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The history of the Ajka Glass Factory - part five

THE LEAD CRYSTAL GLASS PERIOD

Table of contents
 
A NEW PRODUCT: "LEAD-GLASS CRYSTAL”
BACK TO NORMAL
THE CENTENARY DRAWS NEAR
1978: THE CENTENARY YEAR
THE END OF THE PLAN PERIOD
THE AJKA GLASS FACTORY REGAINS ITS INDEPENDENCE
 
A NEW PRODUCT: "LEAD-GLASS CRYSTAL”
Appearing for the first time in 1964, the most popular product of the period to follow was cut lead-glass, made in white and colour versions alike. Requiring particularly fine manual cutting, lead-glass has an aura of solemn festivity with its high gloss and brilliance and a tinkle so pleasant that even small bells can be made of it. It has been in great demand from the beginnings abroad as well as in Hungary, which is why its share of total exports has constantly been on the rise to this day.
An important moment in its production is the polishing, by hand or machine, of the cut surface, After decorative cutting is applied, high polish is given by chemical. rather than mechanical, means. The cut ware is immersed in a bath of sulphuric and fluoride acids, which allows a very thin layer to be eaten away, which leaves a glossy, rather than matt, surface behind, The process is called acidic polishing. FOI' almost a decade this was done by hand, even though the acidic fumes released in the chemical process pose a danger to the biosphere around the factory as well as the health of the workers. The polluted water from the acidic bath also had to be neutralised, particularly as environmental pollution in Ajka had grown to unprecedented levels, as emissions coming from factories working in the city was added to those escaping from the glassworks. For its part, the glass factory did everything to eliminate harmful emissions, but this was not fully achieved before the early 1970s. By now cut lead-glass, or lead-glass crystal has come to play such an important part in the range of the factory's products that it appears as a brand-name in commercial slogans and in the name of the factory's outlet. In fact the entire factory assumed the new name Ajka Kristály, or Ajka Crystal, in the late 1990s.
 
BACK TO NORMAL
The temporary difficulties that followed reconstruction had been resolved by 1965. The volume of production rose to 2262 tons, which means that the factory's revenues nearly reached 63 million forints, 40 percent of which made up of export. What gives particular importance to the later figure is that it indicates the end of diminishing exports with prospects for marketing to improve. Management takes credit for continually monitoring the market and instantly responding to costumer demands. In 1965 161 new series were designed and launched, of which a hundred were custom-made to samples and wishes arriving from buyers. And conversely, the makers send samples of their own designs potential customers in the hope of larger orders. A fine example of how this new market-oriented spirit gained ground is the complimentary citacion Mrs. Magda Vadaszi nee Nemeth received at the competition "The Finest product in the Glassmaking Industry". The series designed by Nandor Nemeth conquered foreign markets. One sodaglass work was sent to the West German firm Rastal in a shipment of ten thousand pieces. More than twenty thousand items of lead glassware arrived from abroad. Experiments with sand-blown embellishments were promising and appeared to lay the foundations of the serial production of a brand new type of decoration. Technological development was marked by the installation of a mould-immersion machine in the kiln, which was followed by another six in 1966. At tub-pool "C" manual charging was replaced by mechanical feeding, which improved the conditions of smelting as well as eliminating a very hard menial job. On the No. 1 belt of the disk-cutting unit the mechanical washing and drying of items was introduced in place of manual work. Corundum powder that had been spent and polluted in its use with the rough-cutting process was now graded with mechanical sieving. The technology of pot-making was modernised in three phases, which involved the use of Grossalmerode clay and fireclay, while the mix was improved through the addition of Meissen clay. Thus the working life of pots was increased from 9 or 10 to 14 or 15 weeks. Meanwhile the ratio of waste in molten glass was reduced by 0.3 per cent. Besides the introduction of new technologies, old ones were also upgraded. This included the improvement of the technology used with the burning-in machine, the use of a chamber-cooler to release tensions in lead-decorations through the perfect cooling of items, or a 30 per cent increase in the productivity of acid-polishing leadglass ware via the introduction of new technologies.
Ornamental glass variationsTechnical progress was not thought very highly of after nationalisation, but the successful conclusion of the factory's reconstruction laid down the foundations of emphasis being later shifted to quality production, and it also allowed innovative ideas to flourish.
 
