Glass production company QSIL is rigging up extra furnaces at its Winschoter factory to meet the increasing demand for special glass for the UV-C disinfection lamps used worldwide to combat the Covid-19 virus. Managing director Nina Huck is pleased that this will keep production up to par even in times of crisis. 'We are proud to make a contribution here in tackling corona.'
Only two manufacturers worldwide can supply the special glass for UV-C lamps, and QSIL - formerly Philips Lighting - is one of them. What makes this glass so special? 'It's about the combination of recipe and a very controlled production in a special furnace,' Huck explains. 'The challenge here is to ensure that as little iron as possible gets into the glass. UV-C light needs an open spectrum or it won't work. The radiation is able to destroy the cell wall of viruses, making UV-C light a clean technology to disinfect effectively. China was the first country where this glass became highly sought after in corona disinfection.'
QSIL suddenly received surprising demand for the special glass early this year from completely new customers from China. 'It turned out that they were using disinfection units with UV-C lamps to disinfect hospitals and public transport, among other things,' says Huck. 'Soon after, demand also increased from our regular customers in other countries, who made the same discovery. As early as spring break - when corona was not yet in play in the Netherlands - we rigged up a second oven to meet the growing demand. Fortunately, we still had an empty furnace that we were able to get operational fairly quickly for this special glass production.'
Both furnaces run 24/7, and the need for a third furnace is growing. 'Then we really need to rebuild in the plant,' the managing director states. 'Moreover, temporary workers would then be needed to complete the shifts. We have two scenarios: if it has to be really fast, we can have that third oven up and running within eight weeks, but the preference is to start in November. Then we definitely have enough preparation time. It is worth the investment, because we expect the demand for this special glass to remain high even after the worst corona peaks. The risk of Covid-19 or other viruses is part of the future, according to experts. Disinfection is becoming a new standard and UV-C lamps certainly belong to that.'
Sterilizing mouth caps
Most UV-C lamps look like a traditional fluorescent tube. According to Huck, new applications are being sought around the world to use ultraviolet radiation as widely as possible for disinfection. 'In addition to disinfecting hospitals and public transportation, you can think about deployment for airplanes or special washing lines for shopping carts. You can also sterilize mouth caps with UV-C light. However, it is important to build closed units for this, because the radiation is harmful to human skin. For that reason, people who work with such a disinfection lamp always wear those protective suits and goggles. That is not only to protect themselves from the virus, but also from the UV-C radiation.'
Production on track
Huck is pleased that the demand for the special 'corona glass' allows them to keep production in Winschoten up so well. 'Because unfortunately our other markets did temporarily collapse, such as quartz glass, optical fibers and automotive. Because of the worldwide lock-downs we cannot supply many customers and there are customers who are facing problems in their business. It remains uncertain how the situation will recover after the corona crisis. That makes it valuable that our entire group of employees - more than 135 people - can still work here to the fullest. All are proud to contribute in the corona fight and there is great enthusiasm that even a third furnace is needed for this special glass.'
According to Huck, the fact that QSIL is relatively unknown in the northern Netherlands despite the size of the plant is because the sales markets are mainly elsewhere in the world. 'But our bond with the region is definitely there. Because our employees come from Winschoten and the surrounding area, as do our suppliers for cleaning, catering and landscaping, among other things. Because of the long tenures, commitment is high. And fortunately, we have no downtime since the corona outbreak in the Netherlands. The shifts are separated immediately and we observe the 1.5-meter spacing and disinfection protocols well. We always ran 24 hours a day here, the only difference now is the extra oven for the UV-C glass. How big is such an oven? In the world of glass production, ours are relatively small: 35 to 40 square meters. But with this special glass, of course, quality is much more important than quantity. No matter how big the demand.'