“Clearly, after more than 20 years at Vidrala, my expectations have been more than fulfilled.”
Since finishing his industrial engineer degree at university in 2002, Diego Ochoa Escalona has committed his working life to the glass industry, and nearly all this time has been spent under the umbrella of the container glass manufacturer Vidrala.
Upon completing his studies, Mr Ochoa’s first foray was working in the cold end for BSN Glasspack, a manufacturer of glass containers for the food and beverage sectors, working in the Castellar plant close to Barcelona.
After the company was bought by Vidrala in 2005, an opportunity arose at Vidrala HQ in Llodio, working on furnace rebuilds as a Project Manager.
“Although it was completely different from the job I was doing, I accepted the challenge with great enthusiasm,” Mr Ochoa says. He then dedicated the next five years to working in furnace construction and during that time he learned a lot about furnace materials and installations.
After building up this experience, Mr Ochoa was then asked to lead a new furnace management department, as Furnace Production Manager, with the responsibility of defining process management procedures and developing furnace plant managers.
“It was a hard job, but results were very good and improvements in glass quality, cost, emissions and safety were put in place,” he explains.
From 2019 until today, Mr Ochoa has held the role of Director of Glass and Melting. This role includes furnace management, but also assuming responsibilities of glass and furnace maintenance management.
Throughout his time working for Vidrala in differing roles, Mr Ochoa feels he has had lots of people influencing him, so many so it is hard to pick just one person. But he says despite this, one thing is clear: “The need to be humble and learn things every day from everybody, from managers to co-workers.”
And now, with many years of experience under his belt and being in a senior position within Vidrala, he acknowledges that it falls on him to influence the next generation, something which he is more than happy to do.
“The most rewarding aspect of my role is developing people, to manage their job[s], being able to improve the processes daily and to help our business to continue achieving targets and enhance results,” he says.
During a career in the glass industry that is now into its third decade, there are many memorable moments that Mr Ochoa believes are worthy of noting, as he reveals: “I can remember lots of successful projects but for me, the most successful project has been to develop the furnace department and for it to have the importance and the recognition that it now has within Vidrala."
“In the last few years, I can say that the main successes have been the adaptation to critical situations, such as the Covid pandemic and gas and electric price increases due to the war in Ukraine.”
But on a personal level, Mr Ochoa says that besides department development, in recent years, he feels very proud of the business unit integration that has taken part at Vidrala, while also being part of the first test worldwide to use biodiesel and 100% recycled material [or cullet] to produce the most sustainable bottle of the world, a test which was conducted in co-ordination with the UK-based company Glass Futures.
“This test was made in collaboration with the members of staff at our HQ along with people based at our Encirc plant sited in Derrylin, in very difficult conditions during the pandemic but [it] produced excellent results,” he states.
A global player
With Vidrala owning eight plants and 19 furnaces located across Europe in Iberia, Italy and the UK, producing bottles and jars for multiple categories including wine, beer and olive oil in multiple colours, it is important that the company continuously progresses, whether that be from an operational point of view, to making sure it stays ahead of the curve when it comes to being a more sustainable business.
And reducing carbon emissions is something that Mr Ochoa feels is the company’s biggest challenge.
He explains: “Clearly our biggest challenge is the adaptation to new variable situations and new technologies in the coming future, for example, dealing with CO2 reductions targets."
“Vidrala is the most sustainable business of our kind, and our aim is to provide prosperity and security to our customers and shareholders, developing our people, making their workplace more attractive and comfortable, supporting social inclusion, life conciliation and [the] most important thing, making sure glass is the perfect sustainable material of choice for the future."
“Whatever challenges the next few years bring, we will be continue to be relentless in [our] drive to achieve it.”
Vidrala has agreed goals with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), through which the company has committed to huge reductions of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Vidrala says signing up to this initiative is helping to prevent the worst effects of climate change and future proofing the company.
“We are working hard and I’m completely sure that we will achieve all our challenges,” states Mr Ochoa. “Vidrala is very focused on sustainability; we really know that investing in our future and managing assets properly with our people is the way to achieve our sustainability goals.”
He also explains that Vidrala has its own sustainability strategy, named ‘Glass Made Good’, which has four pillars that lay the foundations in People, Place, Planet and Prosperity.
In order to satisfy these sustainability targets, research and development at companies like Vidrala must be a constant, as Mr Ochoa describes: “At Vidrala we know that R&D is critical for the company and for the glass sector."
“We have a great team, young and experienced, which is contributing greatly to the continuous development of the sustainability of our company. We are the only glass manufacturer member of the leading industry R&D forums and initiatives such Glass Futures, IPGR (International Partners in Glass Research) and FEVE,” he maintains.
Recent R&D projects include looking at different ways to make sustainable fuelling methods, including furnace electrification, biofuels combustion, waste heat recovery, while also looking at solar plants for internal electric supply, wind power stations, sustainable transport with gas trucks and the potential of raw materials being delivered by train, all of which Vidrala feels could help lower its carbon emissions and create a better future.
The next generation
When Mr Ochoa looks towards the future, not only for Vidrala but the glass industry as a whole, he believes the development of new melting technologies, focused on each area’s resources must be developed in order to improve the sustainability of the glass industry.
He also feels that the automation and digitalisation of the sector is one of the ways to make it more attractive, as well as improving the general day-to-day processes for workers in glass. Mr Ochoa says that Vidrala is always working to attract new entrants into the industry.
He explains: “We have many ongoing initiatives, for example, we have a specific programme for attracting engineering students called CANTERA that we are developing in Spain. Vidrala believes that making workplaces and work more attractive is the correct way to engage new generations.”
Creating a more attractive sector includes being a more diverse one, something that Mr Ochoa promotes: “We need to focus on the talent, on the skills, on the experience, and give people the opportunity to develop themselves, because people make things happen. We must not think in different genders or races; we must think in ‘persons’, and this is how Vidrala thinks, with projects like Women in Manufacturing,” (which forms part of the company’s Equality Policy).
The future for glass
Being part of the aforementioned commitments has confirmed to Mr Ochoa that the outlook is bright for not only Vidrala but the whole of the glass sector. “Glass has a huge future,” he enthuses.
“Glass is an example of sustainable circularity and conscious consumption, contributing to local circular economies, providing local jobs supported by resilient local supply chains."
“I really think that once [the] glass industry [starts to] implement, in the short-medium term, specific solutions to be neutral CO2 emitters, we will be strengthened as the most sustainable supplier for [the] food and beverage industry, contributing [products] with the lowest footprints [...] to our customer[s].”
It remains to be seen whether this statement rings true, but the future will surely be brighter with people like Mr Ochoa and companies such as Vidrala all pushing in the same direction for a better future.
Image: The Vidrala plant in Llodio, Spain + Diego Ochoa Escalona (inset).