Oxford Dictionaries has said this year saw so many major events that it expanded its word of the year to encompass several Words of an Unprecedented Year.

With Covid-19 affecting the whole globe, the glass industry still took part in some unprecedented and innovative projects, some of which are highlighted below.

Encirc’s 900 tonnes per day furnace

In late September, container glass manufacturer Encirc unveiled its 900 tonnes per day furnace at its Elton plant, UK (above). The new furnace is the largest container glass furnace in the world.

Encirc Managing Director Adrian Curry said the furnace would help the glassmaker meet market demand and support it to become a 'the most sustainable beverage supply chain business in the world.'

The furnace will eventually become fully automated, along with a 14th production line. This is said to be at the forefront of technology with help from Bucher Emhart Glass, which is producing a 12-section NIS End-to-End quad gob line, another first of its kind.

Industry collaborations

Collaborations are nothing new for the glass industry but it appears that this year has seen an increase of organisations willing to work together to push the industry forward.

High profile collaborations include the agreement between American container glass manufacturer Owens-Illinois (O-I) and German packaging company Krones.

In October, the two companies signed a collaboration agreement to innovate together and to jointly create solutions for the glass market.

Elsewhere, Sibelco from Belgium and CelSian from the Netherlands will collaborate around raw materials and glass melting processes.

The agreement will involve the sharing of laboratory functions and joint research.

Other notable collaborations include the Life Sugar Project, a European Union scheme set to reduce CO2 emissions from the glass manufacturing process. Participants includes Italy’s Stara Glass and research group SSV, as well as Johnson Matthey.

Another collaboration was the Federal Association of the German Glass Industry (BV Glas) partnering with the GWI institute in Essen to research into the suitability of hydrogen as a substitute for fossil fuels in the glass production process.

The European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) has created the ‘Furnace for the Future’ project which brings together 19 European container glass manufacturers including Ardagh Group, Vidrala and O-I to build the world’s first large-scale hybrid electric furnace to run on 80% green electricity.

The Ardagh Group will build the furnace in Germany, which will be built by 2022, with the first results expected in 2023.

In France, glass manufacturers Saverglass and Verescence combined with engineering group Fives and energy firm Engie to form the Vercane project, which aims to decarbonise the glass manufacturing process.

And a final collaboration of note is Glass Futures, a collaborative project that will see a Global Centre of Excellence built in St Helens, UK to make glass the low carbon material of choice. This project includes industry partners, glass end user customers and suppliers including container glass manufacturers Encirc, O-I and flat glass manufacturer Guardian Glass.

Record number of Glass Focus award entries

Despite having to host the awards ceremony virtually for the first time, British Glass’s Glass Focus awards received a record number of entries, with 26 entries in eight categories.

Encirc took home three awards on the night including Company of the Year and Rising Star while Pilkington also claimed two prizes during the live-streamed event.

Other winners on the night included Ardagh Glass, Stoelzle Flaconnage, Stealth Case and Allister Malcolm Glass.

Use of video technology

Due to the limited amount of travel allowed for much of the year, more companies took to implementing video technology to help maintain and install glass manufacturing equipment.

Earlier this year, Horn completed the repair of Crown Sivesa's Furnace A at its Orizaba facility in Mexico.

Even though the construction works had to be stopped in March due to Covid-19, Horn was able to continue with the heat-up and commissioning using video technology in mid-July with the furnace fully operational in August.

And in November, engineers at Sorg kept a glass furnace running at South Africa's Isanti Glass after a lockdown.

The South African container glass manufacturer had to instigate a strict lockdown and dramatically reduce the tonnage from its furnace.

Unable to visit and tackle the emergency situation on-site, Sorg engineers had to communicate with different Isanti employees around the globe through video conferencing. After three-weeks looking after the project, Sorg successfully completed the issue.

Other examples of video technology included Waltec completing the first remote controlled commissioning and start-up of a new glass production line for a Chinese tableware glass manufacturer.

While specialists from Heye International completed a remote commissioning at L Lighting's glass factory in Bangpakong, Chachoengsao, Thailand.

Glass Futures project gathers momentum

In late October, Glass Futures secured a £15 million investment from the UK Government as part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge to build its Centre of Excellence in St Helens, UK.

The funding will be used to establish a state-of-the-art glass furnace R&D facility in St Helens, reviving the closed United Glass facility.

The plant will be capable of producing 30 tonnes of sustainable glass a day – equivalent to 60,000 wine bottles - which will be used in products such as jars, bottles, windows, doors, and fibre glass.

Production and use of pharmaceutical glass

With Covid-19 disrupting everyday life, the attention soon turned to finding a vaccine to be able to get back to normal.

Pharmaceutical glass companies were questioned on whether they would be able to cope with demand for glass vials.

In June, pharmaceutical glass manufacturers Stevanato Group, Schott and Gerresheimer confirmed their readiness to support a Covid-19 vaccine with its containers.

The CEOs of each of the pharmaceutical glass manufacturers said they were committed to ensuring ample supply of pharmaceutical containers for any Covid-19 vaccine and treatment developed.

India’s Piramal Glass said in July it was ready to double its capacity of pharmaceutical glass to help tackle the pandemic and even changed some of its production lines to produce more pharma-glass.

Elsewhere SGD Pharma said it would provide a €37 million expansion across two of its sites, while glass packager Nipro invested €45 million to build a second factory at its site in Aumale, France.