Glass Futures Limited, a not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee, has been created as a core entity to allow the evolution of the “Catapult-like” Centre of Excellence in glass comprising R&D, innovation and training and up-skilling.
Central to our proposition is a demonstration-scale glass making facility of 30 tonnes per day capacity. This will provide a very realistic intermediate scale glass facility with a highly flexible configuration to accommodate the needs of float and container making from batch to product. A split fore-hearth design will provide for both IS equipment to fashion containers and scope for a tin-bath to float a continuous ribbon. The project is partially supported by the Sheffield City Regional LEP and will be constructed over 2017.
The ultimate aim is for Glass Futures to be owned by, and developed for the future benefit of the glass community, and the project is being developed to provide exactly that. To maximise benefit, Glass Futures is engaging with the major players in the sector to scope both the proposition detail, and the terms under which it will operate.
British Glass and the core legal entity “Glass Futures Ltd” serve merely as catalysis to bring about the necessary facility to demonstrate the will of the sector, and to provide the most appropriate scale and scope to the physical and operational design – right down to the funding model and access criteria.
To achieve this, it has been agreed that the industry, with support from the academic partners should form the governance group to steer the project and those core investors have already determined a simple starting principle.
The very essence of Glass Futures is to drive changes in technology and to be the “go to” place for this provision. It is premised on driving investment in glass research and development to new levels on interest and investment as glass will provide many solutions to future societal problems in the built environment, transport, communications, aerospace, defence, medical and science. Glass Futures will be the hub of this provision allowing forward thinking companies to perform industrial level R&D and training to meet these future needs.
Glass is the only truly sustainable packaging material and it is proven to be the consumers packaging material of choice. To satisfy this demand in the UK alone circa 7,500 million containers are produced for use in the food, cosmetics, wines, beers and spirits industries. Additionally, approximately 1 million tons of flat glass are produced for the construction industry, 9 percent of our container output is exported directly (empty) and a significant amount of filled containers are exported.
In 2012 UK Glass manufacturing contributed £275 million (GVA) to the UK economy and directly employs around 6,000 people with many tens of thousands of others dependent on the existence of a thriving glass manufacturing industry. In Europe (including Switzerland and Turkey) there are almost 50,000 people involved in glass manufacture. (Production figures 2013).
Without the advances in glass technology much of today’s architecture would remain as a sketch in an architect’s office. Glass can be used both as a structural and design medium and the UK is not at the vanguard of making high value added flat glass, a position that we believe the Glass Futures centre will address.
The glass industry in the UK comprises three large float glass manufacturing companies operating four major sites, employing ~ 2,000 people and turning over almost £0.5B per annum; six container glass businesses with 11 large sites and employing a workforce of over 3,000 with a £1.2B turnover; a single continuous fibreglass plant and numerous smaller specialist companies providing to a wide marketplace.
The wider EU market comprises about 10 times these figures and globally this is a further three to four times the size of Europe.
Glass touches every aspect of our daily lives. It is one of the few truly “green” substances. It is made from natural materials in abundant supply and can be recycled back to, more or less, its natural state with little or no loss of quality, strength and functionality.
Glass is one of the enabling materials in electronics, communications, sensing, medicine, nuclear waste storage and many other fields.
The global market for conventional glass manufacture in windows, automotive glass, containers and fibre is relatively stable. The market for specialist glasses for instrumentation, ICT, medical and defence applications is growing significantly. These growing markets demand a research-led facility connected to a production unit that can bridge the gap between fundamental research at academic level and practical implementation at a manufacturing level. Glass Futures will bridge this capability to satisfy global demand in all related markets.
The Glass Futures core facility will act as the global hub for both R&D/Innovation and training/learning and development. From this core facility other global manufacturing sites, with the size and staffing capability, will be sought to become functioning “spokes” with niche specialty function that augments the developing model to build a global network centred on the core hub.
Early Support from government and industry
Sir Nick Clegg, Former MP Sheffield Hallam
Juergen Maier, Chief Executive Siemens plc
John Mothersole, Chief Executive Sheffield City Council