Fall 2020 Catalyst
The transparent nature of glass can tend to quite literally make it “out-of-sight, out-of-mind,” but in reality it plays a vital role in our daily lives. Whether it’s protecting us while providing a clear view of the road in our cars, or providing a view to the outside world while keeping us comfortable in our homes and places of work, glass provides both functional and aesthetic value to the spaces we occupy. Even beyond our homes, vehicles and city skylines, glass is relied upon for food and beverage products, pharmaceuticals, military and aerospace applications, perfumes and cosmetics, and so much more.
Right here in Pennsylvania is where Vitro, North America’s largest manufacturer of glass, has not only its primary glass research and technology center, but two of its manufacturing facilities as well. With its research and development operations based in Cheswick, PA — just outside of Pittsburgh — the company also has flat glass operations in Carlisle, PA that services the residential and commercial building construction industries; and a plant in Meadville, PA that primarily serves the automotive industry with glass for new vehicles produced in the United States. The company also has an administrative office on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.
In 2016, PPG Industries sold its Flat Glass operations to Vitro, which is headquartered in Monterrey, Mexico. Like PPG, Vitro came into existence in the late 1800s and focused on glass production, growing over time as the industrial revolution unfolded. As PPG shifted its strategy to become more focused on paints and coatings, its glass operations found a perfect home in Vitro, a company that had been primarily focused on glass manufacturing since its inception.
In 2017, Vitro also acquired Pittsburgh Glass Works from LKQ Corporation. Prior to LKQ’s ownership of PGW, the business was once PPG Industries’ automotive glass operations.
“Vitro has always been primarily focused on glass manufacturing,” said Ricardo Maiz, president of Vitro’s Architectural Glass business. “When PPG and LKQ were looking to sell their flat glass and OEM automotive glass businesses, we seized on the opportunity to achieve our goal of making Vitro a truly global company, and one of the largest glass manufacturers in the world.”
The two acquisitions in late 2016 and early 2017 grew Vitro’s revenues from $900 million to well over $2 billion in a matter of six months, and more than doubled its employee headcount. Since then, Vitro has invested more than $100 million in expansions and upgrades of its operations in the U.S.
With more than 14,000 employees worldwide, Vitro employs more than 1,000 people in Pennsylvania, with a mix of salaried, hourly and contract workers. The manufacturing operations run continuously around the clock. In fact, the furnaces used in the production process run non-stop for as long as 20 years before they need to be cooled down to perform maintenance and rebuilding.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, Vitro’s operations were in danger of shutting down as part of the efforts to combat the spread of the Coronavirus. “Because of the continuous process and high heat necessary for producing glass, it would have been impossible, and frankly, unsafe for our operations to shut down,” Maiz said. “Many of our employees reached out to state legislators and other state officials, including the PA Chamber, and we were able to obtain an exception from the Governor’s office for our facilities to remain open.”
Vitro’s operations were deemed to be essential because of the continuous process and because the company provides materials that are essential for public health and welfare. With the go-ahead to remain open, Vitro set in place rigorous and detailed protocols to ensure its workers would be monitored and protected to reduce the potential for infection or spread of COVID-19.
“We greatly appreciate the efforts that all of our Federal and State representatives and officials have made to help us remain open through the course of this pandemic, said Maiz. “Doing so has allowed us to continue to provide our essential product to our customers, while also enabling our employees and contractors to continue working and providing for their families.”
As the company looks ahead, it remains focused on its vision to realize the full potential of glass to shape how we move, build and live in the future. As it executes on that vision, the facilities that it operates in Pennsylvania will surely play a key role.
Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.