The glass industry struggles for existence: “The market no longer works”

The glass industry struggles to survive
“The market no longer works”

Heinz-Glas has been producing perfume bottles for 400 years. But high energy prices threaten the glass industry in Upper Franconia. Without natural gas, the plants would cool down and be destroyed, so prepare for the worst.

Full order books, a growing market, 300 different bottles each year in quantities between 20,000 and 15 million, a turnover of 330 million euros: At first glance, the situation of the bottle manufacturer Heinz-Glas, a family business with 400 years of history , is very good Good. And yet there is a big problem. “With the energy prices that we currently have, economically we no longer work,” says Christian Fröba, who runs the operating business, in the podcast “Zero Hour”. “Sometimes we talk about a factor of 20 compared to the beginning of last year. The market doesn’t work anymore.” In other words: Heinz-Glas burns money every day.

The company is based in Kleintettau, a town of 800 inhabitants in Upper Franconia, where 1,500 people work. Other well-known manufacturers are based in the Rennsteig region, including Gerresheimer, Röser and Wiegand-Glas. The latter has 2,000 employees and produces a quarter of all glass beverage bottles required in Germany. Every fourth bottle worldwide comes from Heinz-Glas, the company has 16 locations around the world, including China, Poland, India and Peru.

The successful cluster is threatened, because glass production requires a lot of energy for temperatures from 1500 to 1600 degrees. “The glass industry in Rennsteig requires as much electricity as a city of 400,000 inhabitants and as much natural gas as 85,000 single-family houses,” Fröba calculates.

Glassmakers recently asked for help with a video that was viewed 60,000 times in 48 hours: hashtag #Alarmstuferot. “The glass industry in Germany has very little lobby or no lobby at all,” Fröba said. “It was important for us to make ourselves heard.” Carletta Heinz, who runs the family business in the 13th generation, described the situation in drastic words: “If things continue like this, we could stay afloat for another six months,” she told the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” at the end. of the month of February. “After that, it’s over.” High energy costs make glass production in Germany unprofitable. And “then it is simply carried out in other countries, with fewer regulations and in worse conditions.”

Another problem is that the production has to work 24 hours a day. With a gas embargo, you can’t shut down production. “The melting tanks contain the hot molten glass and must be heated continuously,” Christian Fröba, director of operations at Heinz-Glas, told “Zero Hour.” “We operate our systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the power goes out, the glass in the melting tank cools and solidifies.” The result is a “big piece of glass”, depending on the size of the plant from 50 to 600 tons. “It’s a total loss. Such a tub costs between 15 and 50 million euros.” The construction time of a plant is one year. According to Fröba, there are 15 such melt tanks in the Rennsteig region.

The glass industry must reduce its dependence on natural gas. He is already working on that, some works are powered by electricity. “The glass industry is actually predestined for decarbonization,” says Fröba. Heinz-Glas is now preparing for various scenarios in the event of a gas embargo. The plants would stay warm, but they would no longer produce. “The dependence of people here in the region on the glass industry is very high,” says Fröba, who grew up in Upper Franconia. In the worst case, there would be “8,000 employees who would be left without salary and without bread.”

Also listen in the new episode of “The Zero Hour”:

  • Why bottles are increasingly complex to produce
  • Why Heinz-Glas had to suspend some investments
  • What people think in Kleintettau and elsewhere

All episodes can be found directly on audio now, Apple either Spotify either Google.

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