The glass industry is no stranger to heavy investment in technology and progress. Andy Hartley, marketing manager at Rockware Glass, looks behind the headlines and reports on an abiding commitment towards quality and innovation

In the modern business organisation, quality is everything. Fail to meet the standard and you wither. So how can we in the glass industry win the race to meet ever higher customer expectations?

The overriding objective is to create a framework that draws together all elements that influence quality at an operational and customer level. But in a highly competitive market, with a shrinking number of customers putting heavier demands on quality, service and innovation, that is a real challenge. There is a growing impact from increasing costs, environmental regulation such as the climate change and equally challenging health, safety and hygiene regulations.

Managing these challenges is a complex task. It means having the expertise to anticipate and solve highly complex technical and logistical problems. At one extreme, there are the high profile product launches, delivering a new design to a new filling line, distributed on time for the multi-million pound marketing campaign.

Equally important, at the other end of the scale, is the proactive work to improve handling speeds, reduce wastage and increase customer efficiency – a painstaking process of small improvements leading to reduced supply chain cost for our customers.

Quality is a difficult subject to put into words. It results from the underlying process variability of materials, equipment and most importantly people. This variability determines at what quality level any organisation will operate. Not only must everyone in the organisation be aware of quality, they must understand their role in quality and actively want to produce excellent quality.

Quality for me means having a very customer focused attitude so that you get things right first time, find root causes and can drive problems out of the system once and for all. Quality means meeting customer needs in every way, through processes and people that learn and develop continuously. Quality is forever, not just until you reach a target. To address quality issues there is a need for an all-pervasive, constant and continuous quality culture.

We also need to drive quality down the supply chain. We must ensure we receive raw materials of the highest calibre from our suppliers, as these contribute significantly to our variability and so our own quality. This requires developing real partnerships between customers, our factories, our people and our suppliers, using formal supplier performance measurement. This applies to all aspects of incoming goods and services: raw materials moulds, packaging materials and logistics.

Glass manufacturers have come a long way in quality against a backdrop of ever increasing customer expectations. At Rockware, for instance, the glass weight of a typical 330ml bottle over a 10-year period has been reduced by 40%, allowing 10 more bottles to each layer of the bulk pack, two more layers per pallet and four more pallets to each load.

This removes thousands of vehicle movements each year and has given real savings to customers. Increased productivity has seen a 200% boost in manufacturing speed, achieved in parallel with a 14% increase in manufacturing efficiency.

Our customers filling line speeds have increased by 330%. Against this background improved quality has led to a filling line breakage reduction of 1000%, while filling line efficiency has been improved by 160%.

Heavy investment

To meet these goals requires heavy investment in all aspects of the business and the glass container industry is no stranger to announcements involving eight figure investments in plant and equipment.

At our specialist beer, spirits and wine bottle plant, a furnace rebuild includes the latest energy efficient designs accompanied by the installation of emissions reduction technology that will far exceed stringent new European requirements which become mandatory in 2007.

The UK’s first 10-section Owens Illinois quadruple gob machine, incorporating the latest servo technology, is now available to the beer industry to provide high quality, light- weight beer bottles, supported by the very latest image processing systems to enhance inspection capability and quality data.

Alongside major manufacturing investment, our industry is investing in the latest CAD systems to take advantage of advances in design management software, hardware and communications systems. Customers design work is being fully integrated within a confidential ‘end-to-end’ product design and development programme.

At Rockware we use an enhanced package of DEA’s CAD and Teamcentre management software using internet technology to connect information sources including product requirements, project and process data, design geometry and supplier data.

Internet technology allows our customers, their design companies and tooling suppliers full visibility of projects from start to finish. Information flow across all teams involved in delivering NPD will be more efficient. Customers will be able to view and rotate three dimensional models as part of the approval process, increasing speed and delivery time of projects and ensuring customers have full input into the design and development process.

The system also delivers high quality visualisation of designs created under multiple CAD systems. They can be viewed in high resolution, photo-realistic 3D and 2D views, providing the opportunity to analyse and enhance the way we work.

Innovation is the cornerstone of our industry and brand owners that use glass packaging to achieve outstanding differentiation are recognised annually in the ‘freshThinking’ award sponsored by Rockware at the Institute of Packaging’s Starpack awards. This year’s award was presented to Wm Grants & Sons for its classic triangular bottle designed by Sedley Place.

According to the independent judges, the redesign of classic brands is always fraught with the danger of losing hard won market position, yet it is essential to maintain the relevance of the brand. Such projects are also challenging for the scale and complexity of the supply chain which maintains such international brands.

The 75cl and 1.5-litre triangular bottles for Grant’s Family Reserve are a fine example of such a project. The 75cl has been light weighted and has identical critical dimensions to the original, providing greater line efficiency.

‘Off-set’ mould seams were used to move the mould joints from a highly visible position, right through one half of the label panel, to a position away from the labelling area, ‘hidden’

down the back two corners of the triangle. This is the most extreme degree of shaping yet given to a mould set.

The new mould construction allows, for the first time, an uninterrupted line of embossing around the shoulder and foot of the triangular bottle, adding authenticity and heritage. A Stelcap-ROPP hybrid closure was also developed and subsequently patented. For the first time the two most common spirits cap types can be applied using the same line setup and capping heads. This reduces the complexity of supply and changeovers, again improving line efficiency.

