Saint-Gobain Glass recently completed a major £30m construction programme to re-build and install a new state-of-the-art float glass furnace at its Eggborough factory. Steve Severs, Managing Director of Saint-Gobain Glass UK, spoke exclusively to Glass Worldwide about the group’s largest industrial investment in the UK since the plant was built in 2000. The full version of this article appears in the Nov/Dec issue that has been mailed globally and is also now available free of charge in the digital archive*.


GW: What was the motivation for the recent investment into the Eggborough factory?

The previous furnace had reached the end of its design life so the investment was made given the need to improve efficiency, reduce our carbon responsibility, maintain the future furnace operation and secure the output for the next generation of glass production at Eggborough.

The last possible large scale furnace refractory repair was undertaken in December 2018, which set the timeline for rebuilding and installing a new furnace in mid-2021 to avoid any risk of a major event or an impact on performance, quality or consistency.

GW: What can you tell us about the new furnace?

We have built a considerably more efficient furnace on top of the same melting area but with a throughput capability increase of over 10% as a result of an upgraded refractory arrangement but also because of a new design, new shape and better control inside the furnace.

GW: How will the new furnace contribute to Saint-Gobain’s target for reducing the group’s carbon footprint by 30% by 2030?

That 30% reduction will be achieved by a whole series of changes and this is one of the significant steps within glass that contributes towards it by reducing our CO2 responsibility with a much more energy efficient furnace; the unit of energy used to melt per tonne of glass is considerably reduced.

These were actions we could take immediately. Using gas is currently still the best technology for making glass and we’ve built a furnace with the best possible technology of today. But we have our minds set on alternative fuels and increasing the use of electricity to assist gas melting with renewable electricity. We are working worldwide to identify and adopt emerging technologies for melting glass without using fossil fuels.

GW: And the longer term target of achieving ‘net-zero carbon’?

We have a plan to progress towards net zero and there are short, medium and long term requirements to fulfil that plan. This was one of the major steps forward for this moment.

GW: How important is an increase in the recovery of cullet to achieving those environmental goals?

We are actively looking to increase the volumes of cullet that we are able to process through the furnace and we need to see more of a circular economy developing for post-consumer glass. We want more glass to be fed back into the manufacturing chain and we are devoting attention, resource and investment into achieving that.

GW: What was the timescale of the investment programme?

We went down in mid-April and we started pulling glass in mid-August. My major pleasure is that the site delivered the whole project without serious safety incident, coping with incredible complexity and overall delivering to budget and on schedule.

There was not one person on site who wasn’t touched in a major way by the activities from the cold repair running through the site. Our workforce adapted and absorbed the extra workload in a quite incredible way and I am very proud at how resourceful and capable our people are. The project was delivered on a tight timescale because of their flexibility, endeavour and hard work.

GW: Were other upgrades undertaken at the same time as the cold repair?

There was a huge complementary number of auxiliary activities going on at the same time that could only be done efficiently while the plant was down for this extended period of four months.

We used the opportunity for completing a whole series of large scale technology and control upgrades, including major projects such as handling equipment, crushers and batch plant etc., with new edge-cutting tables, a whole series of new drives, new gas preparation, modernised and enhanced control systems as well as new equipment associated with control inside the float bath.

GW: Which technology suppliers did you partner with for the investment programme?

The furnace design was all from the Saint-Gobain in-house group, which is tried and trusted throughout the world.

There were many contactors on the job and we inducted well over a thousand people representing over 15 different nationalities, with up to 400 people present on any individual day at the project’s peak.

Main contractors included Hotwork International who assisted in the drain and heat-up, Forno for refractory installation and Forglass for steelwork and re-establishment of the furnace structure. As we have Grenzebach processing lines, they were also present to perform upgrades. Many contactors were involved.

GW: Did the coating and lamination lines continue to operate?

Yes, they operated throughout, including coating the stock from other lines in Europe, as we only imported float glass, not coated or laminated stock.

We are delighted that the new glass coming off was immediately suitable for coating. With cold repair complete, we can concentrate on bringing new products with new coatings to market.

GW: How did the pandemic impact the construction programme?

