Business booms at Doncaster glassworks with surge of demand for tonic bottles

With three furnaces each melting 300 tons of glass at temperatures of around 1500C, it can get pretty hot at Ardagh glass.

On the factory floor, there will never be a need for a coat, and as hot glowing glass is converted into bright bottles, the workers wear ear plugs with their hi vis to block out the noise of industry, heavy machinery and rattling glass bottles on a conveyor belt.

Workers at Ardagh glass pictured by the Glass Forming station. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Ardagh MC 4

Workers at Ardagh glass pictured by the Glass Forming station. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Ardagh MC 4

As the factory approaches its 50th birthday this year, the factory is busy.

But two years ago times were tougher at Doncaster's Ardagh Glass factory.

The firm, one of Doncaster's biggest manufacturers with a workforce of 370, closed one of its production lines.

Demand for jars had fallen.

James Grant, Plant Director, pictured at the Ardagh Glass, in Kirk Sandall. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Ardagh MC 1

James Grant, Plant Director, pictured at the Ardagh Glass, in Kirk Sandall. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Ardagh MC 1

But things have changed since then.

Bosses at the firm went out and found new markets. And now, while the demand for the jars it was making at the time may have gone down, business is booming in a new line of bottles.

With a backdrop of rising demand for glass containers across Europe, and concerns about plastic polluting the oceans, Ardagh's Doncaster plant has found a new market with a boom in demand for tonic bottles.

And two months ago, the business handed the site, on Barnby Dun Road, near Long Sandall, a major boost with a 'significant' investment in a new production machine, driven by the increase in the tonic bottles market. There are also plans for investment in a new, more efficient, furnace in the next few years.

The introduction of the new machinery comes as a boost just a few months before the firm celebrates its 50th anniversary on the site. It means staff will celebrate the site's half century in August back to full capacity, and in good health, with the firm expected to make a billion containers this year.

The factory was first built in 1968, then under the name of Rockware Glass.

Rockware was bought out by current owner Ardagh in 1998, and re-branded under its current name in 2006.

Plant director James Grant has been with the firm for around 20 years.

He is pleased with the current position, and has seen many changes since he has been there.

He said: "From a productivity perspective, it is significantly higher than it was. We have fewer lines on site as times have changed, and there are different products coming through.

"There is a desire now to reduce the amount of weight in the containers, but we are now producing more bottles, quicker than we did in the past.

"We tend to keep the set up on the machines as standard as possible, so that there is less time spent changing the moulds."

The bottles and jars produced at the Doncaster plant are created for household name products. They include well known soft drink brands, famous preserves, and instant coffee producers, and cooking sauces.

Although most of them are used in the UK domestic market, some are sent as far afield as Australia.

"if you go back six years, we were predominantly producing jars - we did eight lines of jars and two of bottles," said Mr Grant. "But there has been a big swing in the product mix , and we have changed the site towards the process that we use to make bottles."

The current success is on the back of a European market for glass containers which has grown three per cent in the last year.

There is also optimism that glass could increase in popularity as concerns have recently been raised about the amount of plastic which is thrown away and enters the oceans.

Glass is completely recyclable. Mr Grant says he has not seen a major change yet, but believes there may be a change of mindset towards glass in the next few years.

Already, a lot of the raw materials used in the site's three furnaces and on its 10 productions lines are from recycled sources.

At present, the figure for re-cycled ingredients is 50 to 55 per cent. The remainder uses the traditional raw materials such as sand.

Mr Grant said: "Whenever we have a new furnace we try to reduce the emissions. We want to increase the use of recycled glass as well. We have worked very hard to increase the amount of recycled glass and it has doubled in the last two or three years, which reduces the energy that we have to use and the emissions

"But we still have problems with the quantity of recycled glass we can get. We work with recycling companies, and anything that is done to raise awareness of recycling really does help us."

He added: "I think Doncaster is a very good place for manufacturing. The people who work in the town want to achieve and can lend themselves to anything that's put in front of them.

"I think its important that we have manufacturing in Doncaster, and I think it is a key to the area. Ardagh is doing its best to support that."

* Staff at Ardagh recently raised nearly £3,000 for the housing charity Shelter with events run by its workers. Sarah McKeown from Shelter’s Sheffield Hub was presented with a cheque for £2,933 during a gathering with all the fundraisers at the factory.