Complex embossing

Another example of innovative thinking by the glass industry has been the design and production of the new Cobra bottle. Complex embossing and an unusual shape took the bottle outside the realm of a ‘standard’ manufacturing process and the team had to adapt its production and in-line inspection processes to meet the customer’s requirements and expectations.

A successful conclusion depended to a large degree on the close working relationship between designers and engineers and the design agency and the filler. An early understanding of the need to distinguish the presentation of the container through rich embossing in order to create a striking appearance and meet tight production deadlines created a positive ‘can-do’ framework.

The heavily embossed body tells an Indian folk story. It also make the bottle very tactile, which generates interest for the consumer and a desire to pick up the bottle to inspect it.

This consumer and product interaction is encouraged by the unusual body decoration.

Our industry is also learning to adapt but to shape new ideas. Creative partnerships are established with customers, where we float ideas, discuss new concepts and generally think outside the box.

One example has been in the ready to drink market. As the market for RTD products begins to show some signs of slowing, we believe that brand owners will need to turn to more innovative methods of presentation, and develop specific products for sub-categories.

Much of the technology to develop new ideas is already in place and can be adopted with minimal development. To test its viability we have also carried out our own research to identify the key motivating factors and influences. Working with a number of research partners, including the Industrial Psychology Unit at Sheffield University, we have been able to build up a more accurate picture of consumer preferences.

By improving our awareness of consumer perceptions of packaging and recognising ‘unmet needs’, we believe that we can make a more positive contribution towards brand development and growth. We are building up a more accurate picture of consumers by observing how packaging helps them to express their individuality and project the image that they want other people to see.

We observe how consumers interact with packaging, an approach known as ethnography. It helps us to identify problems or perhaps rituals that the consumers themselves might not even be aware of.

New opportunities

Research confirms some long established views and also sheds light on new opportunities. Consumers are looking for packages that are easy to open, retain their freshness, are straightforward to use, and are environmentally friendly. The research also shows that at the point of purchase as well as consumption, drinkers are often on autopilot, and not consciously aware of what they are doing. We believe that this represents a major opportunity to create a more interactive relationship between consumer and brand, and enhance the product experience.

Using industrial psychology techniques to guide its work in this area, we already have access to useful data. Our research confirms that 90% of male and female drinkers prefer glass, under 18% favour plastic and only 23% opt for cans. One interesting fact was that the negative finding for plastic bottles is most significant when related to the scenario of being on a date, where not one man and only 14% of women said it would be appropriate to drink from a plastic container. This is clearly a scenario when people want to send out the most positive message, and that is demonstrably the case with glass.

But we believe that, if growth is to be sustained, new ideas will need to be sought to excite existing and new breeds of customer. For example, we have created a condensation effect on the container surface to convey a message of coldness. It is well established that embossing can also portray a premium tactile look. Emphasising the shape and finger grip can create interaction and more functionality. Introducing insulating labels can prevent hands from getting too cold and the product too warm. There are also some exciting developments in sound using RFID techniques.

One effect that is attracting interest is the potential for branding on the base of the containers. We came across the idea when studying a number of photographs of people drinking from glass bottles in pubs and clubs.

We were shocked to see how much of the branding of different bottled beverages was lost, simply by the way people tend to hold them. When a drink is taken, one of the most commonly exposed parts of the bottle is the base, and it is rarely if ever exploited for branding purposes.

Working with our fluorescent ink supplier, we mocked up some bottles with clear liquid with different colours and noted that the prismatic effect at the neck was striking. Called a miniscus effect, it really uses the natural quality of clear glass to maximum effect and suits a growing consumer preference for clear, natural and minimalist looking products free of chemical colorants.

We have developed a ‘unit’ bottle to reflect the growing importance of responsible drinking. It gives the brand owner the opportunity to inform the drinker of the alcoholic intake in precise terms whilst retaining the brand presence, and could be particularly relevant to more mature drinkers. Aroma-chromic varnishes that convey a particular scent, incorporating an aroma specific to the brand, are also being developed.

There are opportunities, too, to grow the off-trade as more RTDs are consumed in the home, while the sector that is currently focussed on 18-24-year-old females can be broadened to include males and more mature drinkers, and cater for more sophisticated tastes. By introducing interactive techniques we can positively tap into latent consumer preferences.

Environment and logistics

As well as influencing the appearance of brands, the glass industry has a crucial role to play in two other key areas: the environment and logistics. For example, Rockware has taken on the challenge of improving stock and delivery management at Nestlé’s Tutbury production site.

The service provided includes, not only the management of our own glass deliveries, but also those of other packaging suppliers. All packaging components are delivered in to the warehouse, stored and fed to the filling lines on a JIT basis. At the recent first annual review of this pilot project, both Nestlé and Rockware agreed the operation has been a success.

Glass is a great example of a sustainable approach to packaging design and manufacture. It is the one packaging material whose properties are undiminished when it is recycled.

Moreover, everyone can get involved in glass recycling because every Local Authority has some collection infrastructure in place.

Sustainability represents an opportunity for our business and plays an increasingly important role in partnerships with customers and suppliers. The whole glass container industry has enough capacity to consume over a million tonnes of recycled glass. Our major challenge is, therefore, to collect more glass, primarily from the domestic waste stream.

We cannot force the public to recycle but we can increase our efforts to make collection systems more convenient and practical and to make them aware of the real environmental benefits that result.