The Wiegand-Glas Group was already well-placed to play an important role in satisfying Europe’s growing demand for glass packaging but the completion of this year’s major investment in Schleusingen provides valuable additional manufacturing capacity for the family-owned business to expand further.
European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) statistics confirm constantly increasing consumer demand for glass packaging. In the first half of 2019, for example, 2.2% more glass packaging units were sold than in the previous year. And according to Oliver Wiegand, this growth resulted in supply shortages in some sectors.
“To meet increased customer demand, we decided to build a new glass plant at our Schleusingen location” he explains, emphasising that start-up of the new plant also matches the company’s plans ultimately to decommission its existing factory at the site. “The Wiegand-Glas strategy is to adapt quickly to market changes” he explains. “On the one hand, we have accommodated positive demand growth and on the other, we have matched the increased quality requirements of our customers.”
The increased demand for glass packaging is due to consumers becoming more concerned about the impact of packaging on the environment and public health. “Glass is one of the few materials that can be recycled an infinite number of times and due to its inertness, it has no interaction with the contents.”
While market trends have been highly positive, however, Mr Wiegand also acknowledges that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic will impact the glass industry as a whole, as well as its customers. “Although we will beat the virus eventually, all of Europe will be poorer after the pandemic and this loss of purchasing power will affect consumption behaviour” he warns. “The likelihood is that while people will continue to drink, there will be a trend towards cheaper brands and as a supplying company, we have to adjust to this change in consumer behaviour.”
In total, Wiegand-Glas currently operates four manufacturing sites in Germany and delivers an extremely diverse product range. This includes speciality bottles produced in lots of a few thousand pieces, up to multi-million, mass production via the use of dedicated quad gob IS machines. For short production runs, the company has the flexible capability to produce several jobs on the same line.
The Steinbach am Wald factory was acquired by Otto Wiegand in 1926 and produces 3.1 million glass containers every day. With more than 650 employees, the plant houses four furnaces and nine production lines, as well as a dedicated coating facility for the decoration of glass bottles and a specialist cullet recycling facility.
A second factory is located at nearby Grossbreitenbach and was acquired as a joint venture with Treuhand in 1990. Producing 1.2 million glass containers per day, Grossbreitenbach features two furnaces and five high volume production lines, with a total workforce of 218 people.
Glaswerk Ernstthal GmbH became part of the Wiegand-Glas Group in 2016. Featuring three furnaces, nine production lines and a forehearth colouring capability, the factory produces 1.2 million glass containers every day. Just over 500 people are employed at the site. An extra flint glass composition is melted exclusively at Ernstthal, where the company concentrates on speciality ware in short production runs.
Until this summer’s greenfield project was commissioned, the Schleusingen factory was responsible for producing another 1.7 million glass containers per day. The site became part of Wiegand-Glas in 2011, following the acquisition of Thüringer Behälterglas GmbH Schleusingen.
With two furnaces and five production lines, the original glassworks employs over 380 people. Together with forehearth colouring, the site features a service centre that can assemble bottles with swing stoppers and jars with caps and has the flexibility to pack containers in boxes or crates.
Traditionally, a high proportion of widemouth containers and beer bottles are made at Schleusingen, a feature that will continue at the adjoining greenfield glassworks, while also producing other standard and personalised bottles using the latest forming, inspection and packaging technologies.
Daniel Wiegand and Friedrich König built the original glass plant in Schleusingen in 1853. After the Second World War, the owner at that time, Adam Heinz, was expropriated by the Soviet military administration. On 1 July 1948, the plant transferred into public ownership but after German reunification, the Treuhandanstalt Berlin acquired all company shares. The business was sold to a US equity fund, who subsequently sold its shares to a Swiss holding company in 1999.
In 2011, Wiegand-Glas acquired the shares of Thüringer Behälterglas GmbH from the holding company and has consistently upgraded and expanded the plant ever since. As a rebuild of the existing flint glass furnace approached, however, the company opted against using the existing buildings and decided instead to construct a new plant on a greenfield site, adjacent to the old glassworks.
“It was impossible to increase capacity and realise our high technical standard in the existing structures” Oliver Wiegand explains. “Our intention is to replace the old furnaces with those in the new plant.”
With civil works having started at the end of August 2018, extensive approval procedures were necessary, the glassmaker being required to comply with a large number of restrictions and requirements in respect of emissions, fire safety and other regulations. On 2 June 2020, the first machine was put into operation. Start-up of a second furnace is planned for 2021, prior to decommissioning the old furnace at the original Schleusingen glassworks. The site also has a rail connection, which will be used to ship loaded pallets to customers via a private rail company.
Latest technology focus
Wiegand-Glas consistently adopts the philosophy of investing in the latest and best technology available in the market for its glassmaking facilities. As a consequence, investment costs for the Schleusingen greenfield project were high. In return, superior product quality, high efficiencies and excellent working conditions are expected.
Gradually, the original glass plant will be closed down as elements of the new factory are commissioned. “We are currently considering several ideas for using the old manufacturing site” Oliver Wiegand explains “but no decision has yet been made.”
In comparison to the original Schleusingen glassworks, the capacity of the new factory will be larger to meet the increased demand for glass packaging. The new furnaces and production lines give greater production flexibility, enabling Wiegand-Glas to react quickly to changing market conditions. The plant is able to produce blow-blow, narrow-neck-press-and-blow and press-blow containers, while the specially designed batch and cullet house permits the cullet content to be varied from zero to almost 100%.
