Volume 50, Issue 8 - August 2015
The U.S. Glass Industry:
Then and Now
Operating Locations - 2015
Names and locations are not all that has changed. The plants on today’s map reflect an evolving approach to manufacturing, according to the manufacturers themselves.
“A very sophisticated process-control system has come into play over the last ten years,” notes Jeff Yigdall, director of engineering and international business for PPG Industries in Pittsburgh.
As Yigdall explains, the lengthy process of determining what improvements are needed has been made easier in the last decade through the evolution of modeling technology. “With the advent of very powerful computers, you can construct a thermodynamic, mathematical model in a computer system and optimize the design of the furnace,” he says.
This modeling technology speeds the process of pinpointing which areas can be best optimized to improve the plant’s efficiency.
Yigdall recalls all too clearly the early 1:15 Plexiglas models that were used to re-create conditions within the furnace, with glycerin mimicking the flow of molten glass. “Now it’s all done by computer, and now the computers have gotten so fast and capable that these models can be part of a process-control system that predicts what you have to do to the firing of the furnace to get the best glass. You don’t have to wait and react,” he says.
As it becomes easier to spot problems within the furnace, so too has it become easier to manage defects on the line.
“New glass inspection systems and improvements meet the increased defect quality requirements needed for today’s new products—solar, coating, specialty, etc.,” says Kelly Busch, vice president of float glass technology for Cardinal in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Yigdall elaborates, “The online systems, which are coupled to computers, are able to find a defect and classify it, decide if it is indeed a defect or something microscopic, and then track that defect and have the cutting system cut glass around it to minimize the amount of glass you lose. … Those systems have gotten much more sophisticated in the last ten years, and they’ve needed to because of new products that require much tighter tolerances.”
Codes Ignite Changes
Of course, driving all of these improvements are not only efforts within each of the manufacturer’s research centers, but outside forces as well.
Martin Bracamonte, vice president of operations for the Americas for Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Guardian, notes that the push for energy efficiency isn’t just affecting fabricators. “The demand for more coated glass comes from higher energy costs, greater user awareness of the tremendous energy savings benefits of low-E glass and new energy codes such as ASHRAE 90.1-2013 and the new 2015 International Energy Conservation Code. In addition, there are ‘green’ codes such as ASHRAE 189.1 that drive increased use of higher-performing glass products. The use of the latest coated glass products are also spurred by LEED certification, mostly for commercial structures, and the Energy Star program for residential windows,” he says.
Bracamonte notes that the biggest change Guardian has made in response to these drivers is the installation of wide area magnetron vacuum deposition sputter coaters in its architectural glass float plants. “The demand for low-E glass has continued to increase, and Guardian has made significant investment in sputter-coating technology and capabilities in order to serve our customers more efficiently and effectively with coated products that offer aesthetic, performance and ease-of-processing benefits.”
Busch points out that new regulations also govern float plants compared to a decade ago. “Regulation changes would include environmental [changes] with emissions and other areas now being reviewed; government oversight (for example, the Conflict Minerals Act); Homeland Security audits; changes in tax laws for capitalizing/expensing items for repairs, etc.”
Busch notes that, as a result of new emissions requirements, manufacturers have had to make choices on how to adapt. “Some areas of the country have become nonattainment [areas with worse air quality than the thresholds set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards] and require emissions controls to operate,” he says. While some plants are able to install new emissions control equipment, others closed their doors when challenged on the air permit requirements.
Bracamonte says that other factors driving change include increasingly shorter lead times and increased quality with consistency and reliability. He adds, “Product complexity is increasing, and mass customization brings the flexibility to create value for our customers.”
Considering how drastically glass production has changed in the last decade alone hints at the possibilities for the decade ahead.
(Editor’s Note: Pilkington North America and AGC were unavailable to comment for this article.)
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