O-I's new $35M R&D center aimed at 'revolutionary' innovations in melting, forming and prototyping glass products | The American Ceramic Society

O-I’s new $35M R&D center aimed at ‘revolutionary’ innovations in melting, forming and prototyping glass products

Yesterday Owens-Illinois Inc., a company that describes itself as the world’s largest maker of glass containers, delivered a strategic signal to its customers and competitors, with the announcement it would be building a huge new research and development center.

Following a model I’ve seen most often in European manufacturing centers, O-I says it wants to have a prototyping facility that can test, qualify and cut the time to market of new products. It describes the future prototyping operation as the “centerpiece” of the new R&D center and says in a news release that it will be “capable of melting and forming glass in a small-scale manufacturing environment.”

The center is also designed to be a collaboration with the College of Engineering at the University of Toledo.

O-I believes this new R&D center could revolutionize glass melting and forming. “Providing our scientists and engineers a real-world environment for research and development helps us target our efforts on the concepts with the greatest potential for impact,” said Kim Houchens, vice president of research and development. “With this center, we can realistically test breakthrough ideas for implementation into our manufacturing environment, smoothing the transition from patent to plant.”

“By significantly changing the way glass is made, we can deliver even more innovative and brand-building products for our customers, increase the efficiency of our operations and further enhance the sustainability of glass,” said Giancarlo Currarino, O-I’s vice president and chief technology officer.

In glass manufacturing, the search is always on for stronger, lighter-weight and more sustainable glass that can be made with lower costs and more sustainable fuel sources. O-I says one of the goals of the center is more efficient manufacturing processes (including new materials suitable for use in these processes. Another focus will be the creation of advanced manufacturing sensors to optimize and refine process control. It will also work to significantly reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions across the company’s worldwide operations.

The company says building the 18,000-square-foot center will require a three-year, $35 million investment, including a $3 million grant from Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission’s Industrial Research and Development Center Program. Construction is slated to begin before the end of 2012; completion is aimed for late 2013.

The Third Frontier Commission is a government initiative to assist the creation of advanced technology industries and jobs in Ohio. Along this line, O-I says the R&D center will yield new jobs in “basic sciences, engineering and technical disciplines over several years.” When the Third Frontier grant was first announced on June 25, state officials said it would create 45 jobs with an average salary of $75,000 a year. In addition, the center would require approximately 55 contract jobs that could lead to full-time employment. (O-I already employs about 24,000 people at 81 plants in 21 countries.)