Let’s “flash back” to the 1960’s.
Remember the milkman who drove around in a truck, delivering glass-bottled milk to the doorstep? Remember how much better it tasted than the milk encased in the plastic cartons that we now purchase at convenience stores and supermarkets?
Sam Wilson, vice president of product development and technical sales for Anchor Glass Container, helps explain why. “Glass is inert, and by that I mean that contributes nothing to and takes nothing away from the taste of a product,” he says. “The product comes through as fresh and tasteful as envisioned by the company that produced it.”
A LEADING GLASS PACKAGING PRODUCER
The Tampa, Florida-based Anchor Glass Containers, as its name implies, knows glass. It’s the third largest manufacturer of glass containers in North America, employing nearly 3,000 people, and it has advanced the value of glass packaging. Not only does glass provide uncompromised taste, it offers a far longer product shelf life compared to other packaging options. Further, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that glass is one of the safest packaging mediums.
The company – which produces about 40.3 million gross a year, according to Wilson – primarily serves companies that make beer and beverages. However, Anchor also serves the distilled spirits, food and the consumer products industries.
“About 55 percent of our business takes in beer, another 25 percent is beverage, and the remainder is liquor, consumer products, and food,” says Wilson, of this company that produces a diverse line of flint, amber, green, and other colored glass containers of various types and designs. Its largest customers include major players: Anheuser Busch, DPSG (Dr. Pepper Snapple Group), Beam Global Brands, Heaven Hill Distillers, Mark Anthony Cellars, Diageo North America, Pernod-Ricard USA, Boston Beer, Jarden Home Products, Con Agra Foods, B&G Foods, and Heinz.
Anchor has mastered a market that, as Wilson indicates, is not easy to master. “It’s difficult for our clients to predict their needs,” he says. “After all, the market comes down to consumer preference, and preferences change. In turn, that changes sales, and that ultimately impacts us in so far as the types of containers needed.”
But Anchor has responded to such circumstances by providing flexibility of service. “We can readily respond to clients’ needs that are based on consumer desire,” says Wilson. “Our ability for quick response sets us apart from market leaders. We pride ourselves in product development and speed to market.”
Pride amounts to more than just boast: Anchor has received numerous awards for product design. Indeed, it has garnered recognition from the Glass Packaging Institute, a trade association headquartered in Washington, D.C. that represents the North American glass container industry. “Within the past eight years, we have won about 30 awards,” reports Wilson.
For example, last year Anchor received two prestigious awards. One was the “Overall Package Design” for the “barrel room” bottle that it designed and developed for the Boston Beers Company and its Samuel Adams brand. The Boston Beer Company came up with a barrel-aged beer and needed an appropriate glass package, which Anchor provided. “We modeled a bottle unique to their needs that was made of ‘black glass’ and resembled an old beer barrel,” describes Wilson.
The second award was in the “Organic Food & Beverage Category.” Again, Anchor developed a unique packaging design, this one developed for Adina Holistics, which determined that its all-natural product needed to be encased in glass to preserve the integrity of the ingredients.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY SOLUTION
Adina chose well, because glass offers a medium that fosters innovative design and the safest form of beverage packaging – and it chose its partner well, because Anchor provides a malleable solution that is attractive and environmentally friendly. “Glass is 100-percent recyclable,” reminds Wilson. “We use crushed glass in our batch formulation to make our glass products. So, glass can be remade into another container with no degradation in property and quality.
Glass not only can be shaped into a product with an attractive look and feel, but its recyclability reduces energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. Further, glass – which is non-toxic –
can be created from readily available material sources. “The raw materials that go into glass production – sand, limestone and soda ash – are abundant. There is no shortage of these materials anywhere in the world, so we’re not depleting the environment by making glass containers,” Wilson points out.
Energy efficiency not only benefits the world, but the company itself. For example, less energy consumed extends the life of Anchor equipment (i.e., furnaces) and requires less energy to melt. For a national manufacturing organization comprised of numerous facilities, this is an important consideration. “We have eight bottle manufacturing facilities,” informs Wilson. “We also have a machine building facility that builds the bottle-making machines.”
