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Glasstec 2012: Innovation pressure in the glass machinery manufacturers’ sector growing

Chronologie: 22 oct. 2012 à 25 oct. 2012
Source: http://www.glasstec.de
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The tasks facing the glass machinery manufacturers are becoming increasingly complex. The demand for full solutions is growing, the price pressure increasing and development cycles are shortening. The industry is confronting these current trends with teamwork and highly efficient machine technology.

In the glasstec year 2012 the glass machinery manufacturers will once again be faced with a whole series of challenges: customers are increasingly demanding complete production facilities from A to Z from a single source, and it is sometimes the case that the machine manufacturers have to directly supply the financing to go with it. On top of this there is increasingly keener competition from China. The machine manufacturers from the Middle Kingdom have long since ceased focusing solely on the production of standard machines. In the high-tech segment, too, the Chinese are moving forward their development work intensively. Within the sector this is leading to a considerable intensification of price pressure. The companies are also suffering from the ever shorter development cycles. According to the German Engineering Federation (VDMA - Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau), product life cycles have "dramatically shortened" in recent years.

In view of the complexity of the tasks at hand and the high level of innovation pressure in many areas of the glass machinery manufacturing sector, the machine manufacturers have long since stopped solely relying on their own strengths and are now seeking a multi-disciplinary dialogue. In order to intensify the cooperation with other companies and research institutes, leading German machine manufacturers are for example actively involved in industrial working groups within the VDMA Glass Forum. According to Siegfried Glaser, head of the working groups, the aim of them is to move forward the exchange of know-how and to shorten the time to market, i.e. development period of marketable products. Glaser: "We are seeking to recognize customers' wishes and market trends in order to be in a position to offer solutions in good time." What these solutions look like will be shown by glasstec 2012 from 23 to 26 October in Düsseldorf. The leading international trade fair in the glass industry is presenting the entire spectrum extending from craftsman's finishing up to industrial glass processing. At the parallel event, solarpeq - International Trade Fair for Solar Production Equipment - the focus will be on solar production technology for crystalline and thin-film photovoltaics.

Maximum energy efficiency
Today, the theme of energy efficiency plays a key role in the manufacture and processing of glass. From the float glass process through to further processing up to glass finishing, maximum performance coupled with minimum energy consumption is what is required. According to experts, the reduction of energy requirements for float glass baths is, however, only possible to a very limited extent with the technology currently available on the market. According to Dr.-Ing. Matthias Lindig, Head of Development at German glass melting oven and conditioning systems manufacturer, Sorg, consumption is "today already close to theoretical energy requirements". Improvements in this market segment are as a rule associated with very high financial expenditure and the achievable savings are relatively low. The situation for the processing and finishing companies is quite a different one.

One example of practical application at worldwide-operating glass machine manufacturer Hegla shows the direction things are really moving. Together with the Lenze Group, specialist in drive and automation technology, the company has developed a new, highly efficient and energy-saving cutting line for solar glass. According to Hegla Managing Director Bernhard Hötger, during the design phase, the main aim was to increase the degree of utilization and energy footprint of the facility. The result of the cooperation is a relatively simple system, which among others, forgoes the otherwise customary portal supply and glass warehousing. In order to optimize the facility, a simulation programme developed by Lenze was used. The software calculates the efficiency of various optimization possibilities thus enabling clear energy savings.

New technologies for construction glass processing
In addition to the energetic efficiency of their glass machines and facilities, the main focus of attention for the machinery manufacturers is, of course, the optimization of existing, and the development of new technologies. Continual advances are being registered in the area of laser technology, for instance.

The latest success story comes from Laser Zentrum Hannover (LZH). Together with laser specialist Cerion GmbH a new industrial-application laser process for the texturing of large glass surfaces has been developed there. According to the product presentation, the technology impressed with its high-quality, low processing times and flexible design possibilities. The new laser finishing process was already successfully used on a double-glazing facade in Hamburg. According to the LZH, compared to cauterization or sandblasting, the laser technology is very environmentally-friendly. In addition, it guarantees high flexibility in the application of complex decors or all-over surface texturing on large-format architectural glass surfaces. The innovative technology can be used both on untreated as well as on thermally pre-stressed float glass.

