Rebuilding the East

After thorough refurbishment, SCHOTT Jenaer Glas has an ultramodern infrastructure and a high standard of environmental protection.
Bernd Jentsch
Business Editor
Thüringer Allgemeine
Erfurt, Germany

Successful Integration

SCHOTT’s commitment to Jena is a success story. Today SJG manufactures competitive products and is fully integrated into the group.

Ten years ago, Jenaer Glaswerk was a state-owned enterprise and a small part of the GDR’s massive Zeiss combine with 4,300 employees and 46,000 products. Upon entry into the market economy, it soon became clear that without some form of cooperation with SCHOTT Mainz the glassworks had no chance of survival. “As far as all our products were concerned we were a sort of mirror image of SCHOTT, but technologically fifteen years behind”, says General Manager Wolfgang Meyer recalling the realization that struck him with horror during the first visits he made to the SCHOTT factories in West Germany. Yet one thing was clear, Jena management and employees wanted to do everything possible to save the factory.

Radical cuts

Refurbishment of the original factory in Jena started with SCHOTT’s support in 1990. The first stage was the demolition of much of the structural fabric. Very little of it could be saved, since 40 years of socialism with virtually no investment in the factory buildings had left their mark. 225,000 cubic meters of rubble had to be removed from the site. This took 5060 truckloads. Laid out in a line, that would have stretched 32 miles (51 kilometers). That marked the start of the long journey from “glass museum to modern factory”, remarked Meyer. After the demolition of the buildings came the layoffs. 3,700 employees took early retirement or were made redundant. This was not the only attempt to run the business economically.

However, it still ended up operating in the red and suffering an unexpected slump in sales. “With monetary union our traditional markets in the east disappeared completely,” says Meyer. Overnight the monopoly the factory had formerly enjoyed in the astern bloc was replaced by a total lack of buyers. In spite of economic misgivings and obvious uncertainties, SCHOTT decided to return to Jena. In 1991, SCHOTT took over 51 percent of the company’s shares and the management of the business.

Since 1995 it has had the sole responsibility for running the Jena factory, although by no means all of the decisions made at the group’s headquarters in Mainz were greeted with enthusiasm by the Jena workforce. Closing down the production of optical glass at its traditional home in Jena came as a shock for many. The cradle of optical glass suddenly ceased to exist.

Innovative and customer-oriented

SCHOTT Jenaer Glas is the world’s only manufacturer using the Microfloat process to produce heat and chemical resistant borosilicate glass for such applications as biotechnology, space exploration, microsystems engineering and high-grade fire-resistant glass.
However skepticism quickly gave way to the realization that the people from Mainz meant it when they gave assurances that they wanted to keep the Jena company. New product areas, such as ampoule production, were transferred to Jena, as was in due course the world’s first and only production plant for the manufacture of borosilicate float glass. Investment ran over the hundred million (DM) mark. Still it took years for the company to reach the profit zone.

Today, SCHOTT’s commitment to Jena is a success story. The end of the refurbishment is by no means the end of the conversion of the works. The workforce very quickly realized that in recent years. “We are flexible; we respond to our customers’ wishes”, says Wolfgang Meyer. All the different stove manufacturers could ask us to make “Ceran” cooktop panels using their own particular design. “We could even put a passport photograph of the cook’s spouse on it, if desired”, says Meyer with a grin. For the employees in Jena it is clear that the only way they can survive in the face of competition is to continually produce new products that meet the market’s requirements. They put their trust in SCHOTT’s research and development and see themselves as fully integrated in the group.

Solid Basis

SCHOTT Jenaer Glas:Facts and Figures

Sales (FY 99/00): 71 million euros
Investment since ’91: 150 million euros
Employees: 650
– Ampoules
– “Ceran” Processing
– Household Glassware
– Special Float Glass