As the global lead on innovation and R&D for O-I, the world’s largest glass container manufacturer, I know the value of appropriate focus and investment needed to stay ahead and forge new ground. The global glass industry has lacked a common platform upon which validation of ideas, proof of principle testing and outright challenging of convention can easily be carried out at a scale where the results are meaningful to the ‘real world’ glassmaker and can be translated effectively to true manufacturing dimensions. It’s true that some of us have the capacity to develop and operate pilot plants but seldom is this available for the range of experimentation that is needed and too often, it is dictated by a need to improve the immediate scale of manufacturing, rather than testing the technologies of tomorrow and much further into the future.
The future is something we need to collaborate on to make the most of our capabilities and to share ambition, apply talent and train and develop the next generation of glassmakers. Of all materials, glass with its purity and sustainability, has the most to offer in terms of untapped potential.
Glass Futures is unique in its offer of a truly open platform, on which the global community and its supply chain can collaborate, sharing the burden, the cost and the intellect upon which the future will be built. It is very opportune given the UK’s Industrial Strategy and specifically its focus on heavy or ‘foundation’ industries as it is being termed, along with the UK’s substantive targets on CO2 reduction. The vision and investment provides the global glass community a place to develop, build and operate with an ongoing ‘thematic programme’. This will ensure a stable and sensible pathway to build the necessary relationships, fund the creation of the infrastructure, buildings and equipment and then provide the seed money for operational costs. Through broad-ranging projects, we will collectively be able to search for clean and economically sustainable solutions that will preserve glassmaking and embed it into the fabric of future manufacturing for generations to come.
Initially, we need to develop our relationships and share the load on common targets like ‘industrial fuel switching’, which will require us to research replacing high carbon natural gas with a range of fuels the industry has at its disposal in the short, medium and longer term. How can we factor our technologies to work with these fuels, whether it be hydrogen, bio-fuels or sustainably generated green electricity or a hybrid? We’ll need to prove the technology and scale – Glass Futures allows us to collaborate on this.
Common problems like low grade/low temperature heat recovery accounts for significant energy wastage at present. Collaboration will help us find solutions that work for our size and scale. Similarly, reducing carbon-bearing raw materials like limestone and soda ash and replacing them with more cullet and novel precursor materials will further make the sector sustainable but again, collaboration is vital to delivering this too.
Examining the world of ‘digital technologies’, ‘the internet of things’, Industry 4.0 and developing the next generation of leaders for our industry are all things that need addressing and this venture allows global companies to meet on a common platform and work towards that goal.
It is inspiring to see that the UK government has been forward-thinking enough to recognise these global areas of opportunities with heavy industry and has been driven to an inclusive venture, encouraging glassmakers from all over the world to join forces and collaborate in an attempt to be more effective and more expedient in solving these important issues.
From concept to product, from raw material to process and from man to machine, the concept of Glass Futures sets a new precedent in safeguarding both an industry and those that will manage it by supporting an ethos of collective capability in problem solving. Here in St Helens, a fantastic facility is being fashioned to carry out the hot end requirement for the delivery of this future. Over in Leeds and developed in close collaboration with the university, a ‘cold-side facility’ will be constructed to look at the performance of the product and the technologies applied in coatings, facade assemblies, with surface treatments and post-melting technologies. Glass Futures will also target bringing glass products to the vanguard of competing materials in everything from containers and food/beverage packaging to products in the built environment, bio-medical applications, laser photonic materials and communication media.
Glass is anything but ordinary. It is strong and delicate. Elegant and simple. Modern and authentic. Glass is relevant today and in the future. Glass Futures with the participation of the global glass community will ensure this remains the case for generations to come.
O-I is committed to helping transform the industry and is supportive of Glass Futures’ efforts. In line with our own business objectives and those of the industry, we are actively participating in the design and development process of this unique facility and intend to continue our involvement for years to come. Let’s work together to support this initiative moving forward!