Owens-Illinois touts early success at Innovation CenterWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Global glass giant Owens-Illinois (O-I) intends to spur the industry into the future one revolutionary new container at a time — progress that’s coming a lot faster these days thanks to the new $35 million Innovation Center at the company’s Perrysburg headquarters.
“In its first eight months of operation, it has outperformed on each and every measure,” said Ludovic Valette, O-I’s global vice president of research and development. “I believe this Innovation Center will ultimately shape not only the future for O-I, but the future of the entire glass industry.”
Each bright orange gob of molten glass that drops into the production line at the facility represents another step closer to achieving that goal.
Opened in September next to O-I’s existing research and development laboratory, the 24,000-square-foot zero-waste Innovation Center is essentially a scaled version — about one-tenth the size — of a typical manufacturing plant, Valette said.
That allows the company to experiment with new products and processes in a controlled production environment without stopping one of its regular production lines for testing — meaning testing that would have taken months or years can be done in days or weeks, Valette said.
The difference has been “day and night in terms of creativity,” he said.
“The Innovation Center has given us a means to accelerate innovation and to take the risk out of trying new process and technologies,” Valette said. “It’s one thing to try a new technology on the production line, interrupting production, backing up schedules, producing lots of bottles. It’s a completely different one to do that in a controlled environment in a pilot facility where we have the time and the ability to make the changes.”
On June 13, the company showed off portions of its normally off-limits facility and labs during tours for partners, contractors, builders, elected officials and media. Many areas were still closed to the public and photography was not allowed.
Since the center opened in September, O-I has changed the glass color four times — something that would be impossible in a full production unit, Valette said — and produced 40 different prototype containers.
“Prior to having the center, a simple design tweak on a bottle could take weeks to be run on a production line,” Valette said. “Now with the help of streamlined processes, powerful modeling capabilities, 3-D printer and of course the Innovation Center, we can run multiple design changes in one day.
“We are thrilled about the potential of the new center,” Valette said. “We are the only glass container manufacturer to have such a facility.”
One major success has been the development of commercially viable red glass, Valette said.
“If we had to name one project we were most proud of since the birth of the Innovation Center it would certainly be red glass,” Valette said. “No other manufacturers have the capability to produce red as far as we know. Now we are talking with some of the world’s largest food and beverage producers to discuss the benefit that red glass can bring to their brand.”
The red glass has more UV protection the amber glass, the industry standard for UV protection, which means it might be of interest to the beer and dairy industries, whose products are especially susceptible to UV damage, said lab specialist Brian Coburn.
The conventional method of making red glass is expensive because it uses gold, Valette said.
“We had to find another technology to make it red — the right composition and the right processing conditions,” Valette said. “It’s a bit tricky.”
O-I succeeded in making red glass at the Innovation Center near the end of last year after 40-50 days of trials, Valette said.
O-I’s red glass would be “significantly cheaper” than red glass made with gold, but still more expensive than amber glass, Valette said.
Next door to the Innovation Center, in O-I’s glass science and product material lab, state-of-the-art equipment allows O-I’s scientists to test and measure every aspect of glass containers.
One machine analyzes the flow produced by a certain bottle shape, allowing O-I to craft the perfect container for a customer’s needs, such as for example, a beer bottle that pours smooth or one that produces a large head.
A new 3-D printer allows scientists to quickly test a variety of designs, saving thousands of dollars on research and development and decreasing the time it takes products to get to market, said Brian Chisholm, global innovations project manager.
Valette said he believes the glass industry, which has been around for thousands of years, is at a development plateau, but thinks O-I will break through thanks to the Innovation Center. He likened the advances in glass technology he sees possible to the advances in smartphone technology.
“We are truly doing the same with glass,” Valette said.
Perrysburg-based O-I is the world’s largest glass container manufacturer, reporting revenues of $7 billion in 2013. It employs about 22,500 people at 77 plants in 21 countries. About 100 people were hired to work at the Innovation Center, Valette said.
For more information, visit www.o-i.com.