THE CENTENARY DRAWS NEAR
After a long time the workers of Ajka could say with pride that their factory had achieved world fame. Within its range of products, lead-glass ware and quality items had gained preponderance, in which direction lay the road ahead. The beginning of the 1970s has ever since been referred to as the beginning of a new era, which brought with it an increase in productivity, together with a number of vitally important developments. A large-scale project, whose implementation required the investment of about a hundred million forints, was launched in 1971. The primary objective of the project was to make the transfer to the use of natural gas in supplying energy, to introduce the automatic operation of the firing systems used with the furnaces and the cooling belts, to raise the kiln-charger and to install a conveying system. That was followed by the installation of 2 hydraulic pressing machine, a KIKO type rotary-blower, an automated acidic polisher, an ultra-sound washer, and an automatic flne-cutter. It was also necessary to build a large shop to connect the kiln with the processing plants. A special mention should be made of the fact that the conventional disk-cutters were replaced with diamond-disk machines. As the factory's objectives included raising the volume of lead-glass production, two new tank furnaces were installed instead of the renovation of the existing twelve-pot furnace. What all this served was the continuing satisfaction of the factory's domestic and international buyers. At home cut potash-glass and lead-glass ware was in great demand, and the factory could have sold any amount of colour chalices. What the factory's foreign buyers preferred were the more economical leadglass sets.
Here is what was accomplished of the project in 1973:
1. The enlargement and mechanisation of the glass-works
1.A Glass smelting furnaces
After the elimination of furnace II with its twelve-pot capacity two tub furnaces with metal recuperators and a surface of 2..4 square metres were built in its place. These were fuelled with natural gas. (The two further furnaces of a similar design meant to replace tub furnace “C” were not installed as the demand for colour glassware could be satisfied without them. Furnace "C" was renovated instead, and the unit remained in use for the continuing production of white potash glass.)
1. B Instrumentation
The Electricians' Company was contractually commissioned to do this job, but due to shortages of materials the firm could not start its execution, which is why the glass factory itself carried out the instrumentation required by the transfer to gas heating.
1.C The mechanisation of the kiln
The broadening of the firm's product range and the improvement of product quality necessitated the procurement of the following equipment:
1 hydraulic press
1 KIKO-machine with rotary mouths
1 standard KIKO-machine
2 stem press
1 flame polisher
2 rotary compressor
2. The extension and development of the processing plants
2.A The construction of a fine-cutting unit. the increase of fine cutting
The shop was constructed and put into operation in two phases. The first to be completed was the section housing the automatic acidic polisher, which was inaugurated in February of 1973. Then came the cutting shop, which began operation in August with 42 conventional and 6 diamond-disk cutters.
3. The rewiring of the electrical system
4. Heating
The boiler-house, the heating units and steam pipes were built by the Veszprem construction company, but the job was not completed before 1974, due to the delayed delivery of the boilers by their maker the Lang Machine Works.
The makeup of sales was considerably modified in the first five years of the 1970s with more than seventy per cent of all goods sold being exported. What makes this a particularly remarkable feat is the fact that with the recession of 1973 the markets of the glass industry were also depressed. The largest customers - Western Germany and the USA - offered lower prices. It even happened that the firm's domestic buyer, Amfora, would not accept, even at a discount of 15 per cent, goods not bought abroad.
The year 1976 began with the old management: general manager Laszlo Egervari. sales director Istvan Fiers, and technical director Karoly Drescher. Jobs worth 12.548 forints from the previous five-year period were to be completed in the new cycle. This sum was used to finance the installation of a 1800 AMCO type cooling belt, a Swedish made glass-spinner. a pneumatic glass-cutter, a pipe-turner and a mould opener. From the company's own funds, the construction of an oil-hydraulic system consisting of a pump-unit and piping was financed. This system operated the ten hydraulic mould-tipping mechanisms which were also procured from the company's own resources. The transverse shop and the extension of lead-glass cutting unit whose completion had been postponed so far were also opened. The latter unit was equipped with ten conventional, six diamond-disk-mounted and ten stopper-boring machines. Several innovations were introduced. too. Of these the polishing belts, the cutting cones, the technology of diamond-boring and stopper cutting deserve particular mention. The efficiency-factor of the diamond-borers was raised from 74 to 96 per cent. Also solved was the problem of cracking glass with an H-O flame on an automatic, Biebuyck-type, machine and bottom and mouth grinding with Polish made abrasive stones.
In 1977 the management wanted to retain the existing range of products with some smaller additions and improvements. Ignoring instructions issued by Ferunion, the factory insisted on their preference of lead-glass to the production of potash glass. In general. management wished to shape their marketing policies in accordance with the company's own interests, because they felt, and not without a reason, that dealers did not always represent the factory's interests. What was more important than anything, however, was to draw up the company's plans for 1980, which had to be brought in line with the national and company policies of the fifth five-year plan. The essence of this can be summed up in the following:
• the centralisation of the storage of raw materials and the construction of a new mixing unit
• the enlargement of the manufactured-goods depot
• the extension of processing capacities, the extension of the energetics system, the construction of a compression unit
• the improvement of communal services
• measures for the protection of the environment
Magda Németh: Goblet set, layered glass with cut decoration, 1997In accordance with the demands of domestic markets, the company intended to multiply the quantity of its pressed-ware production (i.e. that of household and lighting items), while the production of cut potash-glass was downgraded and glassware used in catering was to be made in Salgotarjan instead of Ajka. This was done so that the factory could concentrate all the more of its energies on the production of lead-glass ware.
 
