Exclusive Sisecam interview: Sener Oktik, Chief Research and Technological Development Officer

More than 650 people registered for last November’s Sisecam International Glass Conference in Istanbul, including strong support from international glassmakers and the academic community. John Wallis spoke to Professor Dr Sener Oktik, Conference Executive Chair and Sisecam’s Chief Research and Technological Development Officer about future plans for the conference and how they align with Sisecam’s ambitious R&D goals. The full version of this article appears in the January/February issue *.

Exclusive Sisecam interview: Sener Oktik, Chief Research and Technological Development Officer

Staged in association with the 34th annual Sisecam Glass Symposium, the Sisecam International Glass Conference attracted representatives from 26 different countries to Istanbul, Turkey in November 2019. Although 657 people registered in advance, just fewer than 500 people ultimately attended, still representing strong industry support for this launch event.

Writing in the event literature, Professor Dr Ahmet Kirman (Conference President and Vice Chairman and CEO of Sisecam) and Professor Dr Sener Oktik (Conference Executive Chair and Sisecam CTO) explained that the meeting was the result of 33 years of uninterrupted effort to establish a platform for the dissemination of recent progress in glass science and technology and to promote Istanbul as an attractive and neutral hub for such international gatherings. Ultimately, the aim was to provide scientists, researchers and engineers from around the world with a scientific discussion forum to exchange ideas and recent progress in research and technological development. “Under the theme ‘Glass in the sustainable future: Achieving what is possible…’, we also hope the meeting fosters international collaboration in the sector” they confirmed.

“Our hope is to bring compelling new ideas in glass science and technology” Professor Oktik added. “Sisecam now aims to transform the Sisecam Glass Symposium into a comprehensive International Glass Conference. This ambitious goal is a result of Sisecam Group’s sense of responsibility for being the only global player active in all core areas - flat glass, glassware, glass packaging and chemicals for the glass industry.”

An impressive 60% of the English language papers delivered in Istanbul were accepted from international speakers but members of the extensive Sisecam RD&T team were also well represented. This emphasises the growing importance placed by the group on product innovation and production advancement, with presentations covering everything from ‘Emerging trends and technologies in the glass industry’ to ‘Digitisation, data analytics and process monitoring’ and from ‘Thin film coatings and large area coating technologies’ to ‘Energy, environment and sustainability’.

Via a series of plenary and parallel sessions, the meeting featured 111 oral and 12 poster presentations to maintain the interest and participation of glass manufacturers and members of the associated science and research community over two days. In addition, five specialist training sessions were organised the day before the main meeting by leading technology providers CelSian, Glass Service, Eurotherm, AMETEK Land, RHI-Magnesita and SEFPRO.

International plenary speakers included Dipak Q Chowdhury (Division VP and Technology Executive, Corning Technology Centre Korea) and Ludovic Valette (President, Global Technology, Owens-Illinois). Dr Chowdhury summarised the current state of flexible glass technology and discussed some of its latest applications as a substrate and superstrate. Ludovic Valette identified the role of glass as the material of choice for sustainable packaging solutions.

At the last minute, Professor Oktik also stepped in as a plenary speaker, presenting a topic close to his heart and one that has occupied his professional career for many years; the development of solar skins for the photovoltaic industry.

Fulfilling an international role

Professor Oktik confirmed the intention to rename the meeting the Istanbul International Glass Conference, supported by Sisecam and to stage it next in 2021. Thereafter, meetings will continue to be held every two years, with the traditional and equally relevant Sisecam Glass Symposium held for the group’s management and technical personnel in the intervening years. In the future, help will be secured from national and international parties in the glass industry value chain to facilitate an eco-system to initiate many new contacts to exchange exciting developments on a global scale.

It is strongly believed that the conference provides an excellent opportunity to update and discuss the latest developments in glass science, technology and production. “On the other hand, it will demonstrate Sisecam’s ongoing commitment to foster international collaborations to improve the ‘clock speed’ in the glass industry.”

It is since Sener Oktik joined Sisecam in 2012 that the policy of opening up these meetings has been successfully pursued, initially to the Turkish academic community and then to international delegates. As a result, a genuinely international platform has been created to foster and encourage the exchange of valuable ideas and knowledge. To have attracted almost 500 people to last year’s meeting was a significant achievement for the team, laying the foundation for future successful events.

Another important benefit of the meeting was to raise the visibility and profile of the Sisecam Group, which is now acknowledged as one of the world’s largest, most successful and influential glassmaking businesses. The group operates 43 specialist production facilities in flat glass, household glassware, glass packaging and glassfibre, as well as soda and chrome chemicals. Today, Sisecam is the world’s leading supplier of chromium compounds and the seventh largest synthetic soda ash producer. Furthermore, it is the third largest manufacturer of household glassware and the fifth largest glass packaging and flat glassmaker globally. With production facilities throughout Turkey, in Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Ukraine, Egypt and India, the group has 22,000 employees and has set the goal of becoming one of the top three global producers in each of its main business fields.

