The glass is greener

If you’ve drunk a lot of Coke in a bottle in your life, there’s a good chance that at least one bottle was manufactured in a Cameron Coca-Cola bottle plant – in 1998, they were the ninth largest Coca-Cola bottler in the country, with the second longest running family ownership.

 

Now, after an 80-year association with the Coca-Cola company, the Cameron family has started a new venture – the Cameron Family Glass Packaging plant, officially breaking ground in Kalama in a ceremony headed up by Governor Gregoire on June 28.

One of the largest construction projects in Southwest Washington, the $109 million facility will comprise 175,000 square feet – approximately the size of three football fields. Longview-based construction firm JH Kelly ceremonially broke ground on the project June 28 and will employ about 100 workers between now and project completion in Oct. 2008. The architects are Camas-based Office OA, LLC.

There hasn’t been a new glass plant built in the US in 30 years that manufactures glass exclusively for the wine industry.

“We believe there is a place for a company like ours,” said James Cameron, CEO of Cameron Family Glass. “Other suppliers are maxed out and are providing only 80 percent of the product in the U.S. – the balance is being imported from places like France and China.”

The new facility leaves an impression on several fronts, including sheer size and its emphasis on eco-friendly practices.

The construction

According to Meredith Keller, program manager for JH Kelly for this project, as well as vice president and chief operations officer of Cameron Family Glass, approximately a quarter of the building is devoted to each phase of the bottle-manufacturing process – melting/forming, annealing, inspection/packaging and warehousing.

When raw materials arrive at the plant (via a new 800-foot railroad spur line), they will be mixed in the “batch house,” which is essentially a gigantic silo 42 feet in diameter and 128 feet tall. It will sit on 140 100-foot pilings, each of which is capped with a 9-foot thick pile cap. The concrete will be poured using a “slip form” process, which allows a continuous pour. Keller said this results in a “more monolithic structure.” Indeed, with 700 tons of rebar, “it will be the only thing left standing in Cowlitz County after the Big Earthquake,” joked Keller.

The entire plant (except for the batch house) will be covered by a pre-engineered steel building. Keller stated that the most challenging aspect of the project so far has been the underground work. Riverside soil is soft and requires an extensive effort to create stability. A geotech firm helped with the design of the entire plant.

Bottle making

When the raw materials for glass making – sand, soda ash, feldspar, limestone, sometimes recycled glass (or cullet), and minerals to determine color – are mixed, they enter the furnace. This is the largest electrical furnace in the world devoted to wine bottle manufacturing, with the capacity to hold 3,000 tons of raw material. The floor is three feet thick, sitting on 200 pilings that are eight feet long. The furnace/forming area will use 600 tons of structural support steel.

The furnace, which uses proprietary technology, is a “cold pump” model, where the material is hot underneath, but the surface is not bubbling. Once the material is molten, it is cut into “gobs” and sent to the forming machine, where the bottles are formed in just a few seconds.

The next stop is the annealing lehr, which strengthens the glass. Keller stated that by reheating the bottles to just short of melting, then very slowly cooling them, the stresses in the glass are removed, making it more durable.

Then the bottles enter a three-step inspection process; those that pass continue to the universal palletizing machines, which can put bottles in individual boxes, or bulk packaging. Finally, the bottles come to rest in the warehouse, ready to leave on the next train or truck, headed for a local winery. Keller stated that if you followed a grain of sand through the process, it would take about 36 hours.

Green bottles

The Cameron Family Glass facility will be the largest eco-friendly wine bottle manufacturing facility in the world.

Cameron said that because wine-making is essentially an agricultural business, “environmental concerns are at the forefront of our thoughts.”

The hydro-powered electric furnace has no air emissions, as opposed to “oxyfuel,” or natural gas, electric furnaces. Also, the plant will recycle water – only sewage will leave the plant; all other water will be reused in the factory.

“We felt that we could build a furnace that would set a new standard for eco-friendly glass wine bottle production,” said Donald Cameron, chairman of the board. “Being environmentally conscious is an absolute priority for us…. We’re on the cutting edge of what America is trying to do now in being environmentally friendly.”

 

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