The Automation Situation

How the Glass Industry is Embracing Technology

By Jordan Scott

In the past, automation has stoked fears that machines will render humans obsolete in certain jobs. With the current labor shortage affecting companies’ ability to hire skilled workers throughout the industry, automation is seen as a needed investment and welcome form of aid.

Safety

John Dwyer, president of Syracuse Glass Company in Syracuse, N.Y., says his company installed Matodi’s Immmes DTP, an automated filtration system, in July.

“It will save us some work, increase our tool life and reduce our water consumption,” he says.

The company is looking for opportunities to further automate tasks where possible.

“Especially if it can reduce lifting or glass handling,” says Dwyer.

Automation can make a huge difference in a plant’s safety by taking over strenuous work that can lead to accidents or chronic injury over time.

“We put in an automated glass seamer a few years ago that eliminated a lot of tough work,” says Dwyer.

Labor

Jimmy Harlow, general manager of Cleer Vision Tempered Glass (CVTG) in Elkhart, Ind., says the company has invested in several forms of automation, which has saved on time and labor.

CVTG upgraded its cutting tables to auto loaders. The company can also laser-etch certification stamps, order entry time stamps and private logos onto glass automatically.

Before implementing the Forel Super Spacer insulating glass (IG) line, CVTG could produce 225 IGUs per shift with six people. Now the company can produce 800-plus per shift with two people.

CVTG also installed an auto seamer. It seams all four edges and then cartwheels the glass through two lines. It reduces work in process by moving the glass directly from the cutting table to the seamer then to the furnace without assistance from a worker.

“Our automated seamer is just one example of how we have invested in technology resulting in a tremendous benefit in terms of both labor savings and increased productivity,” says Harlow.

The company’s Glassline shape grinder can work with six pieces of glass at a time. It’s station driven with an overhead shuttle. The machine can load or set up another piece while grinding without down time.

“The local labor market is extremely challenging right now with unemployment at or near record lows. We have no choice but to continue our investment in automation especially for repetitive and menial tasks. This allows us to focus on skilled employees earning a much higher wage,” says CVTG president Rick Collins.

Implementing automation requires skilled people on the OEM side who are able to install the equipment, train employees and maintain the automation throughout the installation process.

“The biggest challenge in implementing automated equipment is probably the associated training and ongoing maintenance,” says Harlow. “We generally find, however, that employees are excited as they see an opportunity to make their jobs easier while also learning new skills that make them more valuable to the company.”

The Future

According to Harlow, implementing automation is an in-vestment for the future of the company.

“We’ve added many pieces of automated equipment that will continue to pay dividends both short and long term. We expect this to continue as we look out to where we see the market moving over the next five years and longer,” he says. “The increasing efficiency of our machinery is primarily software-driven, which has the ability to evolve and improve at a reasonable cost to implement.”

The advances in technology are creating huge efficiency gains for companies within the glass and glazing industry. Collins expects those advances to continue.

“We certainly see continued technological advancements with the rate of advancement accelerating. Nearly all of our company’s investments in our future growth contain a significant element of automation,” he says. “There really hasn’t been an implementation where after we just shook our heads at how many manual touch points we removed, how much more efficient we became and how much quality improved.”

Dwyer believes the ease of integration between automation and existing equipment will help drive its increased implementation throughout the industry.

“I’m seeing the machinery manufacturers incorporate more sensors and information technology to allow more automation, and the software companies like FeneTech are able to integrate the machinery so the operators can be very productive,” he says.

Organization

Automation can assist companies with the organization of the manufacturing process. Adriatic Glass & Mirrors, located in Concord, Ontario, Canada, replaced its previous order-entry system with FeneVision software.

“All manufacturing was [previously] controlled manually,” says Adriatic sale representative George Imbrogno.

Adriatic Glass & Mirrors faced multiple challenges when doing the work manually, according to Imbrogno. Orders were entered multiple times, and each department manufactured in the way it found easiest, rather than what was required.

“Customer service had to track down where orders were in the production process before,” he says. “With FeneVision, each order gets entered once. There’s no more double entry, and order entry errors are down more than 95 percent.”

With automation, Adriatic Glass & Mirror manufactures based on a schedule so that all departments are producing what is required. As a result, lead times have improved. Customer service is now able to locate where orders are on the factory floor, then give instant feedback to customers.

“We can even offer detailed information [about] which shift glass is being produced and when the orders will be complete,” says Imbrogno.

Sales and order entry all have access to production capacity, which allows them to indicate lead times to a customer instantly.

“Our biggest worry during implementation was ensuring the system was set up correctly and functioning properly from day one. We took our time and tested the system vigorously,” says Imbrogno. “We followed the plan set out by FeneVision and did not rush going live, as [we’ve learned] from past experiences, if you go live and the system is not functioning properly, you lose the confidence of your staff.”

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