From the time of colonization, when Captain John Smith’s manufacturing career set up the first glass factory at Jamestown, Virginia in 1608, glass has been a valuable commodity. This rather common material was used for trade currency, jewelry, art objects, lamps, and some of the finest tableware such as crystal goblets, vases, and platters. Glassmakers from around the world have brought a lot of contributions in the glass making industry, imparting their artistry and craftsmanship and led to more innovations of materials for quality of glass productions.
Glass is comprised of soda ash, limestone, silica sand, and other raw materials. The heating and forming processes performed by glass workers utilize its malleable quality.
Machine operators and tenders comprise the majority of glass manufacturer workers. The industry has become increasingly more reliant on automation to be able to meet the demand for glass products. The workers are categorized primarily by the machines they operate: forming machine operators, furnace operators, and lehr tenders, who monitor special ovens that heat and cool glass. Moreover, jobs in manufacturing involve forming machine operators who often manufacture items such as glass containers and tableware, products that are primarily made from molding or formation processes. Glass containers such as bottles are made through the blow molding process. Gobs of molten glass called “gather” are dropped on spindles on a machine that works similarly to a carousel. The spindles are attached to a center hub, and gather is placed on each spindle. The machine shoots a puff of air through the spindle into the gather, forming the bottle shape. The machine shoots a puff of air through the spindle into the gather, forming the bottle shape. The final forming is accomplished through heating the objects. When finished bottle has cooled, it is released from the spindle and the process is repeated. Forming machine operators control and monitor the entire process of feeding the gather, controlling the heat and release of the formed bottle.
Similarly, in manufacturing production jobs, press molding utilizes a related process, where jobs of glass are manipulated by plungers that imprint and form the gather into specific shapes. Many common items are manufactured through this process, such as auto headlights, ashtrays, and certain glass cookware. Molding glass has increased the varieties of shapes and designs, as well as assisting productivity. Machines that form glass tubing can dispense hot glass from the furnace at high speeds. The float glass process, used for flat glass, can dispense a ribbon of glass up to ten or twelve feet wide at the faster rate. The float glass process utilizes parallel, fire finished surfaces, which form the smooth exteriors of products such as window, windshields, and mirrors. The ovens and furnaces are monitored by furnace and lehr operators. These workers monitor heating and speed controls as well as controls for cooling the glass. The float process begins with molten glass flowing into a tank holding molten tin from the furnace. The speed the glass is allowed to flow and natural gravity produce the desired thickness of the glass pane. When the glass has hardened it becomes loosened from the molten tin and is left to cool in a lehr. Although glass factories produce the majority of products quickly and rather efficiently, glass blowers still do their work by hand and create unique tableware and art objects. Glass blowers set a gob of glass on a charred woodblock and begin to shape it. They then blow into the glass with a blowpipe refining the final shape and contour to each pipe. Glass-blowers usually require more intense training than factory workers.
Being hired in the glass manufacturing employment requires many skills: workers must operate and closely monitor the furnaces and lehrs, as well as the press mold machines. They may also be required to control the flow of the molten glass. These duties require concentration, manipulation, and confidence. Physical endurance is a plus, as sometimes employees have to stand for their entire shift, and overtime work is fairly commonplace in this industry. Though a considerable portion of this industry is machine-oriented, that does not diminish the need for clear-thinking and capable performance on the part of the workers.
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