Saint-Gobain Glass UK has begun a major investment in its Eggborough factory in East Yorkshire in order to be better prepared for a net-zero future.

Saint-Gobain Glass UK, part of the Saint-Gobain UK and Ireland group, is carrying out a major construction programme worth £30 million to completely re-build and install a state-of-the-art float glass furnace.

The project represents the largest industrial investment in the UK by the Saint-Gobain Group since the Eggborough plant was built in 2000.

The investment will also cover upgrading other areas of the factory, which will secure the long-term supply of consistently high-quality, high-performance glass for the window and door market and the wider construction sector in the UK.

Due to be completed by late summer, the enlarged capacity furnace will replace the existing furnace that has reached the end of its design life.

The new furnace will use less energy and will help the company to optimise manufacturing efficiency, increase manufacturing automation and increase production capacity.

Two decades of successful business

Asked about the milestones of the Eggborough plant’s development, its Managing Director Steve Severs, who has been in his role since 2013, points out that the greatest achievement is perhaps the fact that the original furnace was operating for so long.

“We have been in operation for 21 years which is the longest time any Saint-Gobain furnace has ever run.

This is a testimony to the very good maintenance and care of the furnace, as well as our high-level usage of recycled glass which is less regressive on furnace life.”

Commenting on the recent investment, he says: “This is a landmark moment in the history of our business. It demonstrates our commitment to the long-term future of glass manufacturing in the UK and our confidence in the wider construction industry. The new facility is designed to manufacture high-performance products developed in the UK to meet the specific needs of the UK window industry.”

Site preparation works were underway at Eggborough for several months prior to the start of the project on-site, creating a contractor village and making the site ready to receive the components and specialist equipment. The project utilises up to 400 contractor personnel from 30 companies from the UK and across Europe, who have now dismantled the existing furnace and are currently building and commissioning the new one.

Making the World a better home

As a business, Saint-Gobain’s purpose is to ‘make the world a better home’, through amongst other things its products and solutions that are a key ingredient to well-being for everyone.  Founded in 1665, the Saint-Gobain group is present in 68 countries and employs over 170,000 people worldwide, including over 17,000 in 45 manufacturing sites and a number of distribution outlets in the UK and Ireland. Its wide range of products can be found in buildings, transportation, infrastructure and in many industrial applications.

Saint-Gobain Glass is Europe’s leading manufacturer of flat glass for the construction industry. Its manufacturing plant in Eggborough, East Yorkshire was commissioned in 2000 to primarily serve the UK and Ireland construction market. The plant manufactures all types of glass for construction, home improvement and commercial projects.

Sustainability has been an integral part of the group’s identity for many years and is an important element of the Eggborough plant operation. In 2017, Saint-Gobain Glass UK initiated a ‘Glass Forever’ scheme with the aim of using 50% cullet (recycled glass) in the manufacture of glass by 2025.

Mr Severs emphasises that the amount of recycled glass used in Eggborough has been a significant achievement. Using cullet in the manufacture of new glass requires the furnace to use less energy. Melting cullet is better for the environment as it replaces some ingredients that naturally contain carbonates and release carbon dioxide upon reaction when they are melted in the furnace.

He further points out that out of the 30 Saint-Gobain float glass plants around the world, the Eggborough factory uses more cullet than any other and has received double the amount of cullet than the plant was designed for since Glass Forever started. The company is now moving on to develop closed-loop supply and recovery systems to augment the cullet levels and further preserve resources, minimise energy consumption and reduce its CO2 footprint.

Handling the challenge

Although the pandemic has not delayed the investment, the business did feel its consequences. “Last year was not easy. We were not producing any glass for stock during the lockdown in March and April, yet had to bear the cost of running the furnace. Disruption of supply chains presented another significant challenge,” says Mr Severs.

“However, contrary to the expectations, we have bounced back to a very satisfactory level as Covid-19 has brought new opportunities. As disposable income increased due to the limited options of spending money on luxury items such as holidays and new cars, many people invested in improving their homes, which provided opportunities for the window industry. This was further accentuated by increased awareness of the need to mitigate the carbon footprint, i.e., to improve building energy efficiency, in which windows play an important role.”

Mr Severs further affirms that the current investment will not only help the company to continue to deliver strong grades of glass but also to deliver Saint-Gobain’s plan to be net carbon zero by 2050. Further investment in the operating capability will follow, particularly in plant de-carbonisation.

“We want to be a purpose-led organisation, with an even stronger commitment to sustainability. We recognise our responsibility as a manufacturer to further improve the way we were doing things in order to satisfy the net-zero performance requirement. With the new investment, our parent company is looking at the next generation with the same level of success that we have been achieving over the past two decades, with a reduced environmental footprint.”

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