approachable and professional mentor and comprehensive feedback from the manager or line manager ensure that onboarding is effective and pleasant. “Feedback is positive and new hires consequently recommend Steklarna Hrastnik as an excellent employer” Mr Čas confirms. “We have also designated internal ambassadors from various professional fields who represent Steklarna Hrastnik at events and on social networks and act as the face of the company.”
The glassmaker’s collaboration with secondary school education centres has been intensified, as well as engaging in various HR projects aimed at serving as a meeting point with potential new employees. The goal is to communicate a comprehensive image of an attractive employer through media and social networks. “All of this helps us attract people with specific knowledge that are needed for our transformation. These are electrical and mechanical engineers, mechatronics engineers, IT specialists and database professionals. Awards in the area of HRM also contribute to this goal. This year, our HR Director received the award for best HR manager in Slovenia.”
Challenges and opportunities
According to Peter Čas , there are many challenges to be faced, including a volatile economic environment. However, Mr Čas emphasises Steklarna Hrastnik’s goal to position itself in the premium quality niche segment of spirits and perfumery and becoming a leader in the field of trends and pioneering approaches to reducing the carbon footprint in the glass industry. “We are here to stay, to be positioned among the best in the world and our processes, investments and decisions are dedicated to these goals.”