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Published: Thursday, 1/22/2009

O-I heralds benefits of glass

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Owens-Illinois Inc. has built an 'ideation center' at its headquarters in Perrysburg to showcase the benefits of using glass. For years, the world has turned to plastic and aluminum, but glass is making a comeback. Owens-Illinois Inc. has built an 'ideation center' at its headquarters in Perrysburg to showcase the benefits of using glass. For years, the world has turned to plastic and aluminum, but glass is making a comeback.
JETTA FRASER / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Owens-Illinois Inc. is launching a major effort today to refocus the rest of the world on its main product: glass.

The Perrysburg Fortune 500 packaging company has built what it calls an "ideation center" in its world headquarters to show clients the benefits of glass, help them design new glass containers for their products, and assist in their consumer marketing efforts.

The center, an interactive conference area that brings engineers, designers, and marketers alongside O-I's customers to develop new packaging, is being introduced to employees, clients, and others this afternoon.

"O-I wants to really revisit the consumer as far as the benefits of glass, and that's something that we haven't done in a long time," said Kevin Stevens, O-I's vice president of sales and marketing for North America. "These are new things for O-I. We've been traditionally an old-line manufacturer, and there was not a lot of effort on marketing, innovation, or new product development."

The approximately 3,000-square-foot center has three main parts: a product display area to show off the company's worldwide products and processes, a "tasting room" to allow clients to relax and continue their meeting in a more casual atmosphere, and an interactive conference center with "smart screens" that will allow image manipulations and more by engineers and designers to collaborate with customers on new designs.

"The idea was to create an atmosphere where we could take people out of the traditional moment and highlight our capabilities from around the world," Mr. Stevens said.

For decades, the trend in packaging has been away from glass to plastics and aluminum, said Richard Crawford, O-I's president of global glass operations. But Mr. Crawford said the company's renewed focus on the advantages of glass containers, such as the fact that they can be remanufactured and reused an infinite number of times, can arrest that trend and turn it around.

"We're not going to play the victim any more. We're going to play the victor," said Mr. Crawford.

O-I's history has been to visit clients, he said, discover their packaging needs, and then return several weeks later with prototypes. By bringing clients to northwest Ohio and working directly with engineers and designers, that process can be speeded up immensely, he said.

The company has renewed its efforts in glass research, Mr. Crawford said, hiring scientists to explore new ways of making glass to increase its strength and decrease its weight.

In the past year alone, the impact of that rededication to research has resulted in almost 1,000 new products in active development. O-I has almost tripled its product research and development team and doubled its North American marketing group in the past two years.

Mr. Stevens said O-I's research indicates that consumers are willing to pay more for products such as vegetables, for instance, if they can see what they're buying and know the packaging is completely renewable. The company is using that information to persuade potential clients to take a second look at glass packaging.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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