With OEM energy-efficiency programmes now well established, the drive to find extra savings is challenging
Energy-efficiency and sustainability targets are nothing new; automotive manufacturers have not only been setting them for years, they have also made significant progress towards meeting them. But how can OEMs continue to make energy savings when they have already achieved so much and the bar gets higher every year? General Motors, for one, started taking energy efficiency very seriously in the early 2000s and has been ramping up its efforts ever since, but as the margins of improvement get smaller, the company is having to push harder to keep meeting its goals. “We’re using 50% of the energy we were around 15 years ago, so we’ve come very far,” says Al Hildreth, GM’s energy manager. “But it gets more difficult every year to save that extra megawatt; it gets harder to meet the year-on-year targets we’ve set.”

According to Todd Montpas, automotive and tyre market development manager at Rockwell Automation, OEMs which are trying to incorporate energy efficiency into their operational KPIs need better access to ways of reporting energy data. “They will increasingly need historical and real-time data in a cloud environment,” he explains. Aside from the pressure to meet targets, Montpas cites plant location as a stumbling block for OEMs. “Typically, auto manufacturers are not selecting production locations based on energy-efficiency considerations," he says. “These decisions are primarily based on the cost of vehicle production and transportation and proximity to the consumer.”

Mary Burgoon, market development manager, sustainable production, power generation and energy management at Rockwell Automation, believes that the failure of automotive companies to track usage at the machine or line level is hurting their energy efficiency. “This makes it difficult to see where spikes in energy are coming from,” she says. “However, as auto companies take advantage of the Internet of Things to enable greater information sharing across the plant and enterprise, they have an opportunity to more proactively monitor and manage energy consumption at the machine and line level.”

External factors can also be a major catalyst in improving energy efficiency. Engelbert Lang, head of energy management at Siemens Digital Factory Division explains: “Rising electricity prices combined with greater power requirements are further factors encouraging more and more automotive manufacturers to optimise their plants.”

Harnessing people power

Paintshop, GM Orion

A worker performs a voltage check during electro-deposition of paint at GM Orion. Paintshops are traditionally energy-hungry
According to Tim Tangredi, CEO of Dais Analytic, a nanotechnology provider to the energy and water markets, these challenges can be addressed by implementing ​and communicating ​sustainable thinking as often as possible across the entire organisation to better understand cost, product, marketing​ and actual environmental benefits. “All of these should permeate employee culture top-down, from C-suite to entry level, and from a company’s supply chain to their vendor base,” Tangredi says. “This quest to be more sustainable is truly a team-building opportunity.”

GM has embraced this opportunity by including energy efficiency in its continuous improvement strategy. “With this business plan, I now have a methodology to get everyone’s attention – from the CEO to the person on the plant floor – and it has a global scope, so it covers every plant,” says Hildreth.

One of the major ways that automotive manufacturers can try to produce these extra energy savings is through the use of technology, but even this is laden with pitfalls and challenges. “We have a dedicated fund for energy-saving projects, which typically amounts to $15-20m a year, and we can also get help from third parties,” says Hildreth. “Sourcing funds isn’t the problem here, but the speed of change in energy-efficiency technology is. For example, if we purchase an LED light today, chances are [that] six months down the line this will be obsolete and there will be something much more efficient on the market.”

“It gets more difficult every year to save that extra megawatt; it gets harder to meet the year-on-year targets we’ve set” – Al Hildreth, energy manager, GM

Despite this, manufacturers are deploying innovative technologies at pace to help them achieve more energy-efficient operations. “One solution for improving energy efficiency is to incorporate model predictive control (MPC) technology,” says Montpas. “MPC technology compares current and future energy-usage data so companies can set new goals and help reduce inconsistency and waste while improving quality. For example, some auto plants keep paintshops continuously running – even between shifts and over the weekend – to ensure ovens are always at the correct temperature. MPC technology links the paint schedule to machine operations, so the paintshop is only running when machines are running, reducing energy usage.”

Implementing intelligent monitoring
In this vein, Rockwell Automation offers its Energy Intelligence solutions, which include historical and real-time data collection, visualisation software and analytical tools. “These allow auto companies to get more value from their energy data by putting it in the right context based on their unique production environment,” says Burgoon. “They can also predict future outcomes, and compare energy-usage data to other factors (eg price, weather), and put that information into context. This enables better decision-making to optimise energy consumption.

“With these solutions, auto companies also can correlate electricity, steam, and water usage, and show the return on energy to produce profit – where things are most efficiently being made with the highest conversion. Resulting insights might lead to using less energy, understanding when to sell produced energy back to the grid, or even knowing when to use more energy to take advantage of peak conversion opportunities and higher profit.”

One manufacturer that has made progress in this regard, with the assistance of Rockwell Automation, is tyre-maker Goodyear. “The company deployed control-system energy monitoring to collect and visualise real-time energy data,” says Montpas. “The system was implemented in North America and proved to be successful in helping them standardise energy-management systems globally.”

