Three clicks and done – a couple of days later, the online order is with the customer. However, what works great for tennis shoes is still a futuristic vision for ordering specialty glass on an industrial scale. After all, melting glass is a complicated, meticulous and cost-intensive process.
So how can high-quality glass best serve niche markets? Or be reliably supplied to customers whose individual volume needs fall below cost-efficient glass production? SCHOTT Tubing has created a solution it calls “flexible campaign melting.” “This method enables us to sustainably offer many specialty glasses that would otherwise be impossible or no longer exist – despite being wanted, even needed, in their (mature) markets,” explains Dr. Andre Petershans, Product Manager for Technical Tubing at SCHOTT in Mitterteich.
A prime example is pH electrodes used in water analysis. For a long time, pH electrode producers used Barium glass primarily made for the lamp industry as the standard material for their products. There were huge production capacities, serving other industries as well as niche markets. However, since the lighting industry has switched to LEDs, components such as glass housings for lamps are no longer in demand. Fully continuous production has been discontinued or greatly reduced. Producers needing these glasses in small quantities for other applications are now faced with a problem. This is exactly what has happened to many pH electrode producers. Glass tubes fulfill many functions in electrodes, serving as a buffer vessel, separates reference and measuring chambers. However, the functional membrane of the electrode must be stably fused. This sets narrow limits on glass properties, especially viscosity. Switching to a similar type of glass is next to impossible.
To help reach the minimum volume for a melting campaign, SCHOTT Tubing launched a platform solution at its Sales Office in Switzerland that combines the needs of several customers at once. The glass needed for the pH electrodes was essentially melted on demand in consideration with the earliest next possible melt.
It still doesn’t work exactly like online shopping of course. Thorough planning and close supplier-customer coordination are critical. “But compared to the inflexibility of conventional continuous melting, this represents not only a significant improvement for our customers, but above all a sustainable supply solution,” concludes the Product Manager.