Strong R&D focus

Professor Dr Sener Oktik has been heading Sisecam’s extensive research, development and technology organisation since 2012 and as Chief Research and Technological Development Officer, he is a member of the group’s Executive Board. He successfully bridges the gap between fundamental scientific research and the specific industrial development needs of Sisecam’s manufacturing businesses. Since joining Sisecam, his team has been responsible for repositioning research and technological development at the heart of the organisation.

“In the glass industry, the competition in every ring of the value chain will continue to grow with increasing speed” Professor Oktik explains. “Collective and collaborative research and technological development activities are the most important drivers for pushing the pre-commercial frontiers from basic science research to a prototyping stage.”

R&D priorities can be grouped in three interrelated shells:

• Improvement/optimisation of existing (core) technologies and products.
• Development (or transfer) of new products and technologies at adjacent fields of the glass industry.
• Development (or transfer) of new products and technologies at transformational fields.

“Complying with the key global drivers in the glass industry such as climate change and digitalisation, we embark on our ambitious journey towards exploring and hopefully achieving ‘what is possible’ to differentiate and innovate with an improved ‘clock speed’ in production technologies and products portfolio.”

Professor Oktik graduated in physics in 1976 and received an MEng in applied physics in 1977 from the University of Ankara. He was awarded a PhD from the UK’s University of Durham in 1982. Subsequently, he received an associate professorship in 1986, before working as a lecturer/research scientist/senior executive at Durham University, Lecce University in Italy, Stuttgart University in Germany and Selcuk and Mugla Universities in Turkey. His career has also included key roles as a senior research scientist/senior technologist/expert/senior executive at ICI plc, BP Solar (UK), the Industrial Research Laboratories at Durham University, Anel Group and Arikanli Holding, prior to serving as Vice Rector, then Rector at Mugla University in the south west of Turkey.

Throughout his Sisecam career, Professor Oktik has served as a member of the ICG’s steering committee and is now a member on the Advisory Committee. He has also been a member of the international advisory board of the International Conference on Coatings on Glass and Plastics (ICCG), the Society of Vacuum Coaters (SVC) and The Center for Functional and Surface Functional Glass (Slovakia) (FunGlass). A member of the Scientific Committee of the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference (EU-PVSEC), he was Chairperson of the Turkish Solar Energy Industry Association (GENSED) until 2018, before being named GENSED’s honorary Chairperson.

Leading glass science laboratory

Since his appointment as Chief Research and Technological Development Officer eight years ago, Professor Oktik is especially proud of his pivotal role in the creation and management of a dedicated corporate Research and Development Centre in Gebze-Kocaeli. Opened in 2014, this advanced facility is among Europe’s leading laboratories in glass science and technology.

The STDC building has international GOLD LEED certification, housing 27 subject-specific, well-equipped laboratories and a design centre. Currently, 167 full-time researchers are employed, 59 of whom have a postgraduate degree (one Professor, 18 PhDs and 40 MScs). They are actively involved in every link of the value chain, from basic science research and pilot-scale production trials at the laboratory or industrial scale, to the commercialisation of products and technology. Additionally, 75 full-time researchers within the Sisecam Group’s four main business lines (glass packaging, flat glass, glassware and chemicals) provide direct support to the activities of Research and Technological Development (RTD) and conduct quality control and quality assurance activities in regional laboratories (10 in Turkey and seven abroad).
RTD activities are focused on sustainability and excellence goals at every step – from raw materials to finished product. In line with the strategic priorities and objectives of the global glass industry, studies in research, technological development and design can be grouped into a series of major categories. These include production process efficiency, energy efficiency, environmental impact, innovative technologies, products and designs, as well as corresponding new application areas that will grow the market.

In 2018, the RTD Department conducted studies on 237 work packages within 42 umbrella projects. Of these, 34 were in furnace investments, 89 were in new products and technology development and 123 were in operational excellence, such as product, technology and process improvements, cost reduction analysis and support services. That year, 21 new products and technologies were commercialised, 15 patent applications were filed, with three patents and 13 designs registered.

According to Professor Oktik, research to boost the strength of thin glass with chemical tempering technology was accelerated in 2018. And in the flat glass business, side lite and quarter lite glasses prepared as prototypes for the automotive sector were well received by customers. In the glassware business, stemware glasses – featuring higher mechanical strength in free fall, bending and impact tests compared to competitor products in the ultra-light stemware products category with lead free crystal composition – were offered to the market with similar technology.

