Opportunities in the glass industry created by digitalisation was the key item on the agenda at a recent meeting of the VDMA Industry Working Group Research and Technology group.

Information on the topic of virtual commissioning of machines and plants as well as on the current status of photovoltaic production resources was presented, as was information on a research project focusing on developing a glass for the best possible energetic use on exterior facades and in windows.

Roger Knüttel from EME Maschinenfabrik Clasen, a manufacturer of mixed batch and shard preparation systems, highlighted the benefits of virtual commissioning of machines and plants during the VDMA meeting.

“This way I know that the system works, for virtually all process-related and functional errors could be identified and eliminated before actual commissioning.”

The entire signal wiring and thus the entire production data management is tested. It is also possible to simulate disruptions and, in case the system does not react properly, eliminate errors.

This minimises the risks involved in commissioning and significantly reduces costs. Furthermore, it is also possible to use the simulation tools for training the operating staff. Of course, setting up such a simulation also costs money. “But the benefits become apparent quickly,” stated Knüttel.

The average use of production capacities in the photovoltaic (PV) industry is about 80%, stated Dr. Jutta Trube, Director of the Photovoltaic Equipment division at VDMA. According to her, the industry “is better off again”.

This year alone, more than 50 gigawatts output will be installed around the world. The overall capacity of 227 gigawatts existing at the end of 2015, will increase to between 500 and 600 gigawatts by 2020. VDMA estimates additional worldwide sales of between €18 and €20 billion for the period from 2015 to 2019.

The largest customers come from China, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Qatar.

The Chinese market not only faces strong local competition, but is also facing new challenges posed by a minimum share of 80% for equipment produced locally.

The German PV mechanical engineering industry must therefore focus more intensely on markets outside China, despite a world market share of over 50%. Opportunities for the mechanical engineering industry arise from various trends.

The increasing local production can promote the demand for customized modules, and thus for new plant technology. Higher labor costs would speak for extensive automation, which in turn would be an answer to increasing demands on precision in the future. Trube appeals to the glass and glass machine manufacturers to increase the service life of anti-reflective coatings and transmission values.

Trube is convinced: “Those who do that will enjoy increased sales.”