School is back in session for many kids all over the country, so I thought it would be appropriate to give this blog a little back to school angle. Raise your hand if you agree … field trips were one of the best perks of going to school? Visiting the planetarium was always one of my favorites. I loved sitting in that big round theatre and looking up at all the stars and the constellations. I took an astronomy class in high school, thinking it would be an easy A. I thought, we’re just going to talk about stars, right? Ugh, no. Let’s just say it was a lot more complicated than I thought it would be (anything that involves math isn’t my strong point). Fast forward, and here I am reading and writing about the glass industry. And wouldn’t you know, I get to go on a lot of field trips.
Most recently, my field trips brought me to the Fall Conference in Toledo, Ohio, organized by the National Glass Association, which now includes the Glass Association of North America. The meetings were filled with lots of great technical and educational discussions, as well as one exceptional visit to NSG Pilkington’s nearby Rossford float glass plant. It had been quite a number of years since I had last visited a float plant, so I was excited to have the chance to see one again.
Probably my biggest take-away from this tour was the company’s extreme focus on safety. These measures were put in place even before we arrived. Everyone was instructed to wear pants and closed-toe shoes. For anyone with long hair, it needed to be pulled up above the shoulders. There also could be no loose fitting clothing or ties and no hooped jewelry.
The dedication to safety was evident as soon as we got there, even before the tour officially began. We were welcomed and greeted with a pair of safety goggles as we stepped inside. As we proceeded forward, one thing in particular that stood out to me, was what the company calls “the green mile.” This is the safe walking path through and around the plant, that’s painted green, thus the reason for its name. All visitors or those walking through the plant are required to stay on this path to ensure their safety.
Our first stop was an upstairs conference room, where we met for a brief presentation and introduction. Everyone was instructed to hold onto the handrail as they headed upstairs.
We were greeted there by NSG vice president Stephen Weidner, who reiterated the importance of staying safe.
“Our main goal is safety,” he told us. “The green mile winds its way through the course of the plant. We’re going to stay on that.”
In addition to staying on the green mile, all visitors also wore personal protective equipment while on the tour. This included the safety googles we received at the start, as well as a high-visibility vest and arm cuffs.
Our tour took us from one end of the plant to the other, where we saw everything from the batch at the start, to glass cutting at the end.
For anyone who has never visited a float plant, the one thing to know is that it’s hot—really, really hot. During the process, the ingredients—the batch—are heated to more than 1,000 degrees C. Glass is made primarily from sand, soda, ash, limestone, dolomite and cullet (broken glass). From one end to the other, the melted glass flows continually across a tin bath until it’s cooled (annealed), washed, inspected, cut and shipped.
Visiting a float glass plant is an incredible learning opportunity. If you ever have the opportunity to visit one, you should definitely do it. While the float process is essentially the same as when it was developed in the 1950s, companies are continually learning and advancing their skills and abilities to create new and exciting glass products. School is definitely in session.