Dr. Ulrich Nebe, Heinz Glas

When they took office in 1999, the new tandem Carl-August Heinz and Ulrich Nebe take "THE" major strategic decision that will shape the Heinz Group for long. “The end with ordinary glassware making! Heinz-Glas will be one of the ‘Majors’ in high-end perfume and cosmetic bottles...nothing more, nothing less!

A huge challenge, that Ulrich Nebe will tackle with determination. The production tool is rethought from all angles. A huge reorganization is set up. Complete sectors of market not related to perfumery and cosmetics must be discarded, the production tool must also be rearranged, closed here, upgraded there, built elsewhere. The vision is clear and it will pay off. And both managers are ready to take risks. Ulrich Nebe will not hesitate. The opportunity arises with the flacon for Van Cleef & Arpels’ men’s scent “Zanzibar”. “A real challenge for us,” confides Ulrich Nebe. “A flask that seemed very difficult to design, out of reach, considering at the time, the technical level of Heinz-Glas versus the shape of the flacon, the glass distribution and the overall quality to achieve.

Yet the new CEO of the Group decides, against all odds, that the flask will be released in due time from production lines and that the quality of it will be a surprise to everyone! These events occur in 2000 and against all expectations, it’s a complete success. “Our colleagues found it hard to believe,” explains Ulrich Nebe. And the presentation of the bottle at a trade show had the effect of a spreading wildfire in the profession and among customers. "They did it!"

Two years later, Heinz-Glas designs using a fully automatic process the superb bottle for Vera Wang’s new fragrance. “A flacon that was supposedly only feasible, through a semi-automatic process,” explains Ulrich Nebe, “and that we were able to produce on a fully automatic machine.” Then it’s Thierry Mugler’s Cologne ... And at the time the list was only at its beginning.

Three different bottles on the same line at the same time!

But to achieve this and most of all, try to go even further, just taking risks commercially or technically speaking was still not enough,” underlines Ulrich Nebe, “it was also necessary to rethink the way things were done, even if we had to upset some given ideas.” Thus, at his instigation, engineers develop a new patented process which allows to produce on a single line, totally different bottles in weights and geometries, a technique implemented using single and double gob machines. “On our three sites,” explains Ulrich Nebe, “we can produce, if necessary, up to three references with a difference in glass weight of up to 50 grams, using simultaneously blow and blow and press and blow processes.

The benefits of using such advanced technology are obviously manifold. First, the changes in sizes on the production line are progressive. At no time the line is completely stopped. The changes in schedule are easier to manage and of no major consequences for current productions. The loading of an extra bottle on the line is very quickly implemented. There is a benefit for the plants in terms of responsiveness and flexibility and in the future they will be able to cope more easily with changes in market forecasts. Inventory management is directly optimized. “We produce the fair quantities,” insists Ulrich Nebe. “So we have less stock and / or more ephemeral stock. We’re getting closer to lean inventory management.

Production - Heinz Glas

The minimum replenishment for a reference is logically a day’s production. “And that’s where the customer benefit concept takes its full value,” insists Ulrich Nebe, “since a day’s production with two or three sections represents less than half the daily output of the line. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that on a line with 8 single-format sections, the minimum quantity of parts required to start production is 55,000-60,000. With our method, the minimum required production falls to 25,000 parts (But don’t forget the set-up times which remain in proportion!). At customer request, we can also produce small quantities. A big asset for instance for the launch a new bottle by an emerging brand, for a market test, for additional orders, for out of schedule emergency orders, for the production of limited series with appropriate quality levels, and finally to maintain on the market end of their shelf-life ranges!

Mastering the whole decoration process: the key to modern glassmaking

This is the other important decision made by the management in the early 2000s. Here too, Heinz-Glas, “will be up to the situation regarding finishes and all types of decoration... nothing more, nothing less!” And it’s no less than 15 million euros which will be purposefully spent in ten years. Acid etching, screen printing, hot stamping, water based lacquering, metallization and more importantly, tampoprinting, the Group will provide itself with the means to succeed by investing in a brand new lacquering unit in Kleintettau (four lacquering lines, with a capacity of 120 million pieces per year, and two metallization workshops), by ultra specializing its Czech plant and by heavily investing in parallel in both Polish and Chinese plants, and currently in the Peruvian plant. “Today in the glass making industry, the key at all levels of production remains flexible and decoration processing is one of its important links.

Spearhead of this proactive approach, tampoprinting. “It is true that this technique is absolutely fantastic,” explains Ulrich Nebe. “It allows debossed decoration, embossed decoration, multi-faceted decoration. And we have invested a lot , particularly in multi-pass tampoprinting with a rotation of flacons on the production line, high-precision four colour tampoprinting and it is new in perfumery, tampoprinting on precious metals.

Quality control - Heinz Glas

Latest reference to date, resulting from this technological mastery in tampoprinting, the “Opium” perfume flacon for Yves Saint Laurent.

Think tank

Is it still possible to really innovate in glass, an ancient material? “Yes, ten times yes!” insists Ulrich Nebe. “And we are proving it every day. The challenges to take up are huge and constant. It is also often a question of knowing the tricks. Take, for example, a technique we developed to manufacture and transport on our conveyor belts, flacons and samples which would not stay in an upward position. Well, our engineers found the trick by designing small ceramic cups that maintain the parts in a vertical position during their transformation and conveying, all this being achieved with a fully automatic and double gob process.

Another example, ‘Perbuseal,’ a process we developed during four years for coating the surface of the lip of a cream jar which was selected, among other products by the Beiersdorf Group. The research cost amounted to half a million euros. This is a technical neutral glass associated with an organic oil which is burned without leaving any residue after the sintering operation. This layer of sintered glass is securely attached to the lip of the ring and eliminates the appearance of hygroscopic leaching. The defined roughness of the surface coating is also very important. The strength and sealing temperature help adjusting the strength and gesture for the type of unsealing required.

A key word: “Flexibility”

Are flexibility and chronic heaviness in the glass industry compatible?

This is all the paradox,” says Ulrich Nebe. “But the success of our development and sustainability of our business consist precisely in solving this equation. This is what has guided us for the adjustment of the manufacturing process on the same line of three different types of bottles. It’s also the same approach for finishing lines. It should also be the same approach for the production of glass itself in order to have sufficient available capacity (not to say "well above" a classical industrial logic) in "tons of glass" to be able to react immediately if the market is suddenly on the rise.

But for the Heinz-Glas Group, "flexibility" is also within the workforce and its ability to adapt to events.