In addition, Anchor has a mold manufacturing facility, which represents a significant differentiator. “Our competitors buy their mold equipment on the commercial market. Conversely, we manufacture our own mold equipment,” Wilson reports.
ADVANCED MANUFACTURING PROCESS
Anchor is very focused on process control. Thousands of variables can come into play in the manufacturing process, and the more those variables are identified and controlled, the more consistent the forming process becomes and, in turn, the greater quality and productivity achieved. So Anchor is focused on that from an operational standpoint – and that includes data collection, history, establishment and process control.
Obviously, modern glass manufacturing requires state-of-art equipment. The Anchor process begins at the batch house, where raw materials arrive via truck or rail, and are carefully inspected. The materials are then elevated into the proper storage silos. They’re weighed and sent to the mixer located just above the furnace. Cullet, or recycled glass, is introduced to the mixture and composes 15- to 55-percent of the batch. The batch mixture is then transported by either a horizontal conveyor belt or monorail train to the furnace.
The furnace consists of three main parts: the melter, the refiner, and the forehearth. As the company describes, the batch is fed into the furnace at the same rate as it is pulled out of the feeder. As the batch travels through the furnace, at an average temperature of more than 2,300 degrees, its depth of around four or five feet must be maintained to within 0.01 of an inch. Furnaces can range in size from 450 to more than 1,400 square feet of melter surface. Helped by gravity, the molten glass flows through the refiner out along the forehearth, where it is carefully cooled to a temperature and desired viscosity before it reaches the feeder.
The molten glass then flows through a hole in the bottom of the feeder. The amount is controlled by a ceramic plunger, which is timed with a shearing device that cuts the glass flow as it exits the feeder. The shearing creates a specific amount of molten glass, known as a gob, which is formed into individual containers. The gob travels down to the individual section machine. Each machine can have anywhere from four to 20 sections, each capable of producing one to four bottles. The gob drops into the blank side mold, which produces a hollow and partially formed container (the parison). From here, clients can choose from three types of forming processes: blow and blow, wide mouth press and blow, and narrow mouth neck press and blow. Decision is based on the type of container needed to be produced.
During the blow and blow process, compressed air forces the molten gob into a partially formed container in the back side of the forming machine. The press and blow processes use a metal plunger to shape the gob, allowing for manufacturers to increase the overall productivity and reduce weight and variations in the thickness of beer and beverage bottles. The parison is now inverted over to the blow mold, where compressed air blows the container into its final shape.
From there, containers pass through an annealing lehr and number of inspection instruments. Then they are ready for packaging and shipping. Clients have two packaging options: bulk packaging (which consists of packing glass containers directly on pallets with corrugated sheets between each layer; an efficient option for high-volume glass packages), and carton packaging (which involves packing containers in customers’ shipping cartons, which are either purchased or formed at Anchor’s plant).
The finished product, once palletized, is transported via forklift or stack train to either awaiting trucks or to its designated position within the warehouse until requested by the customer. Once requested, the items will be picked from the warehouse and carefully loaded onto trucks for transport to the customer.
As we look to the future of glass packaging, we need to once again flash back to the 1960s and a film called “The Graduate” (1968). Remember the party scene, where a well-meaning adult advised recent college graduate “Benjamin Braddock” (played by Dustin Hoffman) about a career direction? “Plastics,” was “Mr. McGuire’s” one-word advice.
That advice now seems dated and ill-informed, thanks to Anchor. “There’s a transformation going on, and people are looking for packaging to return to glass containers,” says Wilson.
The transformation not only indicates consumer preference and environmental and health awareness, but its good business. “Anchor has only been slightly impacted by current economic circumstances, because containers are a recession-resistant product – after all, people need to eat and drink – and the glass option makes much more sense,” says Wilson. “We’re seeing more and more studies coming out about the negatives involved with plastics and BPA.”
BPA, or Bisphenol A, is a chemical building block used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, and it has been deployed to make food and beverage containers.
“The plastics industry is recycling substantially less than people think. Plastic recycling has been minimal. But, again, glass is 100-percent recyclable,” says Wilson
Further, Anchor Glass Containers sees no reason to change its present course, adds Wilson.
So, Benjamin Braddock, think “glass.”