Exclusive Vetropack interview

Sergio Antoci’s passion for business is evident in his detailed rundown of operations at Vetropack’s newly-opened Boffalora sopra Ticino glassworks. The General Manager of Vetropack Italia spoke to Glass Worldwide to recount the development of the future-proof factory and explain how this brownfield expansion project serves Italy’s growing domestic glass packaging market. The full version of this article appears in the Sept/Oct 2023 issue that has been mailed globally and is also now available free of charge in the digital archive*.

Exclusive Vetropack interview

Last April this magazine reported on Vetropack’s plans to expand its container production in Italy by building a new factory on the derelict site of former paper mill in Boffalora sopra Ticino, not far from the glass packaging manufacturer’s existing facility in Trezzano sul Naviglio, in the north of the country (see Glass Worldwide March/April 2022 pp62–63).

The local Italian community discovered that Vetropack had its eye on transforming Boffalora’s long-neglected industrial estate at the end of 2018, when the company held a meeting to introduce itself and explain the concept of the project.

It would be an understatement to say we have been welcomed with open arms!” enthuses Sergio Antoci, General Manager of Vetropack Italia. The positive reception reportedly extended from “the authorities in the area – such as the mayor and her team – to the residents,” he recounts, going on to explain how this was achieved…

Vetropack believes “very much in the principle of not using up a green space but brown,” Mr Antoci underlines, and the Group scouted for an existing industrial site that met its exacting specifications for utilities, accessibility and size.

Quite frankly, we had no reason to leave Trezzano except for space – we had under 100,000m2 and with two furnaces, our warehouses were outside of the perimeter,” he explains. “The idea was to find a single space with the concept of ‘all under one roof’ in order to have all the warehouses within the site so that it’s a Vetropack person, rather than a contractor, is the last person to see the product before the customer."

The double advantage of our new site is firstly from a local point of view we have removed the complete eyesore [and danger] of a practically abandoned site, and secondly, we have the advantage of using what was already an industrial area, which is much easier from an acceptability point of view for the local environment. So this is a big difference from greenfield – which in my mind could mean taking, for example, a field of trees or an area that belonged to a farmer – which is why we are proud to be absolutely brownfield,” he emphasises.

Vetropack received building permits for the project in July 2021 and set about preparing the site.

The first thing we did was demolish everything that was there and environmentally cleaned the whole area,” recalls Mr Antoci. “We were able to reuse [existing] building material within the basement of the construction of the new site as secondary materials. It was a major clean-up project overall.

In October 2021 the company held an official groundbreaking ceremony and the good PR continued: “We brought together not only the political authorities and contractors, but also our employees, for a little bit of digging!

Another element of that warm welcome from the local community is no doubt due to Vetropack dedicating around 30,000m2 within the area it purchased to creating an attractive public park and a cycle park that ties into a local authorities’ programme to link the north and south of the region – “which they hadn’t been able to do previously,” notes Mr Antoci. “We have also created a public car park and a secondary side road in consideration of the local traffic. We are not reinventing the wheel but we are putting in the latest of everything that is available into the space available.

Even the plant’s environmental credentials are impeccable: “We have already solar panelled all the office buildings and the factory has been built from a structural point of view to have solar panels and reduce as much as possible the impact on the environment from a sourcing point of view,” says Mr Antoci.

Productive partnerships

Vetropack partnered with general contractor GSE Italia for the factory build and the demolition that preceded it. Other key partners were Jacobs (project monitor) and cm.project.ing (process contractor).

Although we are still using traditional furnaces, we have gone for specifications with the ability to be able to use more electrical energy when necessary, therefore providing many environmental benefits,” explains Mr Antoci. “It needs to be a viable proposition, balancing the ability to be competitive on the market."

We’ve also put a lot of effort into the batch plant side from an environmental point of view,” he continues.

We have basically no materials stocked in the open – everything is stocked in an enclosed building full of silos and automated systems,” expands Mr Antoci. “From a dust and contamination point of view, an example is when we load the silos, we now use our own compressors that have filters in to remove the humidity… Therefore the silos are loaded with materials that are perfectly dry and less humidity in the material means less energy to create the bottle… It’s a closed loop. And these are all the minor touches (but with a lot of detail behind them) that could be missed in a project this big.

With all the cold end technologies and inspection machines, we are simply developing the basic, proven and known technology with high tech equipment,” he states. “The cold end is a classic example where the offerings from the market are in constant evolution because it’s all based on speed and electronics to be able to detect defects in the bottles; we’ve then added in all the very latest in terms of being able to scrap the bottles without contaminating the area – for example, our cullet return lines are all enclosed and that has multiple benefits."

Having already got to a very high level of this technology, these minor points all together keep us one big step ahead of what we had previously and what our average competitor has in the market.

