Performance review

Innovation and 
intellectual property

We work continuously to optimise the traditional craftsmanship involved in glass production. By doing so, we aim to meet our customers' requirements by developing innovative, environment-friendly products and services of high quality, thus ensuring long-term business success. In our Strategy 2030, we defined this approach as "Drive innovation" – one of the five strategic thrusts that will shape our evolution.

Innovation strategy and portfolio

With our Strategy 2030, we are underscoring the highly relevant part that innovation plays in our company. As well as focusing on product development, our open innovation strategy aims to achieve holistic and ongoing development of container glass production along the value chain. A combined approach will lead us to this goal: as we introduce innovations throughout our manufacturing processes and technologies, we will also take advantage of new digital marketing and sales channels, improve our planning processes, and optimise our organisation.

We intend to step up our efforts to foster innovation throughout the Group. Our Technology and Production division is tasked with realising this ambition. This division is responsible not only for supporting production in our plants, but also for developing processes and technology across the entire Group. Knowing that this requires an approach geared as precisely as possible to the objectives, we have subdivided this area into three organisational units, each with clearly demarcated responsibilities:

  • The Technology and Projects unit focuses on technological developments both within and outside the Group. The applied technologies are used to implement production processes across the entire Vetropack Group, with the focus on three key issues: digitalisation, innovation and sustainability. We examine known and proven technologies in the relevant fields to assess their suitability for Vetropack – and where appropriate, we introduce them into our company.
  • The Performance unit is responsible for our production processes. Attention here is focused on analysing the processes, standardising and consistently optimising Vetropack's process landscape, and on benchmarking both within and outside the Group so as to improve operative performance. We make regular use of continuous improvement (CIP) tools such as Lean and Six Sigma in this context.
  • The Innovation unit develops the processes and products of the future. The Innovation Centre inaugurated at our site in Pöchlarn (Austria) in 2020 was integrated into the organisation of the Technology and Production division as from January 2022. Research at the Innovation Centre focuses on process and product development as well as digitalisation.

The furnace of the future

Very high temperatures – and therefore large quantities of energy – are needed to manufacture packaging glass from sand, soda, dolomite, lime and other raw materials. The furnaces used for this purpose are usually heated with natural gas. Optimising conventional technology will not be enough on its own to make our production greener (and more economical, given the high level of energy prices): we also need innovative concepts for the "furnace of the future". All our Technology and Production units are playing their part in reducing our CO2 footprint and minimising the energy consumed by our production operations.

In our Technology and Projects unit, we are currently driving technological development ahead towards the goals of lower energy consumption and the replacement of natural gas with electrical energy, using systems already available on the market. By selecting and investing in appropriate technologies, our near-term objective is to lower the energy consumed by our melting processes and reduce the CO2 footprint of our production. Using regenerative energies instead of fossil fuels should cut CO2 emissions by up to 20 percent going forward. To this end, we are examining technologies such as alternative furnace concepts (e.g. hybrid oxy-fuel furnaces) or pre-heating of raw materials.

Our Performance unit is working on issues such as yield optimisation, combustion processes and use of raw materials to reduce energy consumption and the carbon footprint. Best practices from individual Vetropack plants are integrated into Group standards and applied at other sites.

The concepts for the future are being developed in our Innovation unit, which also coordinates Vetropack's active participation in various international initiatives. These include the "Furnaces of the Future" project launched by FEVE (the European Container Glass Federation) and "Zero CO₂" in collaboration with the IPGR (International Partners in Glass Research) network and RWTH Aachen University (Germany). Key topics in research work include innovative furnace concepts and the use of CO₂-free raw materials. Intensive work is also under way on digitalisation of the entire value stream in the context of a Smart Factory approach.

Progress and events in the reporting year

Second phase of market launch for Echovai returnable lightweight glass

Studies have proven that returnable containers made of glass number among the most sustainable and environment-friendly types of packaging. In the past, glass bottles were viewed as having only two weak points: their weight, and their resilience. We are the first glass packaging manufacturer in the world to develop a solution that significantly improves these aspects: its name is Echovai. This is an exceptionally stable type of lightweight glass bottle that is also very economical on materials. It is up to 30 percent lighter than a conventional returnable bottle – but at the same time, it is more resistant to abrasion.

Echovai needed about ten years of development work at the Vetropack Innovation Centre. As yet, these stable lightweight glass containers are only being produced at our plant in Pöchlarn, Austria. In the last three years (phase 1), millions of the bottles were successfully sold and refilled by our pilot customer, the Mohrenbrauerei brewery. Exhaustive tests have confirmed the extended lifetime and durability of the Echovai bottles. We are now about to embark on phase 2, when selected new projects will indicate which additional Vetropack plants need to be made ready for Echovai production, and how this is to be achieved: an essential requirement so we can meet demand for Echovai bottles throughout Europe. This will be followed by a third phase involving discussions about possible licensing of the technology and our know-how to third parties as the key to wide-scale introduction of Echovai on the market.

