The Covid-19 crisis and global lockdown has affected every part of our lives. However in crises, opportunities often present themselves.

The advantages of digitalisation is one such opportunity.

Parallels can be drawn between pro cycling and the glass industry, in as far as presenting a digitalisation opportunity.

The organisers of cycling’s Tour de Suisse, when faced with cancellation due to the pandemic have taken the tour digital.

The Digital Swiss 5 - Digital pro cycling race of the Tour de Suisse will have cycling pros compete virtually via a linked digital platform.

Their racing bikes are connected to ‘smart’ roller trainers, which apply the respective resistance to the pedals - depending on the topography of the track.

The pros see the track and their real-time position in the race as a real-life video image.

The organisers state that “…Despite the corona crisis, fans can watch their favourite teams and riders compete live on TV or an online stream.”

How can this be related to container glass manufacture? Now and in the medium term it will certainly be difficult to produce glass digitally and virtually.

Virtual control and support

Many of the technology and equipment providers are taking their services virtual as a result of the crisis.

Many of the control systems and parameters are digital. Some equipment providers are utilising this to continue to provide virtual operational support during the Covid-19 lock down.

Some OEM (original equipment manufacturers) even continue with commissioning and testing via virtual interactions. Will this further alter the way technology is supported in the future?

Extending this; given enough automation and digitalisation, could glass plants be run from a central control room and not from the shop floor?

Many veteran glassmakers speak of the art of bottle making. An art where skill has been developed over a lifetime and is reliant on feel and experience.

Modern process control aims to shift this from the art to the science of bottle making.

The advent of digitalisation means multiple inputs from multiple sensors are received, processed and analysed to optimise the process.

There are literally tens of thousands of process parameters and control points that need to be optimised to ensure the perfect bottle is produced.

Therefore, more sensors are required to measure and control all of these process parameters to produce the perfect bottle – making the ‘art’ of bottle making objective and scientific.

Aggregation of marginal gains
As performance director of British Cycling, Dave Brailsford transformed the team from nowhere to the leading force in global cycling.

He used his strategy of “the aggregation of marginal gains,” an approach in which every process variable was measured, then analysed and a 1% performance gain was implemented. Compounded, this has had monumental positive effects.

Digitalisation was the enabler. Everything was digitally measured, recorded analysed and improved – right down to the seams on the cyclist jerseys!

In the same fashion, detailed measurement and control of every aspect of glassmaking is required. By making continual small marginal 1% gains will create a massive compounded cumulative improvement.

For this a key enabler is the digitalisation and measurement of the glassmaking process. Sensors, sensors and more digital sensors are required in the process. All systems need to be linked. Big data needs to be accessible and real-time live control feedback provided.

Typically the glassmaking process is a number of discrete OEM supplied pieces of equipment, all individually controlled – digitally.

But the modern process still requires the glass manufacturer to link the systems using human intervention and decision making.

Plant wide digital automation is required. Integrating these systems and linking of process ‘intelligences’, sensors and actuators, as well as databases through standardised digital interfaces will provide plant wide digitalisation, control and automation.

How does this benefit the consumer at the end of the value chain? Discrete digitalisation makes it possible for tracking, tracing and serialisation throughout the value chain.

Containers can be tracked from raw materials all the way through the production, filling, packaging, distribution processes, until the end customer and consumer. Here digital serialisation can provide important marketing and promotional opportunities for brand owners.

Completing the circle, the digital foot print links the container back through the recycling process.

The lock downs of the current Covid- 19 crisis may help the industry realise the advantages possible from increased digitalisation of the process and the industry.

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About the Author.

Richard van Breda has extensive experience in packaging and in glass particularly. His experience in large global FMCG businesses allows him to provide a fresh perspective to glass manufacturing from both sides of the supply relationship.

In a series of articles, a number of industry relevant topics will be discussed and unpacked.

The topics will provide another perspective of the industry, often reflecting the opinion of the glass customer or consumer.

In doing so, he will discuss some opportunities he sees for the industry and hope to spark debate in the process.

*Richard van Breda, Richard van Breda Consulting