Looking at glass melting from a different perspective
Originally published in the May/June 2015 issue of Glass Worldwide, René Meuleman discusses the potential for creating a completely different approach to glass melting:
When I looked into the mirror this morning, after suffering badly from flu I said to myself “You are really getting old mate”. My wife picked up on that and answered “You had better do so”. That is what I call, looking from a different perspective. Over the last 38 years I have witnessed and contributed perhaps a tiny bit on trying to extend furnace lifecycles. Even in this relatively short period I would say that time in between repairs has almost doubled. A great achievement of course, and I suppose nobody disagrees with that. However, does long furnace life time really still make sense? And does making furnaces larger and larger, still makes sense? I have voiced my opinion on this subject before, but potentially, increasing pull rates by in fact pushing the furnace to its limits, and accepting the negative side effects such as shorter life time, really is starting to make sense.
Today, that means trying to push as much fossil fuel based energy into the furnace as possible, plus additional energy from electrical furnace boosting. In future, when we run out of fossil fuel, and CO2 trading becomes too expensive, the whole glass melting system will become all electric anyway. Recently I have witnessed some innovative initiatives to improve the performance of so called mini-melters, as well as a growing interest to melt new, rather difficult to manage glass compositions and pellet based raw material processing. In fact I started questioning myself “would it be possible to start using multiple small furnaces instead of a single big one? Would it become technically and commercially feasible to have a mini-melter on top of each fibre glass bushing? It may sound crazy but would it be even possible to put multiple mini-melters on top of an IS machine, or in parallel to feed a float tin bath?
Imagine, those little furnaces would be replaceable, and would not need to last for 15 years. They could be manufactured in series and standardised. If they wore out they could simply be replaced during a bushing change over or a section repair. Fibreglass facilities would become scalable, and bottle blowing machines could be moved around much easier. No manufacturing plant attached batch houses would be needed anymore. Customer specific raw material pellets could be produced at centralised locations, near to where raw materials are found. That might be even more energy efficient due to fast melting and fining based on optimised raw material compositions and improved inter raw material contact. The whole glass manufacturing process would become all electric and move to locations where renewable energy and consumer markets are the most cost effective. Instead of all the quality related issues of moving end products around, the raw material pellets will be travelling perhaps the longest routes.
Technical systems to make this possible are already available or on their way due to a small community of innovative engineers who are, strange enough not the youngest ones. We now need to pass this kind of thinking to the younger generation rather than telling them how it has been done for 100 years and it cannot be changed. Let them have their own ideas. If a bunch of “old guys” can think outside the box it should not be a problem for a new generation of glass engineers to come up with revolutionary concepts. The only thing the glass industry’s decision-makers need to do is give them a chance before others do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
René Meuleman is Global Glass Business Development Manager at Eurotherm by Schneider Electric
Eurotherm by Schneider Electric, Alphen aan den Rijn, The Netherlands
tel: +31 433110362