“While Vitro and PPG had distinct and complimentary areas of expertise, we held a considerable amount in common, including many of our core values” Roberto Cabrera explains. “Both companies had impressive 100 plus year legacies and we’ve joined the best of both to create a stronger corporation.”
In late 2018, Vitro Architectural Glass went through an extensive rebranding process. “It was more than just a change of colours and an updated logo” the organisation’s Vice President of Technology confirms, however. “We realised that our strength lies in the power of partnership and that by working together with our customers to solve complex problems, together is how we can advance what glass can do and be. That’s really the essence of what Vitro is all about.”
Extensive industry experience
It was 33 years ago that Roberto Cabrera started working for Vitro’s automotive glass business in Mexico City. He soon transferred to the float business, however, working in quality assurance, before moving into the technical area as head of R&D, process engineering and part of the glass products development team.
In 1998, Mr Cabrera accepted the position of Corporate Technology Manager, which allowed him to work on several projects across Vitro’s container, tableware, glassfibre and flat glass business units. He was named Float Glass Technology Manager in 2009, participating in the acquisition of the PPG flat glass business. Subsequently, he became Technology Director, before becoming Vice President of Technology in 2017.
Today, Roberto Cabrera’s main responsibilities are associated with the management of engineering and capital projects for the Vitro architectural glass business. His team is also responsible for process engineering for the company’s float and coater lines, as well as its additional processing lines in the USA and Mexican operations.
“I enjoy dealing with new challenges every day, seeking innovative solutions to those challenges and finding ways to implement them” Mr Cabrera confirms. “Starting a project from concept to launch is very satisfying. Building capabilities that help to shape the future of the company makes me very proud of the job and proud of the teams that work continually to improve our processes and operations. Working with people from different backgrounds is priceless, lots of learning from all levels in the organisation and amazingly, finding innovation even in the simple jobs.”
Commenting on the many day-to-day challenges faced, Mr Cabrera explains that the economics of float glass production force Vitro to identify and develop every possible efficiency edge constantly to achieve better performance from its glass lines. “It takes a mastery of process, equipment and technology, in addition to the training and development of personnel” he says. “In my career, we’ve recovered float lines from earthquakes, hurricanes and glass leaks. We could not have met these and other challenges without surrounding ourselves with the most capable and knowledgeable suppliers and partners.”
Process improvement and cost reduction efforts that help Vitro Architectural Glass to stay competitive are described as key drivers for the team. “We also continually focus on finding opportunities that will allow us to continue to grow.”
North American focus
Vitro Architectural Glass is a leader in the North American market (Canada, Mexico and the USA), specialising in products for commercial and residential markets, as well as the automotive industry. Manufacturing facilities are located across the USA, in California, Oregon, Texas and Pennsylvania while in Mexico, Vitro has facilities at Mexicali, Garcia and Mexico City. In both countries, the company produces float and coated glass for the architectural, automotive and specialty sectors, as well as operating fabrication facilities throughout Canada.
In 2016, Vitro announced the first jumbo coater in North America. Started up in July 2018, this line represents what is described as a dramatic leap forward in glass coating technology and expands the company’s coating capabilities not only today but also well into the future.
“We look for the latest and most reliable technologies, as well as those that are cost-effective” says Roberto Cabrera when explaining the main criteria for selecting suppliers to support the glassmaker’s investments. “The solutions we choose need to provide value and they need to help us serve our customers with an ample offering of high performance products that meet our customers’ expectations.”
Energy efficiency gains
In Mexico, Vitro holds ‘Clean Industry’ certification’, while in the USA, the Fresno facility in California has been recognised as an EPA Energy Star-certified facility. It is the first float line in the country to receive this certification.
The glassmaker is highly focused on reducing emissions by using a high percentage of cullet that is recovered, processed, cleaned and used extensively in its furnaces. Furthermore, Vitro is the only company to operate three oxy-fuel float furnaces in the USA, developed using its own technology.
In addition, the development and commercialisation of highly efficient coated products for different regions puts Vitro at the cutting edge of energy efficiency solutions for both commercial and residential buildings and vehicles.