1978: THE CENTENARY YEAR
The factory was making preparations for- its one hundredth birthday. This is how the purpose of the celebrations was described: “The preparations for and the organisation of the centenary celebrations will be worthy of the anniversary’s significance. It will put on display the factory's manufacturing production, the artistic creativity of its working teams. Together with the improvements made in terms of the employees' living and working conditions .. ,
Much emphasis was laid on the conspicuous progress which was made in the course of the factory’s history and which could serve as a basis of making the factory's activities even more widely known and respected of generating even more affection in its employees for the factory and of encouraging even harder- work on their part.” Invited to act in the organising committee of the centenary celebrations were two senior managers of the National Glass Works as well as the factory’s director, his two deputies and the leaders of three social organisations representing local interests. The political and cultural committees were headed by Mrs József Fonyódi and Iván Nagy. The professional committee was chaired by Laszló Polacsek with József Nemeth and Laszlo Varga at the head of the sports and technical committees respectively. The production of centenary souvenirs was arranged for by Zoltan Katzer. Guaranteeing the required professional and aesthetic quality of the Jubilee exposition was the responsibility of Magdolna Nemeth and Janos Fabry. While its decoraton was supervised by Jozsef Pinter.. The opening address was made by Dr, Kalman Abraham, minister of construction and urban development.
On the occasion of the centenary the following persons received various awards: the Gold Medal for Exemplary Work was awarded to Keresztely Elso, technical Instructor, the Silver Medal to Karoly Drescher, technical director, the Bronze Medal to Imre Balogh, Trade Union Secretary: Erno Nokor, plumber: Mrs Jozsef Fulop, fine-cutter: Jozsef Morvai, glass blower, Sandor Barabas, foreman; Laszlo Fuchs, timing analyst; Jeno Jakab, foreman; Mrs Laszlo Orszagi fine-cutter; Sandor Ozorai, turner; Emil Paulics, fine-cutter; Karoly Horvath, glass-blower. Andras Kaplar. carpenter; Róbert Mikes departmental manager; Mrs Jozsef Radl, wrapper; Ferenc Renes. glass-blower; Mrs Albert Stadler, checker; Laszlo Stadler, departmental manager; Jozsef Szeplaki. chief warehouse attendant; Jozsef Toltl, glass-blower; Mrs. Rudolf Vadaszi, expediter; Laszlo Varga, departmental manager; Mrs György Verbovszky. The event was followed by the opening of an exhibition of the factory's products in the municipal community centre. Displayed here were the latest designs of the factory as well as its traditional Sudeta, Viktoria and other richly cut lead-glass services.
 
