AGC Flat Glass: Leadership through innovation
Wallonia’s position as a world leader in glass production has continued through the many changes the industry has seen. AGC Flat Glass Europe (formerly Glaverbel) is the motor behind this success, driving the industry through superior production and cutting edge R&D.
By John CURLING
Already in the 19th century, Belgium was the biggest exporter of glass and one of the biggest producers of polished glass. Over 100 years later, AGC Flat Glass Europe, the heir to this great glassmaking tradition, is still using the acquired expertise to drive the glass market forwards – both in terms of quantity and the all-important quality.
AGC Flat Glass Europe is part of the world’s largest glassmaker (AGC) and is a leading European flat glass producer, with 18 plants for producing the raw material and 100 processing units spread across Europe from Spain to Russia (where it is the market leader). For CEO Jean-François Heris, the company’s continued position at the forefront of the industry can be explained by a number of factors.
Traditionally, of course, the company has always excelled in producing glass that is sold in traditional forms. To a degree, this is a commodity market.
But from the nineties onwards, the company invested heavily in expanding markets such as first the Czech Republic and later Russia. This means the company was very well placed to benefit from the increasingly global world market – and particularly in markets that are still seeing very strong growth.
But the group’s acceleration has also been due to the importance it places on innovation, both in terms of products, processes and even to a degree in the business model. "Innovation is at the very core of our strategy, says Heris. We are increasingly in a situation where the added-value becomes more important not only for us, but also for our customers so they can be more profitable. For that, we have tripled the R&D budget in five years".
The heart of AGC Flat Glass’ R&D is in Jumet near Charleroi. "The level and quantity of work going on there makes it one of the motors of the worldwide glass business", says Heris. The company’s history has been marked by technological advances. The idea is to ensure glass remains relevant for people’s lives. So the current research is focussed on health, the environment, safety and comfort. Two of the most recent results of this research are generating considerable interest, as their anti-bacterial glass and the led-embedded glass Glassiled both received awards at the recent Batimat in Paris, the world’s largest construction fair. "Our ambition is to be a leading glassmaker that shapes the future of the glass industry through innovation and operational excellence", says Heris.
This innovation is built on very solid foundations. The «float» glass production unit in Moustier-sur-Sambre is the world’s largest, as well as being a development centre for float glass products. In Athus, near Luxembourg, the group runs the world’s largest safety glass unit. "Other important production units around Wallonia contribute to making our 'Glass Unlimited' baseline come true", says Heris.
© Dynamisme Wallon, 12/2007
Localisation : Brussels
Founded in : 1961
Activity : production and processing of glass for construction and specialised industries.
Employees : 10,700
Revenue : € 2 billion
Export volume : around 80%