United front for forming process automation

The BoX strategic partnership between XPAR Vision and Bottero to control and optimise the bottle forming process via automation is starting to generate significant benefits for some of the world’s leading glass container producers. Via an exclusive interview, Paul Schreuders and Paolo Mazzone updated Glass Worldwide about the project’s latest advances and successes.

The combined technical expertise of Bottero SpA and XPAR Vision BV is helping to create an innovative automation platform for the glass container forming process, marketed under the name BoX. “The whole reason for this project is to bring automation to the forming process and to a produce better bottles” explains Paul Schreuders, Chief Executive Officer of XPAR Vision. “Today, there are limitations to the process because there is so much human involvement, so if you want to make improvements, you have to bring something different and that’s what BoX is about.”

A leading international supplier of IS forming machines and associated technologies for more than 50 years, Italy’s Bottero established its strategic alliance with XPAR Vision, The Netherlands-based expert in hot end sensor technology for inspection, process monitoring and quality control in 2010. Subsequently, modules have been successfully developed and installed at glassworks in the USA, Europe, Turkey and China, with the promise of more successes on the horizon.

Shared vision

It was clear from the outset that the strategic views of both companies were in perfect harmony. They were each looking for partners to share the same ideas for automating the glass container forming process, working together to create an adaptive and automated system, bridging the gap between their respective technologies. The result is BoX, a complex software solution that is described as being easy to use. “We decided against setting up a joint company” Paul Schreuders explains, “preferring instead a joint project with a joint product. In the meantime, it has been important to get to know one another and to build trust.”

Because the market potential for BoX is so huge, it is already designed for the future and is completely modular. Each module can optimise and automate a specific sub-process of the glass forming process. With this approach, customers will be able to select only those modules that are relevant for their specific glass forming process needs.

To date, two modules have been introduced, with a third currently in development and more to come. According to Paolo Mazzone, Sales Director at Bottero, the potential total number of modules is open-ended. “The more we move forward, the more we learn, so we need to evolve the products further before deciding” he comments. “It’s a growing project and we are learning how best to define it as we progress.”

Ware spacing success

The BoX Ware Spacing module was the first to be introduced, a product that has been operating for over two years and has already been the subject of repeat orders from leading glassworks, such was its immediate success. Although ware spacing is often overlooked, the manual adjustment of every section is a time-consuming process, so the introduction of an automated solution has been well received by operators, who now have more time to focus on other main areas of activity.

California, USA-based Gallo Glass was the first customer for this innovative ware spacing solution, the company also contributing significantly to the product’s development by hosting its initial trials. Subsequently, further projects have been completed in Turkey (for Sisecam and Parkcam), at Stölzle and will soon be running in Chang Yu, China, in most cases with multiple installations having been undertaken. According to Paolo Mazzone, multiple options will be available, depending on the version of pusher mechanism running on the line.

Vertical distribution

The second BoX module, Vertical Glass Distribution, represents a more complicated process and required much closer customer involvement, as well as a greater density of trials. “Automation is about changing mindsets” Paolo Mazzone explains. “There is not enough automation in our industry or, to better rephrase it, our customers are not accustomed to automation… we are not used to it, so we have to create conditions to keep customers in their comfort zone.”

Paul Schreuders emphasises that one of the main aims behind this collaborative effort is to make better bottles, which of course is the main target for the second module. “The opportunities to improve are enormous” he maintains. “Gradually, we extend our product and create new capabilities with new possibilities.”

To date, customer experience with the use of both modules has been extremely positive, providing the BoX partners with the confidence required to develop further modules, as well refining existing products. “We Always have to look to improve, of course” says Paul Schreuders “but that’s the same with any developments. You have to aim high and have high expectations.”

For the XPAR Vision CEO, the next target is associated with glass distribution in the bottle. His target is for every bottle to have exactly the same distribution, both horizontally and vertically. “We regularly hear that glass is too thick and that bottle weights are at least 20% higher than necessary. That’s down to inconsistent glass distribution and is something one of our future modules will address.” According to Paolo Mazzone, additional lightweighting will reduce excess glass. “The provision of consistent glass distribution throughout the bottle will help glassmakers to reduce glass weights” he confirms.

Even glassmakers that operate the latest manufacturing technology in modern factories have observed genuine benefits from using BoX modules. “So even if you have a very high starting point, you can still improve” says Paolo Mazzone. “Our ambition is to perfect the glassmaking process and even though people will say that 100% efficiency is impossible, we want to get as close to this target as possible.”

Total commitment

At the heart of the success of the BoX development programme is the wholehearted commitment of dedicated personnel at both Bottero and XPAR Vision. Both companies have clear respect for each other’s core development goals but that takes nothing away from the total co-operation of management and R&D personnel in Cuneo. Italy and Groningen, The Netherlands for the joint advancement of BoX technology.

Similarly, customers have been quick to acknowledge the benefits of two complementary yet independent businesses working towards joint development goals. “Without wishing to sound arrogant, we are already seeing signs of improvement in the glass container industry, raising awareness of the potential coming from ‘closed loop’ technologies and their implications on cost control” Paolo Mazzone observes. “Bottero and XPAR Vision were responsible for boosting this dynamic and if others have subsequently followed suit, it confirms we must be going in the right direction!”

Importantly, while both companies maintain complete independence from one another and continue to work with competitive suppliers however, Bottero and XPAR Vision managers are keen to emphasise that all commercial and knowhow benefits associated with their BoX collaboration remain the exclusive intellectual property of the two companies. This statement was made following speculation that XPAR Vision’s recently announced sensor technology supply agreement with a competitive IS machine builder would be similar to the Bottero/XPAR co-operation. “We receive requests from IS machine suppliers to install our equipment on their machines before sending them out to customers” says Paul Schreuders. “It’s a supply agreement, whereas BoX is a development project… we know very well how to differentiate between the two!”

Paolo Mazzone is keen to reinforce this message: “The first thing we said with BoX was that both companies can continue to maintain independent co-operations. We were informed in advance about XPAR Vision’s recent agreement with Bucher Emhart Glass and respect their right to sell technology to other machine builders, without affecting BoX developments in any way.” It is clear from talking to Paul Schreuders and Paolo Mazzone that the development of BoX takes precedence, with two strong, independent companies championing its cause.

Paul Schreuders

Contactformulier Paul Schreuders