Vetropack Italia has introduced a high degree of automation to whisk its finished products safely to their intended destinations. This begins with the input of the packaging material into the cold end, such as the pallets and interlayers, right through to the loading of the trucks: “We have a fleet of automated guided vehicles (AGVs),” mentions Mr Antoci, still clearly relishing the “novelty” aspect of this upgrade. “The manual input of that is next to zero, but the final eye will still be a human Vetropack eye to approve the product as we load the trucks,” he underlines. “So the warehouses will be human-free; the finished goods warehouse will be human-free; and the packaging warehouses will be human-free. This is unique within our group and for most of the glass industry.

Prioritising people

On 22 May 2023 the Boffalora glassworks went ‘live’ when the first furnace was fired up at the new factory, with the second following a few weeks later. Production of glass containers commenced this summer – up an astonishing 70% compared to previous capacity at the Trezzano site – and an official opening ceremony is scheduled for October 2023, “two years to the day from when we did the groundbreaking,” observes Mr Antoci.

For him, having led the company’s Italian operations for over 10 years, the start-up was, understandably, a uniquely fulfilling moment.

To see the look on the faces of the Vetropack Italia team as they walk through the doors of the new plant for the first time – that to me summarises all the years of work,” he confides. “These people know what a glass plant looks like but to see them walk in and realise what their future is gives me immense pride.”

Breathing life into the new factory are approximately 300 employees, and with people brought on board as a result of the move, this figure could grow soon to around 330. However, “the increased number will be substantially lower than the increased capacity because our productivity will be much more impressive,” states Mr Antoci, underlining the facility’s optimal efficiency and high level of automation.

When Vetropack was selecting the new factory’s location, a key requirement was that the new plant couldn’t be too far from the Trezzano site. “The first asset of any industry is people so our aim was ‘max 25’ meaning 25 minutes and 25 kilometres,” says Mr Antoci. The number of previous employees who declined to relocate is “in single digits,” he reports.

All hot-end operators received weeks of dedicated training at the Groups’ Glass Training Centre in the Pöchlarn (Austria) site, to help prepare them for an upgraded working experience and advanced technology.

The new plant is a completely different environment to Trezzano – and is a magnet, there is no doubt about it,” believes Mr Antoci. “There are targets for the people joining us to feel part of a growing and future-looking environment and they should be an active part of the mechanism to keep them on board."

We’ve also joined forces with local technical institutes because this is not a short-term project and we are working with students to introduce them to the world of glass and what we have to offer – and this could develop into specific courses related to glass,” he expounds. “Benefits are already visible, but the real benefits will be in a few years."

We’ve almost reinvented ourselves as part of the recruitment process,” he remarks.

Adding value

Flint and cuvée glass products manufactured at the new factory, which has inherited the existing facility’s 60-year-plus client base, will still be geared to the food and beverage sectors, and will mainly supply the domestic market. With two furnaces in operation at Boffalora, the factory is currently running with eight lines. (“Obviously at the cold end it splits into more,” notes Mr Antoci.) “We aim for flexibility so we have lines that range from the single gob up to multi-gob lines,” he explains. “The Italian market we supply to has the full range: from bulk products in millions and millions of pieces, to small local producers that want only 50,000 or 100,000 pieces. So the flexibility we have is precisely on the machine front – we can convert from doing long runs to the short runs. That’s what we’ve done up to now and put simply, we will be able to do more of it in the future because the market is there for those products. – We want to be a local supplier, not bringing in glass from abroad."

From a commercial point of view, bear in mind that we are not suddenly going to increase how much we sell by 70% because that’s not realistic,” he stresses. “For many years now we have been using inter-company products – being part of a large Group like Vetropack provides an advantage of being able to expand your footprint and the local market with inter-company products, but that can now be replaced (or added to because the Italian market is so big) with product made locally. Of course, Italian customers always look at price and quality but they will always have a preference to buy Italian if they can. The Italian food and beverage market is recognised globally as a force and we are part of that production cycle.

So could Boffalora’s product end up at other Vetropack locations in Europe?

Why not?” reasons Mr Antoci. “We always look at the environmental footprint of transport, both from a cost point of view and a pollution point of view and where we can, we minimise the distance. But having said that, there is no reason to avoid being what I call a centre of excellence – if somebody is doing something well and it’s able to be shared within the Group then inter-company produce can still be an advantage."

We are small in our market in Italy compared to Vetropack’s prominent position in other markets, so our opportunity to grow is very visible,” he continues. “The Italian market is growing at a steady pace and we are now able to grow with it. We have a very impressive facility now and the market is ready for it."

We are hungry for new customers, new products and new opportunities as well as being clear that we can provide more value to existing customers. Any product on the supermarket shelf with food or drink inside is an opportunity for us.”

Environmental aims

The now-empty Trezzano factory is scheduled for demolition and Vetropack Italia has submitted a plan for a subsequent environmental clean-up of the site.