The processing companies are calling for maximum production efficiency also in the area of construction glass cutting. The cutting process must be extremely fast and wastage minimal, while it must be possible to integrate the facility in production lines in the most effective way. Today, in an ideal scenario, it should be possible to "continually process" even special shapes and forms without any time loss so to speak. Here the Austrian machine manufacturer Lisec is reflecting the current status of development with its new ESL/RS cutting table. The cutting machine is fitted with one of today's conventional, fast linear drive systems and can cut special shapes and forms out of laminated toughened glass (LTG) very efficiently and automatically. This is new on the market. The special feature of the innovative machine concept is the cutting unit. Without an own drive system, the cutting wheel always automatically positions itself exactly in the cutting direction in which the cutting head is currently being moved. According to Lisec, thanks to this constructive feature, it is the only manufacturer worldwide to offer such a solution, which also enables the automatic, precise cutting of slant, radial and circular forms in laminated glass.

Among the double glazing manufacturers, there is an intensive discussion, especially in Central Europe, on the problematical weight issue. The reason for this is a trend towards triple glazing and increasingly large units. This is resulting not only in increasingly expensive transport but also pushing the installation and fitting teams to the limits of their capabilities. A possible solution to the problem is also provided by Lisec. Using the new, innovative Flatbed pre-stress process developed by the company, extremely thin glass (up to 0.9 mm) can be manufactured without the optical distortions (roller-waves) associated with classic pre-stressing furnaces. By using extremely flexible and stress-resistant thin glass, the weight of triple glazing can be reduced coupled with the same quality associated with double insulation glass.

Interesting advances are also reported in the area of quality assurance. Here the market is now offering highly sensitive scan systems, which no longer solely check single panes but also conduct a highly sensitive check of laminated and insulation glazing for optical defects in a continual process. Avoiding these problems is also a central theme in the area of glass bending. Here, a solution for future potential is provided by the German Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials. The Institute recently presented a new bending process, in which the bending zone of the glass is heated to a higher temperature than that of the edge zones through flow heaters. As a result, the usual edge arching associated with gravitational bending can be avoided. According to the Fraunhofer Institute, the new process is suitable for small and medium-sized batches.

Tense situation in the solar energy market
The solar energy market has recently become a highly interesting sales channel for the glass machinery manufacturers. The companies have successively bolstered their activities in this segment and thus benefited from the worldwide boom in solar energy. However, their mood is currently subdued, because the general conditions for the European module manufacturers dramatically worsened. In 2011, within a six-month period, modules prices fell by around 25 per cent. The reason for the massive slump in prices is among others the hard competition among Chinese suppliers.

The major significance of the solar energy market for the machinery manufacturers is revealed by taking a look at the German market. According to the VDMA, the turnover achieved by the German-based manufacturers of components along with plant and machinery for photovoltaics increased by 300 million Euro in 2005 to 2.53 billion in 2010. At the end of last year however, the glass machinery manufacturers had to contend with massive slumps in incoming orders. The reasons for the declining readiness to invest were in particular the surplus capacities in the areas of cell and module production along with the subdued PV installation markets in Europe at the beginning of the year.

Efficient production solutions
In order to remain competitive, the European module manufacturers must significantly reduce their costs. This is why cost-saving production technologies such as the new rolled glass process devised by Prof. Heiko Hessenkemper from the TU Technische Bergakademie (University of Mining) Freiberg have come just at the right time. Thanks to its innovative process, the prices per square metre of thermally hardened glass can be reduced from the current level of around eight to three Euros, predicts Hessenkemper. The first glass produced using the new process is set to shortly come onto the market.

Bystronic glass relies on module production without composite film. In cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), the Swiss machine manufacturer has developed technology in the shape of the Tpedge process which enables a much faster and cost-effective production of wafer-based solar modules. The company sees the process involving the thermo-plastic (TP) coating of glass edges as a major innovation leap in the entire module production field. According to the company, using wafer-based solar modules enables the customary, module-related manufacturing costs to be almost halved. The edge coating of the Tpedge modules uses the same method as the company's TPS insulation glass system by applying a thermo-plastic material. Using Tpedge technology, the production of a module is possible in less than one minute in series production. In the standard process 16 minutes are required.

Considerable savings can also be achieved in solar module production through highly efficient inspection systems. The latest turnkey technology from the leading manufacturer ISRA not only separates the defective components from the production process, it also recognizes any possible component weaknesses. According to Business Unit Manager Ludger Wahlers, in this connection, for example the use of this technology means that silver consumption for solar cells contacts is already reduced by up to 40%. With the 3D technology, ISRA Solar Vision is now already offering an extended solution. In addition to the inspection and measuring functions, the new 3D option also ensures the reliable inspection of splinters and other height-relevant structural defects. As a result, cell breakage is reduced, while throughput and machine running times are both increased. According to the company, the Return-on-Investment for the individual systems is under four months.


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