DEARBORN - Ford’s commitment to protecting the environment permeates every aspect of the business, and nowhere is that more evident than in the company’s manufacturing facilities where scores of people work together to ensure that issues related to the environment are kept at the forefront of all activities.
Nearly a decade ago, Ford’s Environmental Quality Office (EQO) developed a strategy to reduce the overall environmental impact of Ford’s manufacturing operations across the globe. It was anchored by three key priorities: reducing water usage, lessening the amount of waste sent to landfills and pursuing an integrated air emissions control approach that also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves energy efficiency.
The Ford team has remained steadfast to the tenets of that strategy over the years, and the commitment is paying off with impressive results.
Water use at Ford’s North American manufacturing facilities is down 61 percent (2005 to 2010). The amount of waste sent to landfills is down 45 percent (2007 to 2010). And carbon dioxide (CO2) and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions have decreased 48 percent and 30 percent respectively (2000 to 2010).
“We set up a strategy 10 years ago and we stuck to it,” said Andrew Hobbs, director, EQO. “We identified the critical environmental effects from manufacturing and began working aggressively with the manufacturing team to reduce them. We believe this gives us a competitive advantage.”
Hobbs says the team’s success stems from the holistic approach the team uses to address environmental issues.
“Regulations in the U.S. are such that they drive you to look at things in isolation – like reducing VOCs in the paint shop by dramatically increasing CO2 emissions,” he explained. “We keep our focus on the whole picture. For example, we want to reduce VOCs, but we want to do it in a way that reduces CO2 as well.”
Importantly, Ford’s environmental strategy is embedded in the day-to-day operations of the manufacturing business.
“We have systems in place in the business process to ensure that we’re proactively involved in all environmental issues in manufacturing from step one,” said Larry Merritt, manager, Global Environmental Policy. “When we’re planning for a new product or new facility, we evaluate the environmental impact right from the start. It’s never an afterthought.”
Keeping Ford’s manufacturing facilities as green as possible and in compliance with a staggering number of annual government regulations is a challenge in and of itself. But the team manages to do it in a way that also improves the company’s balance sheet by using the global Environmental Operating System (EOS).
“We’ve been very disciplined in our belief that all of our environmental initiatives can contribute significantly to the bottom line,” said Hobbs. “We can show huge financial savings as well as address the environmental issues.”
New machining saves water
Ford is saving significant amounts of water and oil each year through the use of an innovative new machining process called minimum quantity lubricant machining (MQL).
In MQL machining – currently in use in North America at the Livonia and Van Dyke Transmission Plants and at the Romeo and Essex Engine Plants – the cutting tool is lubricated with a very small amount of oil sprayed directly on the tip of the tool instead of with a large quantity of coolant and or water.
“Generally when you cut metal, you lubricate with an oil-based coolant,” explained Mark Willis, plant manager, Van Dyke Transmission. “MQL machining is a way of cutting dry so that you don’t have all the waste generated by the lubricants. It saves a tremendous amount of water and provides significant cost benefits.”
It also is a much cleaner process, which is especially important at facilities like Van Dyke, where transmissions are built for the EcoBoost® powertrains.
“The sensitivity of these transmissions makes them more susceptible than ever to contamination,” said Willis. “There is no tolerance for any type of debris.”
Innovative process eliminates waste, transforms paint sludge into energy
In January 2011, Ford began a pilot process with a local energy supplier at AutoAlliance International in Flat Rock, Mich., where paint sludge – a material often sent to landfills – is sent to the energy supplier and used as a raw material in its process to generate electricity.
“When we paint a vehicle, not all the paint ends up on the vehicle,” explained Lisa Hansen, manager, Technical Services, EQO. “We use a water wash scrubber system to capture and collect the excess paint solids so they are not released into the environment.”
The reprocessed paint solids are then dewatered to increase their BTU (energy) value and sent to a local coal-fired power plant.
“We’ve come up with an innovative way to keep material out of the landfill and use it as a raw material in another process,” said Hansen.
Ford researches new way to reduce air emissions from paint shops
Ford is currently researching – and fully utilizing at Dearborn Truck Plant – a process to reduce air emissions from the company’s paint operations called a paint emission concentrator or PEC.
During the vehicle painting process, solvents – also known as VOCs – are emitted into the air. VOCs can contribute to the formation of smog, and at many Ford facilities, emission controls are used to reduce solvent emissions from the painting operation. Traditional emission control equipment utilizes a carbon wheel which concentrates the solvents prior to directing them to a thermal oxidizer for destruction. Significant amounts of energy are consumed both in air handling (electricity to run fans and motors) and heating of the thermal oxidizer (natural gas combustion).
“The PEC – which uses a fluidized bed design versus the traditional carbon wheel – concentrates solvent emissions by 2,000-fold compared to a 10-fold concentration level for traditional equipment,” explained Glen Logan, manager, Worldwide Environmental Support, EQO. “At such a high concentration, the equipment has a much smaller energy footprint and VOCs can be destroyed without the addition of natural gas, resulting in an 80 to 85 percent reduction in energy consumption and CO2 emissions.”
In addition, Ford has established a research facility at Oakville Assembly Complex to investigate the opportunities to use the super-concentrated VOCs as a fuel source for both a traditional generator as well as a fuel cell, which could be used to generate power that could be used in the manufacturing process or placed on the public utility’s electrical grid.
Awards for environmental efforts
Ford’s actions to reduce the amount of energy used to manufacture vehicles and supports its U.S. operations earned the company its sixth-consecutive ENERGY STAR Award for Sustained Excellence this year from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The prestigious award recognizes Ford’s continued leadership and commitment to protecting the environment through energy efficiency.
Additional awards for environmental efforts in the manufacturing arena include:
• Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake received a 2010 Silver Award for its recycling efforts from the Lorain County Solid Waste Management District. This award recognized the plant’s successful efforts to reduce waste to landfill and increase recycling.
• Livonia Transmission Plant and Automatic Transmission New Product Center received the 2011 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Neighborhood Environmental Partner Award.
• Kansas City Assembly Plant received 13 consecutive Gold Awards and two Platinum Awards from the Missouri Water Environment Association for the plant’s outstanding water compliance record.