The original start date was adjusted slightly to ensure that all refractories would be onsite before we started but we had to overcome the difficulty of getting materials in the face of the worldwide massive increase in container freight charges. We had to cope with the squeeze in shipping availability and escalating costs that that brought, but we remained on budget overall.

We even had to cope with incoming material on a container ship stuck behind the stricken ‘Evergreen’ in the Suez canal, which we had to wait to be freed before it could make its way ultimately to Eggborough.

Another implication of the pandemic was that fewer people than normal from within the group were able to participate with assisting in a project of this scope and scale. But we were still assisted with the start-up by experts from not just the major plants in Italy, Romania, France, Germany and Spain in Europe but also from Mexico and other locations. Managing that number of people required strong protocol for Covid, such as daily testing which we did ourselves under a strict regime. We then had to adapt to the absence of anyone that tested positively and it was all done safely with a powerful recognition of the need for the governing to be watertight.

National requirements also played a critical part as Portugal was on the Government red-list for entry into the UK just before the repair started. This position was re-assessed and eased before the main group arrived, otherwise they would have had to isolate for two weeks in a hotel before being able to commence work.

GW: And what were the implications of Brexit?

Again, there were challenges including shipping and transportation issues. We had to cope with the post-Brexit situation because we imported a lot of glass to keep our customer base supplied and fed throughout the period of the cold repair. We made a commitment to our customers and through our own pre-planning and despite having pre-stocked, there was still a huge volume to be moved into the UK from Saint-Gobain’s European plants to be able to deliver on our promises. We had a plan and issued firm and fair allocations that we stuck to. The only slight deviation at the end was when extreme flooding closed one of our plants in Germany for a month.

GW: Are there plans for further investment at the Eggborough plant?

Glass is a business with a high capex requirement that is hungry for investment and we have plans to invest to further improve our energy efficiencies with significant steps.

Moving forward, we will also look to invest to further extend the capability of our coating line.

Post cold repair, we can now also pick up and concentrate on projects such as the Industry 4.0 platform where we are investing and advancing.

GW: How closely does the Eggborough factory now fit the ideal Saint-Gobain model?

We are the only factory in Europe to reach Silver level in the group’s WCM (World Class Manufacturing) programme and having concentrated on the cold repair during 2021, we will now be re-establishing our efforts to achieve Gold standard over the next couple of years.

GW: What can you tell us about Saint-Gobain’s ‘Making the World a Better Home’ strategy?

It’s a complete purpose across the entirety of Saint Gobain that we have all adopted and incorporated into our own local decisions and actions. The whole of Saint Gobain including ourselves in glass are totally in tune with delivering, animating and acting with that purpose. It means something to us at site and we are making our contribution to make the world a more beautiful and sustainable place to reside in. We consider it in our investments and behaviour, and the products that we make support the goal in terms of their own energy saving capabilities.

GW: To summarise, how well positioned are your operations now to serve the UK market in the short, medium and long terms?

We are well-positioned in all three because we have a very energy efficient furnace capable of high quality levels. This investment gives us consistency of supply and production in the coming years to service the UK market at an exalted level. Particularly in domestic glass, there is an increase in glass demand here and now, and whatever the market will bring, we are in position to meet the requirements.

GW: What are the other trends influencing the glass and window industries?

The other trend is the ever increasing requirement for laminated glass. Document Q [an approved UK government document which specifies the level of security required for doors and windows in new builds] has commanded that laminated glass is installed at any first floor or directly accessible level (secure by design). We have the capacity to meet the challenge and service that growing demand for laminate.

GW: Generally, what is the market outlook for 2022?

We are confident that the positive market demand that we currently see will continue through well into 2022 and beyond.

Further Information: 

Saint-Gobain Glass UK, Eggborough, UK
tel: +44 1977 666100
email: sgukinfo@saint-gobain.com
web: www.saint-gobain.co.uk

* The full version of this article appears in the Nov/Dec issue that has been mailed globally. The digital version of this issue can also currently be read free of charge in its entirety alongside back copies in the Digital Archive (sponsored by FIC) at https://www.glassworldwide.co.uk/Digital-Issues. To receive the paper copy, all future issues and a free copy of the Who’s Who / Annual Review 2021-22 yearbook, subscribe now at https://www.glassworldwide.co.uk/subscription-choice

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