Schott Wins R&D 100 Award For Laser Glass Manufacturing

Jan. 21, 2002
Schott Glass Technologies has won a 2001 R&D 100 award for the firm's continuous melting process for neodymium-doped phosphate laser glass. The award, sponsored by R&D Magazine, recognizes Schott's process as one of the 100 most technologically significant new products of 2001

Schott Glass Technologies has won a 2001 R&D 100 award for the firm's continuous melting process for neodymium-doped phosphate laser glass. The award, sponsored by R&D Magazine, recognizes Schott's process as one of the 100 most technologically significant new products of 2001.

Schott's continuous manufacturing process enables the production of glass at a rate that is twenty times faster than the conventional process at one-fifth of the cost. Not only is this important to Schott, but it helps the US and French governments achieve their funding and scheduling objectives for their planned construction of the world's largest glass lasers for inertial confinement fusion research.

The first laser, at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), is under construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The French government plans to build a slightly larger laser, Laser Megajoule, based on the same principles as the NIF. Construction is planned following the successful completion of the LIL, or laser integration line, currently under construction in Bordeaux, France. The LIL represents one beamline of Laser Megajoule.

The laser glass contained in these lasers will enable scientists to achieve huge energy levels required for fusion research. It must be highly pure to prevent breakage caused by the high energy levels achieved in the lasers.

The challenge posed to Schott scientists and engineers six years ago was to develop a process that would allow high volume production of relatively inexpensive, high quality laser glass at a fast rate. Schott devised a continuous, self-contained melting process that accomplished this goal. Previously, Schott used a 'discontinuous' process to melt laser glass, which yielded about three slabs per week. The glass produced in the new continuous process also exhibits more consistent quality than the old process.

In the continuous melting process very pure, powdered raw materials are melted and formed into a strip that moves continuously in one piece through the production unit. The half-meter wide (19.5 inches) strip is cut into meter-long pieces (39 inches) as it emerges from the "cold" end.

Schott Glass Technologies Inc. has been involved for many years in the development and manufacturing of laser glasses for utilization in large solid state high-energy laser systems such as the NOVA laser facility located in Livermore, California. The primary purpose of these large laser systems has been inertial confinement fusion research.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is now in the process of constructing the next of these laser systems, called the National Ignition Facility. The NIF will actually consist of 192 separate laser beams that are brought to a common focus at the center of a fusion test chamber. The basic design of the NIF has already been proven with the successful operation of the Beamlet laser, a full scale prototype of a single NIF beamline using 100% Schott Glass Technologies produced laser glass in September 1994.

The major mission of the NIF is to secure the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons. This function was previously satisfied through the active testing of nuclear devices, but in August 1995 the US made a commitment to end active testing and to work towards a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

A similar system called Laser Megajoule, or LMJ, is also being designed by the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique, the French counterpart to the US DOE. The NIF and LMJ facilities will also be used to answer important questions concerning the validity of inertial confinement fusion as an alternative energy source to replace fossil fuels and to investigate the processes at work at the center of the sun and other stars.

To support laser glass production for NIF and LMJ, Schott Glass Technologies has constructed a state of the art, 37,000 square foot manufacturing, testing, and processing facility at its Duryea, PA location. Production of laser glass began in this facility in 2000 and will continue to 2008.

Schott Glass Technologies commenced glass melting operations at its Duryea, PA site in June 1969. At that time the facility encompassed 41,000 square feet, and the product line consisted of precision optical glass used for lenses, prisms, mirrors, and windows for such equipment as reconnaissance cameras, range finders, photocopiers, and so on. Total employment at that time numbered approximately fifty-five.

Schott Glass Technologies' first major growth phase began shortly afterwards when, in April 1970, the firm acquired the assets and right to market products of PPG Industries' Ophthalmic Glass Division. This allowed the company to become a major supplier of lens blanks to the prescription eyeglass and sunglass market. This acquisition resulted in the first expansion to the facility and increased the floor space by 135,000 square feet. More importantly for the local economy, it immediately increased employment by 100 persons to 166 total.

As the firm became more entrenched in the US market, sales and production increases necessitated the addition of additional production, warehouse, and office space between 1972 and 1977. Total floor space was increased to more than 180,000 square feet, and the workforce expanded to nearly 380.

Up to this point, Schott Glass Technologies concentrated on the manufacture of "raw" glass. Thus, for example, the company's product line consisted of glass manufactured and sold in the form of blocks, slabs, strips, gobs, and pressings.

A major shift in product policy occurred in late 1977 with the construction of a separate 32,500 square foot building for the fabrication of glass - by machining, grinding and polishing - for certain optical components. This allowed the company to diversify within its main industry and to enter the color filter, contrast enhancement filter, CRT faceplate, and other specialty markets. Today, this part of the business accounts for about 25% of the company's sales.

The firm further diversified its product line by adding Zerodur (zero expansion) glass ceramic and high energy laser glass in 1981. In support of this and ongoing businesses, Schott Glass Technologies constructed a 20,000 square foot glass research and development laboratory expanding its product research capabilities.

This construction helped make the company one of the world's leading manufacturers of laser glass for research in nuclear fusion. To support laser glass production for NIF and LMJ, Schott Glass Technologies also constructed a state of the art, 37,000 square foot manufacturing, testing, and processing facility at its Duryea, PA location. Production of laser glass began in this facility in 2000 and will continue to 2008. It received recognition from the research community, which has awarded the firm three R&D 100 Awards for laser glasses and manufacturing processes that were deemed among the leading 100 innovations in the United States in 1979, 1987 and 2001.

Schott Glass Technologies continues to expand today. In May 2001, the company established a Center for Technical Excellence in the former Topps Chewing Gum building, which it acquired in 1997. Schott will use the facility to foster innovation for the worldwide Schott Group. The first project located in the Center for Technical Excellence is called the Health Project. It represents a global effort by Schott to enter the fast-growing biotechnology segment. This aggressive program has a short-term goal to provide coated DNA substrates to the marketplace. Schott plans future expansion into microarrays and services for the drug discovery, diagnostics and toxicology markets.

Schott Glass Technologies is a member of the Schott Group (Germany), which employs more nearly 20,000 people worldwide and has sales of approximately $1.8 billion. Schott Corporation is the Group's North American headquarters. Its fourteen divisions and subsidiaries employ approximately 3,200 people for the manufacture and distribution of special glass and glass-related systems.

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