With its exclusive glass invention for breweries, Rastal has succeeded in achieving the ideal visual and haptic implementation of brands on glass. One of many innovations that has helped the company attain worldwide renown. Rastal was founded exactly 100 years ago – a welcome occasion to take a look over the shoulders of the experts in glass refining.
Smartprint® is the name of the latest highlight by the company from Höhr-Grenzhausen, West Germany, where Rastal is based. With the aid of the printing technique it has for the first time become possible to combine a drinking glass with the NFC technology – that is moreover also suitable for the high utility and cleaning demands of the catering industry. As the name already implies, it enables NFC – Near Field Communication – data exchange at a short distance. In this way the smart glass connects the consumer, gastronomy and beverage industry and opens up countless (promotional) communications options. There is no limit to the range of applications – from prize draws, collection and denotation campaigns to controlled self-service and cashfree payment solutions, through to digital deposit schemes for multi-cycle systems. “Smartprint® brings exclusive brand glasses up to the technological level of the future,” was the verdict of the expert jury that distinguished the technique with a Promotional Gift Award 2019 – one of 200 design prizes that Rastal has collected over the course of its 100-year company history.
The early days
Eugen Sahm already displayed foresight in the year 1919 when he founded the refining company for glasses and pewter pitchers, Sahm-Merkelbach GmbH, in Höhr-Grenzhausen. The small city lies in a region with one of the largest clay deposits in Europe, where Westerwald stoneware has been produced since the early modern period. Diverse research and educational institutes for the material areas ceramic and glass are still located in Höhr-Grenzhausen today. In this way, Eugen Sahm and later generations of the family business were able to fall back on the expert knowledge in the processing of beer glasses, cups and pitchers that had been accumulated over centuries. After Eugen Sahm passed away in 1952, his sons, Günter and Werner Sahm, took over the company and steered it in a future-looking direction. The reorganisation of the sales and field service boosted the exports of the company that specialises in brewery advertising and glass refinement so that high-quality glasses in large volumes could be produced at favourable prices already at the beginning of the 1960s. The company’s name had previously been changed to Rastal in 1959, in order to avoid any possible confusion between the company of similar alignment, which Eugen’s brother Emil had founded. From then on, the company produced contemporary popular items for the gastronomy trade under the name Rastal, which in addition to glasses and beer pitchers also included lamps, signs and ashtrays.
“Glasses distinguish beer“
Century-old know-how about the production and further processing of ceramic goes hand in hand with centuries of experience in the area of glass refinement and the cooperation with breweries and catering companies at Rastal. In this way the specialist knew precisely what beer brands, the gastronomy industry and co. wanted at the beginning of the 1960s already – and how this could be best implemented. This is demonstrated not least by a milestone in the company’s history, which sustainably influenced the fate of the firm: the invention of the exclusive glass. The first brand exclusive glass was produced in 1964 following the motto “Clothes distinguish people. Glasses distinguish beer”. Other big beer brands followed suit in order to be able to achieve high recognition beyond the taste factor and thus distinguish themselves from rival brands. After the breweries, the distilleries, mineral water brands and the suppliers of soft drinks also jumped on the bandwagon. “Today, we are considered to be the market leader in the exclusive glass segment,” stated Raymond Sahm-Rastal. Günter Sahm’s son is an acting partner and has been running the company in the third generation since 1992. “Over the last ten years alone we have developed more than 100 concepts for beverage brands worldwide.”
A selection of the iconic design is exhibited in the ceramic museum in Höhr-Grenzhausen, which is presenting a special exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the company. Visitors can admire exhibits from the company’s history: from brewery advertisements to anniversary pitchers and design classics made of glass and ceramic dating back from the 1960 and 1970s, through to inventive creations from the 1990s like a glass rocket to celebrate the turn of the millennium. Furthermore, a timeline shows the milestones of the family and company history. What’s more, various exclusive glasses are arranged on a long table. All of the October Festival collecting pitchers that have been produced since 1978 are additionally displayed on a long wall. The pitchers that are officially presented by the city of Munich annually have long since become cult items; their production method is exactly the same as 40 years ago.