It was quite an emotional moment when production stopped there,” confides Mr Antoci, “and it was nice to know that the cullet we took from there [was] used at the start-up of the new factory to give a little bit of continuity!

Italy is near the top end in Europe of recycled percentages, he observes, but the priority at Boffalora – “as with any glass plant, is to increase the amount of cullet that is used in the mixture,” he states.

Our Group uses 50–55% of recycled product and we have a clear target in our Strategy 2030+ to have an average of 70% [used glass proportion by 2030 – conscious of the growing need for high-quality, uncontaminated used glass, Vetropack actively supports measures that increase collection rates]. We have steady sources of recycled material and with the increase in capacity [at Boffalora] we will need a constant supply because for us it is essential,” says Mr Antoci. “We participate in and support bodies such as Assovetro [Italy’s national association of glass industrialists] and CoReVe [the not-for-profit Glass Recovery Consortium responsible for achieving recycling and recovery targets for Italy’s glass packaging waste] and contribute to the clear message that until we reach 100%, we cannot stop."

It’s interesting that a lot of the products we sell in the medium and top ranges to our customers are then sold abroad, so in the end the subsequent filling of the recycling tends to end up aboard,” he comments. “Because of all the many glassworks in Italy, at the end the recycled material can never be enough…

With respect to the Boffalora glassworks, Vetropack Italia has implemented environmentally-friendly melting and production technologies that utilise energy recovery and re-use. “We generate a lot of heat and want to recover as much [of that] as possible and the technology allows us to provide hot and cold air and water during the summer and winter. This could be further developed as new technology becomes available and the focus is to make sure that the impact on the environment is as minimal as can be,” stipulates Mr Antoci. The plant is also designed to stay below the minimum limit imposed by BAT and always here in Boffalora, the first DeNOx of the Group was installed.

In general, there are standards and laws you need to follow… but our standard was not only being within those parameters but to be well within them because it’s obvious that the standards will change in the future as we go along so there was no point in doing a plant that was just in line with current expectations,” he explains.

Our customers expect the quality and service that goes with the Vetropack name and we need to continue to provide this and make sure that the impact we have on the environment and sustainability is an active part of our day to day operation.

Future-proof facility

From the outset, the investment at Boffalora was aimed not just at relocating the Trezzano operation, but to guarantee the future of the Vetropack Italia business. The new site is about 350,000m2, and “adequate space has been left available for a third furnace – including all the necessary warehouses – in the future,” reveals Mr Antoci. “Everything we do always has a logic in being viable and at the same time sustainable with [regard] to future generations. If the Trezzano plant stood for 60 years, then for sure the new plant will be here for longer and therefore needs to be futureproof. By the way, the project was called ‘Project Future’ precisely because of this: we needed to bring the future into today’s present,” he explains.

The AGVs at Boffalora are a “classic example of where it’s new technology to us and a real eye opener for us,” says Mr Antoci. “I’d like to think that we will be able to supply leadership in certain elements for the Group to follow."

We certainly have in every area bought the very latest technology available. But technology changes and we have to stay ahead of the rest, so as developments come on the market and as we develop new energy recovery and sustainability systems, we will aim to encompass them. We realise the importance of always being at the forefront.”

In terms of value growth, Vetropack has outlined aims to broaden the scope of activities at Boffalora by venturing into new business segments along the glass packaging value chain.

All suppliers were asked “to provide maximum flexibility in the machines, and therefore we are positioned appropriately for the full range of needs of the domestic market,” believes Mr Antoci.

There is a healthy demand for glass packaging; an inert, completely recyclable product widely recognised as the best for maintaining the qualities of its contents,” he notes. “Our aim therefore is to make sure that our customers and the end customers continue to have this appreciation and for us to continue to grow with the market."

We all know the market has been volatile and unpredictable in the last years because of the energy crisis as well as Covid,” he continues. “But in my view it has managed to ride the main storm, accepting the changes and learning how to deal with them. It’s been a unique experience…”

Conscious that, as a brand new factory, the Boffalora glassworks is now in the spotlight as the de facto flagship facility within the whole Vetropack Group, and with customers “excited by the new plant,” Mr Antoci is eager to get the new plant fully operational. “We are ready, we fully understand the challenges that lie ahead, and we will achieve the targets that go with such a great project,” he concludes.


Image: The brand-new Boffalora sopra Ticino facility in Northern Italy (inset: Sergio Antoci).

Further Information: 

Vetropack Italia, Boffalora sopra Ticino, Milan, Italy
tel: +39 02 458771
email: corporate.communications@vetropack.com
web: www.vetropack.com

* The full version of this article appears in the bumper Sept/Oct issue that has been mailed globally. The digital version of this issue can also currently be read free of charge in its entirety in the Digital Archive (sponsored by FIC) of over 65 issues of Glass Worldwide 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 2023-24 yearbook, subscribe now at https://www.glassworldwide.co.uk/subscription-choice