Media release: «Echovai by Vetropack: world's first returnable bottles made of thermally tempered lightweight glass»

Processing our own cullet as a future competitive edge

Increasing the share of cullet in our production ranks as one of our most important objectives. This is prompting us to drive relevant projects ahead at various sites.

Chapter circular economy and resource efficiency

We have already made targeted investments to improve internal cullet processing at various plants. These past projects led to a significant increase in the share of cullet at the relevant plants – over 85 percent in some cases. Investment in a new cullet processing plant is currently under review in Croatia. Initial funding for a technical feasibility study has been approved in the investment plan, and market studies on procuring the raw materials are being undertaken. The goal is to develop state-of-the-art plant technology that can be used as a blueprint for all subsequent projects of this sort.

Italian plant features cutting-edge technology

We are investing over CHF 400 million in our new plant in Italy. This new high-tech facility offers greater production flexibility combined with higher capacities and a focus on sustainable processes. We are investing in high-performance smart technologies that will make production more flexible, individual and resource-efficient. All the glass production processes are based on the Vetropack Group's expertise, and they incorporate cutting-edge technology. The plant and equipment for this purpose were jointly selected and procured by the project team and the Technology and Projects team during the year under review. In 2023, the focus will shift to commissioning.

Media release: «Vetropack builds new facility in Italy: more modern plant and more sustainability»

«Know your bottle»

Glass is an exceptional material. It can be melted down time after time, with no loss of quality. A returnable glass bottle can be re-used as many as 50 times before it needs to be melted down again. Inspection and cleaning between the cycles are particularly complex and time-consuming stages of this loop. Traceability of each single bottle can make it easier to keep track of the bottles. We see potential here for the use of data matrix codes engraved onto the bottles. All possible information about the bottle can then be stored in this code – including where and how often it was filled.

Developing «Dry Glass Forming» as an industrial application

Mould lubrication is a fundamental step in the production of glass. Products known as mould release agents are used to improve separation of the glass from the mould material. Mineral oil-based lubricants are used for this purpose. Each year, we need about 54 metric tons of these products: they have to be applied at regular intervals, either manually or by a robot. Seeking out alternative solutions therefore makes sense in terms of ecology as well as efficiency. Furthermore, application of the mould release agent can generate smoke and harmful vapours, or may involve injuries to employees.

Since 2021, we have been working on a new technology for coating the moulds used in glass production that removes the need for lubrication. According to preliminary tests, the coated moulds developed by the Innovation Centre can perform their function for several days without lubrication. After this, a new coating is applied again in the workshop. This completely eliminates the process of lubrication.

Together with Montanuniversität Leoben (Austria) and International Partners in Glass Research at RWTH Aachen University (Germany), the team is focusing on bringing the mould coating process to industrial maturity. The goal: to make glass production safer, more sustainable, and more efficient.

Introducing regular performance tests

We see that systematic data analysis harbours significant potential for optimising our production processes – but in many locations, we are still only in the initial stages of implementing it. We launched performance reviews on a wide scale during the year under review. Our goal here is to gain an overview of the technological status of our plants and an understanding of the central production processes. On this basis, we will move on to the next step of establishing process standards and defining and measuring KPIs: this will allow us to target our future investments more accurately. But even in the first months of data analysis, it is already clear that specific potential for optimisation is being revealed.

Manufacturing process innovation with suppliers

Boosting efficiency in the glass production process, organisational improvements and even product development – in virtually every area of strategic innovation, we are reliant on collaboration with our suppliers. Their efforts to step up digitalisation are also supporting similar processes at Vetropack. 

As part of the innovation strategy, we also encourage innovations by suppliers, customers and international research associations: for example, through our collaboration with the IPGR (International Partners in Glass Research) association.

Our CEO gives his backing to the innovation strategy as an integral element of Vetropack's overall strategy. He is supported in this regard by the CTO, who focuses particularly on driving process innovations ahead with suppliers. Industry 4.0 is our declared objective in the world of digital innovation. Interconnected industrial production will be achieved with the help of cutting-edge information and communication technology. Intelligent, digitally networked systems provide the technical basis for realising this ambition. Networking should make it possible to optimise an entire value chain, rather than just one production step as at present. What is more: the network should include all phases of the product's lifecycle – from the initial product idea, its development, production, use and maintenance all the way through to recycling.

Progress and events in the reporting year

Specific innovations during the year under review are described in our reporting on the material topic Innovation strategy and portfolio.