Libbey Glass Factory | Tour

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Libbey has been titled America’s glassmaker since 1818. Our local chapter got its name from glassmakers; we are the Glass City IoPP Chapter. It was pretty neat to tour the factory and meet with the product development team with Heidi as our host. Libbey’s mission is to be the Premier provider of tabletop wear. The Toledo facility produces 55,000 dozen glasses a day with 3 shifts for 359 days a year. 1,200 employees are at this location, but Libbey expands to Chicago, Monterrey MX, Netherlands, Portugal, and China. They came to be a household name when they built an entire glass factory at a Chicago fair of 1893. Libbey currently boasts 58% of the US food share market and 46% of the retail. Over the past few years the biggest change has been automated palletizing and the least change is that inspection is still done by employees. They haven’t been able to automate this process because cameras can’t “see” clear glass. Short runs are also hand packed. The automated palletizing is QUITE impressive. They have 22 odd lanes that are above the factory floor where everything is UV date coded.  The system is protected with sensors so if anyone gets close the whole plant would shut down. Heidi warned us about this but Brian keep inching dangerously close as the rest of the group eye balled him closely and at times held our breath! We managed to see and not stop the lines!

The Toledo Factory was not producing any colored glass at the moment. Colored glass was a trend a few years ago but now tabletops are being decorated with colorful trays and accessories instead of the glassware. Colored glass is also not easily recycled but they have found some bottling companies to take the colored glass when it is in production. Their formulation for glass is 25% recycled, 45% Sand, and a mix of Lime and Ash. Each batch goes through the large melter at 300 tons per day or 50-100 pieces per minute. The glass also goes through a refiner for forming. The longest step is annealing which is between 1-2 hours. Then it’s onto inspection, packaging, and carton assembly. There is a rebuild of the main process every 5 years. The Toledo Factory is in our area because of the large supply of natural gas, which is used in the process combined with water, Lake Erie being close by.

Libbey employs artists to design for the glassware but the actual printing is no longer done at the facility. They produce large runs of a variety of glass from molds of which different buyers purchase and have their own packaging designed. Libbey has 700 different glass patterns and they can basically do any made to order packaging for these line items. This is where the new product development team organizes the project. Repackaging the same product in a variety of ways. They also do consulting to all of their other locations. The smallest item they package is a candle votive glass holder to the largest being a hand blown pitcher. There are over 1,000 changeovers a year, which is about 3 a day. Each mold is around $30K and is made out of steel. The Toledo facility is the only one that automates and makes the stems with the glass. Other factories attach them separately. It was really neat to see this happening. The machine would stretch the fiery glass to form the stem. There is LOTS OF FIRE AND WATER in the process. The signature Libbey “Z” in the stem is done manually while the glass is still hot and pliable.

The packaging strength is in the surface area of the product itself and height as it’s stacked upright. However, Libbey had to revisit structural design when it discovered that Wal-mart shipped product on its side. For this reason they could not shorten the partition height of the product, which initially was a sustainability idea.

An interesting fact: wine glasses sold in retail have a rounded edge; however, fine dinning restaurants purchase flat rimmed glasses, which is an extra step in their process. They use a diamond to cut the tops and make a smooth rim. They soon hope to replace this with a laser.

I can’t share with you how awesome this tour was… if only I could share pictures of the process. We were all awe struck by the machining process and open flames! Thank you Heidi for a superb tour! It just so happened to be St. Patrick’s Day as well so we enjoyed more talk over a Jigg’s dinner downtown Toledo. We even had a green beverage in glass!

March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day –  Tour Libbey Glass Factory & optional social at Blarney’s Irish  Pub.

1:00-2:oop Lunch at Table 44, 610 Monroe Street (across from Blarney)

2:00-3:3op Libbey Tour, 940 Ash Street, Toledo

Additional information – Dress code requires full leather closed toed shoes – absolutely no athletic shoes & no jewelry. When you arrive at Libbey, check-in with guard and visitor parking. If you are interested in car pooling contact Brian Walker, (same for rsvp)

3:30 – ? Optional Q&A session at the Blarney, 601 Monroe Street

We can have up to 20 folks, but must RSVP no later than March 15 at noon to be in the tour.

Cost: Members & Guests $20, $10 Students, $5 Retirees.

Libbey is the leading producer of glass tableware products in the Western Hemisphere, in addition to supplying key markets throughout the world.  Libbey has the largest manufacturing, distribution and service network among North American glass tableware manufacturers.  We design and market an extensive line of high-quality glass tableware, ceramic dinnerware, metal flatware, hollowware and serveware, and plastic items to a broad group of customers in the foodservice, retail and business-to-business markets.  We own and operate two glass tableware manufacturing plants in the United States as well as glass tableware manufacturing plants in the Netherlands, Portugal, China and Mexico.  We also own and operate a plastics plant in Wisconsin.  In addition, we import products from overseas in order to complement our line of manufactured items.  The combination of manufacturing and procurement allows us to compete in the global tableware market by offering an extensive product line at competitive prices.  In 2010, Libbey Inc.’s net sales totaled $799.8 million.

This tour will be great, come see what industry helped give Toledo its nickname, Glass City. Bring a guest, I look forward to seeing you there…

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