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, factories would cool down and be destroyed – so be prepared 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 we currently have, we no longer work economically”, explains Christian Fröba, who manages the operational activity, in the podcast “The zero hour”. “We sometimes talk about a factor of 20 compared to the beginning of last year. The market is no longer working.” In other words: Heinz-Glas burns money every day.
The company is based in Kleintettau, a village of 800 inhabitants in Upper Franconia, 1500 people work there. Other well-known manufacturers are based in the Rennsteig area, including Gerresheimer, Röser and Wiegand-Glas. The latter has 2,000 employees and produces a quarter of all glass beverage bottles needed in Germany. One in four bottles worldwide comes from Heinz-Glas, the company has 16 locations around the world, including China, Poland, India and Peru.
The high-performance cluster is under threat – because the production of glass requires a lot of energy for temperatures of 1500 to 1600 degrees. “The glass industry on the Rennsteig requires as much electricity as a city of 400,000 inhabitants and as much natural gas as 85,000 single-family homes”, Fröba calculates.
Glass makers recently called for help with a video that has been viewed 60,000 times in 48 hours – hashtag #Alarmstuferot. “The glass industry in Germany has a very small lobby or no lobby,” Fröba said. “It was important for us to be heard.” Carletta Heinz, who runs the family business in the 13th generation, described the situation in drastic words: “If things continue like this, we may be able to stay afloat for another six months,” she said. declared to the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” at the end. from February. “After that it’s over.” High energy costs make glass production in Germany unprofitable. And “then it just happens in other countries, with fewer regulations and worse conditions.”
Another problem is that production has to run 24 hours a day. With a gas embargo, you cannot stop production. “The melting vessels contain the hot molten glass and need to be heated continuously,” Christian Fröba, COO of Heinz-Glas, told “Zero Hour.” “We operate our systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the power supply is interrupted, the glass in the melter cools and solidifies.” The result is a “huge piece of glass”, depending on the size of the plant from 50 to 600 tons. “It’s a total loss. Such a bathtub costs between 15 and 50 million euros.” The construction time of a factory is one year. According to Fröba, there are 15 such melting ponds in the Rennsteig area.
The glass industry must reduce its dependence on natural gas. She is already working there, some works run on electricity. “The glass industry is actually predestined for decarbonization,” says Fröba. Heinz-Glas is now preparing for different scenarios in the event of a gas embargo. The plants would then be kept warm, but would no longer produce. “The dependence of the inhabitants of the region on the glass industry is very high,” says Fröba, who grew up in Upper Franconia. In the worst case, you would have “8,000 employees who would be without pay or bread”.
Also to hear in the new episode of “The Zero Hour”:
- Why bottles are becoming more and more complex to produce
- Why Heinz-Glas had to suspend certain investments
- What residents of Kleintettau and beyond think
All episodes can be found directly on audio now, Apple or Spotify or Google.