Furnace design priorities
According to Roberto Cabrera, the ability to learn from past experiences and address issues found in furnaces are the elements that help Vitro to enhance its furnace design capabilities. “We always look for the next generation of furnaces that deliver better performance and last longer. We also always strive to execute best practices in hot repair and maintenance initiatives.”
To keep track of technology and materials developments that could lead to further advances in melting furnace design, the glassmaker participates in both leadership and contributory roles in a series of different industry technical organisations. This includes participation in the Glass Manufacturing Industry Council, the GlassTrend consortium, the International Commission on Glass and the American Ceramic Society, as well as the National Glass Association, the National Fenestration Rating Council and the Fenestration and Glazing Industry Forum (AAMA and IGMA).
“The glass industry is very competitive, so we are continually looking for ways to increase furnace performance… glass melting is a key factor” Mr Cabrera confirms. “The volatility of fuel sources created the need to develop new technologies to reduce emissions, together with speeding up melting. Demand for cleaner sources of energy is helping to drive alternative ways to melt glass, so we are always searching for solutions that will allow us to be more cost-effective and more environmentally sustainable.”
Vitro is always looking for long lasting furnaces and high quality products that allow the company to have highly efficient operations. “Developing novel techniques to maintain the furnaces in a healthy state, while reducing the impact of defects from refractory materials has allow us to maintain within best performances.”
Fostering industry relationships
Together with his Vitro colleagues, Mr Cabrera is a member of the Glass Manufacturing Industry Council Board of Trustees, an active participant in GMIC committees and a supporter of the annual Conference on Glass Problems. “The GMIC helps to promote, maintain and enhance the glass industry and provide support on key topics such as energy, sustainability, AI, safety practices and technology” he says. “An important role is to facilitate open conversation among technical members of the glass industry from the different sectors. Constant communication with other associations in the industry helps to create the roadmap for the future.”
A past speaker at the Conference on Glass Problems, Roberto Cabrera is a firm supporter of the annual event. “This is the meeting point for technology providers and suppliers in the glass industry. Networking is a key element and there are always many follow up meetings to discuss various projects.”
Vitro Architectural Glass is open to continue licensing its float and coating technologies with strategic partners around the world. Providing the best performing products is dependent on high value manufacturing processes and these will continue to evolve throughout the organisation. While Adrian Sada (CEO) and Ricardo Maiz (President) have driven the growth processes that have made Vitro what it is today, the entire management team has also contributed significant in-depth industry experience.
Talent recruitment and development are an important element of the company’s culture, allowing Vitro to be prepared to meet the next challenge. Expertise is gained over time and with proper exposure to all areas of the business. Empowerment and training allow employees to develop professionally in their areas of expertise.
Vitro serves the architectural and construction sectors with popular, high performing low-E brands such as SOLARBAN and SUNGATE. SOLARBAN, for example, is described as the most specified low-E brand by architects in North America. Similarly, Vitro offers STARPHIRE ULTRA-CLEAR low iron glasses to a range of industries, including appliance, commercial construction and defence. In addition to 10 different tinted glass products, the company also manufactures mirror and acid etched glass.
According to Roberto Cabrera, since the 2008/2009 economic crisis, the industry slowly developed over time until last year, when markets softened in the Americas. “With the world crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, the market will try to find a way to come back to the growth levels of the past” he confirms. “How long this will take is uncertain but the elements are there and it will be a matter of balancing demand and capacity. At this time, the effect on our society is uncertain. How confident the markets are going to respond - and how aggressively - will become more apparent as we continue through the remainder of this year.”
Vitro’s best opportunities for growth come from two of its core competencies, namely ‘customer intimacy’ and ‘product leadership’. “Our close relationship with our customers (and their customers and downstream users) helps us gain a rich understanding of market gaps and emerging needs. This knowledge becomes the life blood of our research and development effort, producing the next generation of products and services. Our third core competency, ‘operational excellence’, is the means by which we seek to capitalise on new product and market opportunities.”
SOLARBAN, SUNGATE and STARPHIRE ULTRA-CLEAR glass are trademarks of Vitro Architectural Glass.