THE END OF THE PLAN PERIOD
What really put a stamp on 1979-80, the last two years of the plan period, were political, much rather than economic, determinants. Hid behind these were the financial difficulties besetting the firm, such as those that prevented the installment of a new mixing complex, instead of which the old, outdated, one was refurbished. The construction of a cutting shop could not, however, be postponed, even if only a two, rather than the planned-for three, story building could be raised under the circumstances. To move on the company had to request a loan from the National Bank. out of which the following developments were funded:
Cine-cutting unit III
with equipment Ft 23.0 million
Equipment for acid treatment
(ACTAL SP III) Ft 16.8 million
Material depot Ft 4.0 million
Box-making unit: Ft 5.4 million
Kiln machinery, tub furnace Ft 9.5 million
Precipitation drainage Ft 4.2 million
Additional, stop-gap, measures were taken in the first quarter of the following year (1981), but interestingly enough, the entire sum of the loan was still not spent.
Magda Nemeth: Ready-made at the furnace “Japanese” vase 1996Together with these installments, significant technical-technological changes were also introduced. Of these special mention should be made of granulating the lead-glass mix, pneumatic transportation, and the production of stemmed glasses executed with an iron purity. Not to be left out is the foundation of a sample-cutting unit, where perfectly unique cuts could be made by master-cutters. The enlargement of the product range was served by the installment of a semi-automatic glass-press and a dual-spindle glass-spinner. The designing of new products continued. 155 of these reached production stage in 1980, of which thirty were made in a spinner, eight were pressed, forty-eight were cut lead-crystal series, and sixty-nine plain potash-glass items. Total turnover in that year was above 317 million forints, 212 million of which was made up of exports. In the last year of the period the creative spirit soared as fifty-five innovations were submitted, twenty-six of which were in fact patented. The training of new generations of skilled workers was also provided for with 88 young men and women receiving factory-scholarships. All in all, the factory was well managed in the period under review. The reconstruction work necessitated by modernisation did not decrease production. The range of products was successfully adjusted to market demands.
 
THE AJKA GLASS FACTORY REGAlNS ITS INDEPENDENCE
What motivated the creation of a glass-manufacturing mega-company had been political, rather than economic, considerations, and by the late 1970s the authorities had at last recognised that the enforced centralisation of the industry had not only been unnecessary but harmful, too. As a consequence, the independence of glass factories was gradually restored, even if this did not include the right to export their merchandise independently. In terms of management, it was not Lajos Szokup but the new general manager in the person of Sandor Czina under whose supervision decentralisation was implemented. All this did not however, mean the severance of all ties with the "mammoth" company. Wherever it was deemed feasible, cooperation was continued. It is no easy task to evaluate the years 1980-85, as the picture is muddied by the continuous reorganisation that characterised the period, but that much can be safely said that this half-decade was not a triumphal procession. Regrettably, negative tendencies continued until 1989. Drawing the unavoidable conclusion the ministry in charge proceeded to privatise the factory. To do this, the authorities needed a feasible offer, which was submitted by Gabor Varszegi, the then managing director of Fotex Ltd., who made a bid for the purchase of the glassworks on 18. August 1989. The offer was made for the establishment of a joint venture by Fotex Ltd. and Blackburn International lnc. (Panama). As a result and on the basis of the Company and Syndicate Contract the Ajka Crystal Ltd. was founded and registered at the Veszprem Court of Registry. Dr. Zoltan Katzer was appointed director of the company.
Looking back on 1989, we can now conclude that the partnership has proved fruitful. Thanks to the marketing expertise of the new owner Fotex Co. and its proprietor Gabor Varszegi, the company not only managed to get back on its feet but started on a course of promising development First of all, its dependence in terms of foreign trading was terminated, and the company could start its own export-import activity through Fotex. 92 per cent of the factory's sales were made up of exports: new vistas have opened up, as today the company's buyers include South Africa, South-Korea, and Japan, while such traditional customers as the United States (to where 40 per cent of the factory's ware is exported), Germany, Italy and, last but not least, the United Kingdom have remained faithful to the factory. The company's equity capital, which was 25.5 million forints at the time of its establishment has been multiplied. Besides the interests of the company, those of its 1,500 employees, and what is now of vital significance and the protection of the environment have been taken into consideration.
Recognising the growing significance of work done by hand in an increasingly mechanised turn-of-the millennium world, the management has protected the arts-and-crafts character of the factory. It is with this in mind that the company's long-term plans have been envisaged.
 
Frigyes Giay
 
<< Part Four

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