NSG manufactures and markets glass and glazing products for architectural and automotive markets in North America. The company’s latest float plant in Troy Township, Ohio is scheduled for commissioning in October 2020 and will support the group’s plan to expand production capacity of online TCO (transparent conductive oxide) coated glass to support a growing solar sector.
As well as this facility, five float lines are currently operated in the USA; two in Rossford, Ohio, another two in Laurinburg, North Carolina and a fifth in Ottawa, Illinois. In addition, the company maintains an extensive network of automotive original equipment and aftermarket fabrication facilities in the USA, Canada and Mexico, producing a portfolio of laminated and toughened products. Total workforce in North America exceeds 4600 people. An important part of the global NSG Group, the former Libbey-Owens-Ford operation that became Pilkington and later NSG focuses increasingly on value added products and service, while also continuing to supply commodity products. “The North America market and the solar business have been significant contributors to NSG for several years and are a key component of our forward growth strategy” Richard Altman, Regional Director for Architectural Glass and Solar confirms. “Furthermore, glass has moved from being a passive object to look through to more of a dynamic object to add or create functionality in one form or another.”
Mr Altman is confident that the USA still represents a cost-effective manufacturing hub for flat glass production. “One of the key cost elements of glassmaking is energy, as melting glass is an energy-intensive process. Energy costs in the USA are the lowest in the world, in addition to which glass is a heavy commodity, so the cost of shipping the material is high compared to the end value of the product, all of which supports domestic production.”
Since joining Libbey-Owens-Ford in 1979, Richard Altman has enjoyed a successful management career and a variety of responsibilities, covering finance, supply chain and manufacturing (as a plant manager). As Regional Director for Architectural Glass and Solar, he is now responsible for the company’s architectural activities and growing solar business, with global accountability for the NSG thin film solar operations. This embraces all aspects of the business from manufacturing to product sales and service and involves supporting team members to satisfy customer needs. “As part of these activities, I strive to make sure we always keep the customer first and our people a very close second” Mr Altman explains. “Without customers, we don’t exist and without a highly motivated team, we fail the customer.”
Throughout his career, people-related aspects of every role have always been among the most rewarding. “Encouraging someone and supporting them to be successful can be very rewarding” Richard Altman confirms.
Among his greatest challenges is the need to maintain focus on long-term business goals in times of slow down. “Here in the USA, despite a slight slowing in the market, the recruitment and retention of good people are challenging, especially as we are currently in an expansion phase with the addition of a new plant.”
Solar energy focus
Focusing on the production of coated glass for the solar market, the company’s new float facility in Troy Township (pictured) has been built within 10 miles of the largest solar panel manufacturing operation in the western hemisphere, owned by First Solar. This facility is dedicated largely to serving the North American market and will represent one of the glassmaker’s key global customers.
“Solar glass is very much a growing market as costs have become much more competitive compared to fossil fuels and it is more environmentally-friendly” says Richard Altman. “Renewable energy is here to stay in the USA and solar will continue to be a key part of that.”
With good access to natural gas and a rail network for inbound raw materials, the Troy Township site in north western Ohio also delivers a skilled labour market. In addition, it is close to the company’s R&D facilities and other operations. The local community has been fully supportive of the initiative, which will be highly automated, featuring the latest advances in glassmaking and on-line coating technologies. “It may surprise potential young employees to see the amount of high technology employed compared to what are considered ‘high tech’ industries” Mr Altman explains. “We knew it would be challenging to attract young people to work at the plant, so we are planing to create a ‘preferred’ work environment for our employees. As one of the world’s leading glass manufacturers, however, we hope to differentiate ourselves with our people, our innovative focus on new products and processes and our comprehensive pay and benefits package.”
Collectively, the main criteria for selecting technology suppliers to support the investment are capability, reliability and cost, together with a proven track record. A high priority has been placed on environmental factors, the new plant employing the latest emissions reduction technology. In addition, several other projects have been initiated to minimise the factory’s carbon footprint.
By concentrating on the needs of the expanding solar market, the Troy glassworks is expected to free up production capacity at existing Pilkington North America float plants to serve other customers and markets. “In recent years, we have been constrained from a capacity perspective and this project will be a big help” Richard Altman confirms.
The company’s R&D efforts in North America will continue to play an important role for the global NSG Group in the future, working closely with customers towards the development of product innovations. “Perhaps many potential applications have still to be recognised but they will continue to emerge” Mr Altman concludes. “The past 40 years have provided a lot of change and excitement… I am interested to see what the next 40 will provide!”