How and why to automate the flat glass tempering process

Lately, we’re hearing a lot about automation, the Internet of Things and digitalization. What do these terms mean? And how do they relate to the glass tempering business?

The purpose of automating a glass tempering line is not to add technology to the process just for the sake of technology. Instead, it’s about eliminating non-value-adding work and actions.

In this blog, I want to present the steps we need to move from where we are now to a fully automated process. Plus, certain technology issues will have to be solved before we can completely automate the tempering glass process.

Similarities between cars and tempering lines

To make it easy to understand, let’s compare our case with Tesla passenger cars to help show where we are on the path to achieving a fully automatic car. Self-driving cars are not yet a reality, but are well on their way. Cars already have automatic parking, adaptive cruise control and other advanced features.

Of course, the drivers are very different for passenger cars than in the glass tempering process. Common drivers in our business are increasing production, providing better service to customers, improving cost efficiency and optimizing your overall factory operation.

Five steps towards full automation

A five-step model can be used to illustrate the level of automation in the car industry, with level one being zero automation and level five being full automation with self-driving cars, fully automated in every respect. Level one has a certain amount of driver assistance. The next level offers more driver assistance. Lately, we’re seeing many assisting features, like self-parking. But taking the next step forward always requires certain innovations.

If we look at the glass tempering process, we have an operator instead of a driver. When we move along the same automation model, the operator gets more assistance. The first new measurement devices allowed the operator to know what was happening during the process. During the past three or four years, new innovations suggest options to help the operator run the process better. So even in the tempering industry, we’re moving forward in steps. For example, Glaston already offers Assistant Pro and Reporting Pro to help operators make better use of information from the process.

When we go to the next step, which is already a reality, we can integrate with an ERP system to tell us what type of glass is being processed. If the glass mix is relatively stable, we can already automate the process just by selecting a recipe based on the feedback from the ERP. Still, the complexities in today’s world are greater than ever and we need to further develop the technologies before we can fully automate the process for anything other than the most basic ones.

Automating flat glass tempering line_GPD2017

Each line supports R&D

Elon Musk states that every Tesla car is an R&D line that facilitates further process development, just as every one of our tempering furnaces is an R&D line in the glass industry. This means that not only does Glaston’s R&D team work on improving process development, but each of our lines is connected to each other to share vital data. The entire Glaston ecosystem works together, moving closer to full automation by using the data collected to create a self-learning mechanism.

Already today, real-time reports are available on what a machine is doing and its production efficiency, so that there is more data available to manage that production.

Still obstacles exist before we can get to the next level. The cost efficiency, reliability and repeatability of measuring devices are critical to automation. So, we need to innovate more to get to the next step with absolutely flawless measurement devices.

Glaston’s strategy is to use the data from our entire installed base to automate the process and improve how tempering lines are run. The role of the operator will changes too as the process becomes more automated, allowing the operator to focus on data, optimizing process values and adding more value to a glass processing business.

Are you ready?

Digitalization in the construction industry is moving swiftly forward. The purchasing of glass and other materials is expected to digitalize in the next five years. Think what that means for a glass processor – your pricing systems, your planning systems – they need to be ready for open-source technologies for digital purchasing.

Your whole business logic, how you run your business or even what you are selling might change. You may want to start asking yourself if you’re prepared for what’s coming.

Automated tools are coming soon that will help you exactly value the quality of your glass. Are your customers ready to pay for close-to-zero anisotropy glass? How will you price it?

Something else coming very quickly is that you will be able to follow your profit per hour. How does just changing a single parameter, such as energy consumption, affect your profit?

Automation is happening. What are you doing about it – and how will it affect your business?

Download the presentation:

Or watch the video presentation from GPD Finland in June, 2017 Tampere, Finland:

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About the author

Miika Äppelqvist

Encourages transparent solutions in buildings and ways of working. Seven years of experience from being a glass-man in product management, sales and projects with a focus on glass heat treatment. Believes helping is the best marketing any company can do. Father of two toddlers and a wannabe sportsman with an internal love of ice hockey.