Siemens also provides a range of software that can help to optimise energy use in three specific ways. “The first is by optimising energy efficiency across the production life cycle, from production planning – with our Tecnomatix product – through production operation – with our B.Data offering – and to services – with our Energy Analytics solution,” says Lang. “We can also help them embed energy management into the entire sustainability process. This involves identifying energy flows to enable better usage visibility; the evaluation of potential savings by estimating the entire lifecycle costs; and the implementation of measures to realise potential energy savings. Thirdly, we can help companies boost energy efficiency by enabling a reliable power supply, for example with our Totally Integrated Power industrial power supply solution.”

Seat implemented Siemens' B.Data energy-management software to optimise energy usage in its plants. The software allows the Spanish brand to continuously record the current status of all energy and material flows – for example, water, electricity, pressure and steam – required in production and utilities. It uses specific KPIs to enable better decisions surrounding energy optimisation measures and any potential investment required. One of the major benefits is that it has allowed the company to find simple ways to make improvements, such as detecting leakages or allocating loads more evenly. Seat also used this technology to improve energy efficiency in the paintshop at its Martorell plant, near Barcelona. Painting is one of the most energy-intensive processes for Seat, like any OEM, and B.Data has led to a 45% improvement in energy efficiency.

BMW Motoren has also improved energy efficiency by implementing Siemens' Tecnomatix Plant Simulation offering. The solution has helped the company to save 3m kWh of electricity per year, reduce its eco-footprint by 550 tons of CO2 equivalents per year, scale down the lifecycle energy consumption of cars and SUVs, and identify additional areas that can be optimised.

GM has implemented the Energy OnStar system to track energy efficiency at its own plants. The dashboard looks at factors such as air conditioning and heat, and reports if there is a problem in a particular area. “It's really helped us find inefficiencies that we wouldn’t normally be able to spot,” says Hildreth. “The system also sends daily emails to plants to tell them how they did the day before. We previously sent monthly scorecards that showed red, green or yellow depending on how the plant was doing. But we find the daily reports much more useful for the plant, as they can make changes based on recent data and have a more up-to-date record of how they are doing.”

Nanotechnology, big results

Replacing energy-consuming components with proven materials and processes can help automotive manufacturers to maximise energy efficiency – which is exactly what is achieved by nanotechnology such as that from Dais Analytic. “Given nanotechnology’s ability to so closely manage the features of materials, it is the ultimate ‘micro-management’ tool for the good of the long-term differential of any manufacturing business,” says Tim Tangredi, CEO of Dais Analytic. “It can also – more broadly – address energy issues, such as air and water treatment, at a molecular level.”

With water widely used within automotive manufacturing for processes like surface treatment and coating; paint spray booths; washing, rinsing and hosing; cooling; air conditioning systems; and boilers, there is considerable scope for optimisation. “By treating water at the molecular level, nanotechnology allows the draw on fresh water to be reduced by re-purposing industrial wastewater to a higher level of cleanliness, and providing more processed water per ton of waste water than today’s popular water-cleaning technologies,” explains Tangredi. “These benefits, plus putting less strain on the plant's contaminated water equipment, improve efficiency and reduce overall energy costs.”


Controlling energy usage
There are several other areas where GM has focused its attention, one being controls. “We can automatically control lighting, and make sure it is turned off when it is not needed,” explains Hildreth. “This applies to both lights in the building and at workstations. This technology is also used to shut down other key energy-consuming equipment, such as ovens and heavy machinery, where we gradually decrease energy use as production stops and the equipment is shut off. The energy is then ramped up again before the next shift starts.”

Another operation employing automation to improve energy efficiency is the Greensburg plant of Honda Manufacturing of Indiana. This facility has been tracking non-core energy use through a real-time energy-monitoring programme which identifies equipment that can be turned off during breaks or between production shifts.

Nano technology, Dais Analytic
GM is also improving efficiency in its paintshops, which account for 50-70% of its energy usage. “Paintshops use a lot of outside air, and we try to reuse and recycle this whenever possible,” says Hildreth. “We also use what is known as a three-wet paint process, which turns the typical process of applying three layers of paint – the base coat, the colour and the metallic coat – on its head. Our process has eliminated the need for a primer bake oven, which is normally used between stages one and two. This has led to considerable energy savings.”

Company-wide programmes and initiatives are another way that GM is optimising energy efficiency. One of these is an Energy Treasure Hunt, which involves all personnel in the plant. Hildreth explains: “We recently did a treasure hunt at a plant in Mexico, where we watched employees both shut down production and then start it up again. We talked to employees at all levels, from managers to operators to maintenance, got their ideas and then put together an action plan consisting of ways to optimise energy and reduce waste.”

These combined efforts have led to GM receiving the 2015 Energy Star Partner of the Year award from the US Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Energy Star Climate Communications award. “We use this system to benchmark our plants globally, even though it only accredits sites in the US. Plants in areas such as China, Kenya and Korea etc often don’t get recognition for their efforts, so this provides an extra incentive,” says Hildreth. “But incorporating the Energy Star energy-management system into our business plan hasn’t just paid off in terms of reducing energy and CO2, it’s also saving us money. And when it’s good for the economy and the environment at the same time, that’s when we know we’re making a real difference.”