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Developing the Future of the Pennsylvania Glass Industry

Article Posted On 3/10/2011

Pennsylvania has a long legacy of glass manufacturing, but amid competition from plastic manufacturers and overseas glass producers, the state is falling behind in glass production, with few plants capable of the most in-demand high-tech glass products. Most Pennsylvania plants are producing classical glass consumer products, due in part to not having access to the technology to develop next-generation glasses.

Yet glass is at the forefront of advances in sensing, information storage, drug delivery and other cutting-edge technologies. The technologies of the future will continue to depend on the progress of glass, when its new functionalities, superior properties, and flexibility of manufacturing are considered.

PITA funding allowed researchers to embark on a study led by the International Materials Institute for New Functionality in Glass (IMI-NFG) based at Lehigh University to assess the nature of Pennsylvania's glass industry. The IMI-NFG was established in 2004 through a National Science Foundation initiative and advances fundamental materials research by coordinating international research and education projects involving materials physics; solid state and materials chemistry; and the design, synthesis, characterization, and processing of materials. Carlo Pantano, a world-renowned glass expert at Penn State, co-directs IMI-NFG.

In 2009, researchers examined more than 30 Pennsylvania glass companies.

"We weren't looking to solve a specific problem but to research the glass industry in the state and assess its needs and challenges and identify where the university/industry interaction could create new production and employment," said principal investigator Himanshu Jain, professor of materials science and engineering at Lehigh University and IMI-NFG director.

Findings

Among the top three glass manufacturing states, Pennsylvania employs some 13,000 people in the glass industry, according to the U.S. Census, with a shipment valued at $2.7 billion, based on the last figures available.

Pennsylvania's glass companies produce a wide variety of products, ranging from consumer items based on well-established technology (such as bottles, containers, and sheet glass) to advanced products for sensing, photonics, and health care. Yet only a handful of the main companies have research and development facilities that can support their product development needs and thus remain competitive in the emerging market dominated by advanced glasses, researchers found. And, even these large companies can benefit from innovation in the active glasses or new functionality.

The analysis concluded that the biggest gain for glass manufacturers and glass users will be made by focusing on the glasses for energy, pharma-medical, and optics/photonics applications. In addition, new innovative use of glass will arise through the demonstration of glass as an active component of a device or system.

The study identified a need for small, medium, and large glass companies in the state to have ready access to the latest technology and instrumentation laboratories. Such a facility could develop commercially viable, advanced glass technology that would create new jobs in glass manufacturing and affiliated industries. It would be an easily accessible facility where Pennsylvania companies could resolve their challenges through resources available at Lehigh University and Penn State, which possess comprehensive resources and know-how on glass technology.

Such a facility could establish the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the leader of advanced glass technology in the county - and potentially the world - by engaging the worldwide network of the IMI-NFG.

Industry-University Collaborations

As a result of the analysis, new industry-university collaborations have also been created. One company already benefiting from the project is SCHOTT North America, Inc., a German glass company with a plant in Duryea, Pa. SCHOTT researchers have used Lehigh's X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) machine to analyze the chemistry of surfaces on electrical materials that could be optimized for new product ideas, such as in the chemical industry.

"Lehigh University's facilities are conveniently located and have analytic capabilities not available at SCHOTT's Pennsylvania plant," said Mark Davis, senior research scientist in research technology and development at SCHOTT. "Jain, also, is a recognized leader in the field," Davis said.

"We're hopeful this is the beginning of sustained collaboration with Lehigh on a variety of projects," Davis continued.

PPG Industries is another major glass company that is collaborating with Lehigh researchers in the analysis of its new products.

"The research capabilities in glass manufacturing in this state are the best in any state," said Jain, observing that the findings of the report support development of a central facility that would ensure that "anyone with glass problems will be attracted to Pennsylvania and its educational institutions."

"We would like to utilize the resources of the IMI-NFG to expand the glass industry in the state of Pennsylvania," Jain said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Dr. Himanshu Jain at h.jain@lehigh.edu