Three new flat glass, six new functional glassware and two different glass packaging products were commercialised by using atmospheric coating technologies. These products included pyrolytic low-E, a solution for offline AR coated product for flat glass, ‘Cosmo-Fairytale’ series, neon products with screen printing, metallic and gilding effect coated products, interference effect ‘Midas’ series and thermo-chromic products that are coloured when heated for glassware. In the glass packaging business, alternatives were created for the currently used inorganic spray and enamel printing paints.

In architectural applications, light and thermal transmittance-adjustable, temperable low-E coatings (71/54, T50/33, T41/27) and low reflective coatings (T60/28) became commercial products. Production trials for T80/65 and low-E U:1.0 products as well as heatable athermic glass for the automotive sector were completed; certification efforts are ongoing. In addition, studies were conducted on new technologies to boost the strength of vacuum-coated products and improve the conductivity and optical performance during the heat treatment applied for some products. During the year, the infrastructure was formed to obtain higher quality product output.

Production expertise

With 84 years of experience, Sisecam Group has excelled in ‘end to end’ glass production and utilises this experience in the design of new production lines and cold repairs of existing furnaces. Core competences in furnace technologies include glass furnace design, CFD modeling simulations, the design and implementation of batch house systems, combustion, emissions and energy efficiency, furnace electrical and control systems, troubleshooting and furnace auditing, as well as refractory benchmarking and selection.

Complementary core glass technology competences cover the evaluation of new and alternative raw materials, the design and improvement of glass compositions, improving the melting/fining behaviour of batches, measurement of physical properties of hot and cold glass, measurement of optical properties of glass, development of new and functional glass colours, programming colour transitions in the furnace and follow-up, mechanical properties, fractography, gas analysis of glass bubbles by mass spectrometer, troubleshooting, off-line coating vacuum coating for architectural and automotive applications, as well as atmospheric coatings for functional and decorative applications for all production groups.

Professor Oktik explains that new sensor applications became widespread in furnaces as part of Industry 4.0 practices. “Along with expanding digitalisation applications, data-based production system optimisation efforts continue intensively to enhance furnace life and performance” he confirms. “A proposal was submitted to the European Commission’s LIFE fund for a project that targets boosting production capacity by up to 15% via the integration of smart burners that incorporate advanced sensors with process control technologies in flat glass production.”

Furthermore, efforts to expand and improve the existing energy database (ENIS - Energy Monitoring System) for integrated management of production systems and energy efficiency have been accelerated, with regular reporting starting during the 2018. Glass forming simulations aid product and process development, especially bending complex 3D automotive glass, while simulation efforts have played a significant role in securing and maintaining design partner status with major multi-national automotive companies. “On the other hand, expertise in artificial intelligence is being developed by adopting artificial neural networks and similar techniques to optimise production processes based on operational data” Professor Oktik confirms.

Carbon emissions are regularly monitored from the group’s business processes. Since 2011, Sisecam has disclosed the data obtained from its monitoring efforts through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Longstanding expertise in glass furnace modeling has been extended to the simulation of forehearths, energy recovery systems and secondary operations such as tempering for optimum design and operation.

Energy audits are conducted across the group and pressure air leakage tests and leakage elimination analyses are performed. Using these finding, capital investments were also made to ensure energy consumption minimisation and saving.

As part of Sisecam’s renewable energy efforts, in 2017 6.2 MW of solar power panels were installed at the Mersin flat glass production facility. This represents one of the world’s largest roof-type solar power generators. In addition to this solar power plant, 330 solar panels with a total installed power of 87 kW have been installed on the roof of the Sisecam Science, Technology and Design Centre.

Moreover, 15 MW of electricity is generated annually by the waste heat recovery facilities operating at four plants. Feasibility studies have been completed for new waste heat recovery facilities, which are expected to be commissioned to boost capacity further at flat glass plants in Italy and in Ankara, Turkey. Natural gas consumption savings have also been achieved via hot water generated within the system.

“Sisecam Group’s investments priorities have been towards sustainable growth by focusing on advanced technology, Industry 4.0 applications and the efficiency of our production management systems” Professor Oktik concludes. “It is expected that the digital transformation project will enable 360 degree integration of our value chain – from research, technological development and design via supply chain to customer experience. Furthermore, ownership of advanced technologies will accelerate Sisecam Group’s competitive capabilities for a smart future and sustainable growth.”

Potentially, these and many other glass research-related subjects will be addressed by the Sisecam research and technological development team in Gebze-Kocaeli and hopefully discussed at future Istanbul International Glass Conferences.

Further Information: 

Sisecam Group, Istanbul, Turkey
web: www.sisecam.com

* The full version of this article appears in the January/February issue alongside a broad cross-section of editorial that assists with all areas of production and processing. Whatever your company's area of glass making expertise, this issue will provide you with balanced coverage of the latest news, technology, profiles, market information and events. Subscribe now to receive the full paper and digital versions (subscribers receive a free copy of the Who’s Who / Annual Review yearbook!).

Click here for our Hot Topics latest news round-up