Understandably, the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic slowed down construction work at the site. Due to strict quarantine regulations, many workers, especially those from other European countries, were not permitted to travel to Germany. Furthermore, deliveries of components and systems from such countries as Italy and France were delayed due to factory closures in these countries.
During the lockdown, between 200 and 300 workers maximum were able to work on the construction site and strict hygiene guidelines had to be enforced. Fortunately, no Coronavirus infections were identified among construction personnel, helping delays to be minimised to just five weeks.
For the new glass factory in Schleusingen, ZIPPE Industrieanlagen GmbH delivered the batch and cullet house, including automatic batch transport to the two furnaces, as well as corresponding cullet return systems. In total, the plant contains 23 raw material silos and 15 cullet silos, with an overall storage capacity of 8000m³.
Two completely independent batch and cullet lines guarantee safe material supply to the furnaces. As a special feature, the highest flexibility in the cullet composition has been realised by the application of 15 dosing belt scales. The automatic control of this plant is based on the Siemens PCS-7 system, which is integrated into Wiegand’s company network.
The SORG regenerative end port furnace is equipped with a highly efficient regenerator (dimensions and checkerwork) and optimised insulation around the furnace and regenerator for the lowest energy losses possible. The design is optimised for best melting performance and low NOx, including the latest generation of SORG burners.
Featuring the latest single phase transformers, the furnace is equipped with a generously-sized electric boosting system, featuring three separate zones in the melter, as well as a thermal barrier. Water-cooled fixed transformer units installed close to the furnace allow for minimal energy losses, as well as low investment costs for power cables. To prepare for the transition to carbon-neutral energy supply, preparations have been made to further expand boosting capacity in the future.
The furnace is also equipped with the latest generation EME-NEND-S charging machines and features a completely closed doghouse to avoid false air entry to the furnace and dusting inside the factory.
The SORG glass conditioning system was designed in accordance with the specifications of Wiegand-Glas, where the two outer forehearths are the latest 340S+ type, including an optimised refractory design. The two inner forehearths (SORG STF series) were specially designed to accommodate the widemouth production undertaken on these lines. One is equipped with stirrers and the SORG Conti Drain system for colouring operations. A centralised cooling system for better redundancy and repeatability, less maintenance and lower energy demand is also installed. In addition, Tri-Mer waste gas filters are responsible for reducing emissions to specified values.
Bucher Emhart Glass and Heye International were selected to supply the IS machines for the greenfield Schleusingen project. These machines permit Wiegand-Glas to produce widemouth containers in a double gob configuration, as well as larger quantities in quadruple gob.
The cold end is equipped with the latest inspection technology from Dr Günther and Tiama, while the cold end lines and packaging machines were delivered by Zecchetti. Shrinking machines were sourced from MSK and E&K was responsible for pallet transport from the packaging lines to the warehouse.
Adjacent to the main glass production hall, a new building has been erected to house mould storage, mould repair, IS and cold end workshops, as well as offices, changing rooms and a cafeteria. In order to provide sufficient storage space for the additional capacity, a new warehouse as well as a hall for packaging materials have been built. The transport of packaging material to production, as well as the transport of finished goods to the warehouse, is fully automated via automated guided vehicle systems.
Optimised ecological footprint
Oliver Wiegand is confident that the opportunity for highly efficient production has been created at Schleusingen, while also significantly improving the plant’s ecological footprint. “With regard to quality, we have installed the latest equipment to meet our customers´ requirements, both today and in the future” he explains. “Due to the high degree of automation employed, we aim to be a new benchmark in the deployment of personnel and with the modern waste gas filter technology adopted, we will comply with the latest strict emission regulations.”
In addition, the glassworks will recover the maximum energy from furnace waste gases, compressors and lehrs. This energy is used not only to heat offices in winter but also to produce cold water to cool rooms in the production area, control cabinets etc. “We have done our utmost to improve working conditions for our employees.”
Wiegand-Glas personnel were responsible for devising what is considered an optimal plant layout for efficient manufacturing and support facilities. In addition, however, specialist consulting firms KKI and CMP provided valuable support for the co-ordination of all contracted companies in the areas of construction site management and project management and utilities respectively.
Oliver Wiegand admits that building a new glass plant in Germany was extremely challenging, taking the company about 18 months to obtain all necessary permissions, for example. Newly created fire protection regulations, work safety and security measures presented significant hurdles, while complying with the limiting values for emissions, noise and water etc is increasingly difficult. “We already know today that we cannot build this furnace in the same way at the end of its campaign” he explains. “The EU Green Deal will not allow for it. These trends are frightening and dangerous because the risk of a higher unemployment rate will increase and it will reduce the wealth of our society.”
The Wiegand-Glas owner and Managing Director believes that in the future, energy-intensive industries like the glass industry have to change fundamentally or produce outside the EU. “There are a few good development opportunities to explore like the hybrid melter for example but this alone will be insufficient to comply with EU CO2 targets” he contends. “I strongly believe in glass because it is a fantastic material with great advantages over other packaging materials” Mr Wiegand concludes. “As an industry, we have to fight together for a great future of glass as a preferred packaging material.”