“It is already recognisable in the production of the templates how different the patterns for the refinement processes are. For example, to imprint a glass with a handle, the frame requires a cut-out. For tulip-shaped glasses on the other hand that are to be individualised with an edgeto-edge imprint, the frame has to be flexible,” noted Nedim Asan, Production Director at Rastal. In the production halls of Rastal all imaginable drinking vessels are found – from striking craft beer glasses, to filigree champagne flutes, through to the trendy thermos cups. The production warehouse for the machine manufacturing alone comprises of up to 2.5 million glasses. Here the various stages of refinement using the screen-printing method are carried out – normally using the implementation of ceramic dyes, which are subsequently burned into the glass in one of the four 30 m-long furnaces at a temperature of approx. 600 °C. One of the highlights is the fully-automatic UV machine with a servo-controlled printing station and optical orientation that enables the exact alignment of the decoration regardless of the geometry of the drinking vessel. In this way, round coffee cups and angular cocktail glasses can be designed by one machine – with a sevencolour UV print. In 2009, Rastal presented the revolutionary printing machine that was partly developed in-house, which enables individualisation using organic, lead and cadmium-free dyes.
“The organic dyes are directly hardened using UV light and can be used for the realisation of sharp, photo-realistic motifs,” explained Asan. After the hardening process, the individual motifs are scratch and abrasion-resistant as well as dishwasher-safe so that they are on a par with fired motifs. On the contrary: The UV print allows the true-to-detail, individual design of glasses in pantone shades – the risk of colour deviations during the firing process are ruled out. This means that promoting companies don’t have to make any compromises regarding the motif design and even gold and silver imitations, special effect and transparent colours are possible. “Thanks to the fully-automatic UV machine, high-quality refinements can be applied to hardened glass models mechanically. If ceramic colours had to be fired onto the vessel the high temperatures would change the physical character of the glass – hence the cocktail glass made of hardened glass would be just as fragile as the simple models,” remarked Sabine Sahm-Rastal, who is an expert in the field of glass refinement. The daughter of Werner Sahm, who together with her brother Stefan Sahm-Rastal is co-proprietor of the subsidiary in Chur, Switzerland, is responsible for corporate communications at Rastal.
Glasses of the future
In spite of the international alignment with an export business in over 90 countries, the designs for the glass and ceramic brand ambassadors still originate from Höhr-Grenzhausen. The know-how is at home in the striking company building; this is where in collaboration with promoting companies exclusive shapes, individual motifs and new concepts are developed. Several techniques that are literally on everyone’s lips in the form of glasses have originated here – including for instance the relief embossing of logos and lettering. In this way, Rastal has been making brands tangible for decades using sophisticated refinements on glasses and cups and enables the permanent presence of brands in the everyday lives of the respective target groups. The specialist displays an instinct for trends and forwardlooking technologies.
“Following the motto ‘Form follows function’ we have among others designed glasses in the form of the models Teku and Craft Master One, which are perfectly aligned to suit the taste of craft beer. What previously only applied for wine and spirits, today also characterises modern-day beer enjoyment – the glass has to optimally reflect the sensory diversity of the drink,” affirmed Sabine Sahm-Rastal. To make sure the desired sensory effect is achieved, during the development process the company is supported by experts like the aroma manufacturer Döhler. “For our latest achievement, Smartprint®, for instance we contacted the RFID and NFC experts, smart- TEC. Telekom is responsible for the theme data security and the agency Saatchi & Saatchi for promotional contents. This ensures that we have an excellent alignment at all levels,” emphasised Raymond Sahm-Rastal.
For example, the IoT (Internet of Things) cocktail machine that mixes a drink fully automatically within a few seconds in conjunction with a smart glass, which was developed in cooperation with Karlsruhe University, demonstrates how diversified the application options of the modern NFC technology are. The machine reads the NFC chip integrated into the glass including information on the desired cocktail and prepares the drink – a real eye-catcher in clubs, at festivals or for company events. On the other hand, if a glass embellished with a Smartprint® is combined with a smart coaster, among others thanks to integrated scales the fact that the glass is almost empty is determined and the glass is immediately refilled. “There are countless advantages for the catering trade and beverage manufacturers – both in terms of the logistic and market research. Tools are already available in the food retail trade that collect reliable consumer data, our Smartglass® offers the same for breweries, bar owners and organisers,” commented Raymond Sahm-Rastal. In this way, the company that was distinguished as “brand of the century” in the year 2016 combines under the hexagonal roof of its company premises traditional craftsmanship with communication techniques of the future – a successful interplay that means Rastal is also well-positioned for the next 100 years.
// Claudia Pfeifer
photos: Sabine Klüser (1), Claudia Pfeifer (2), © WA Media GmbH; Rastal (3)