Toyota and Ford have put in place energy usage teams to analyze where savings can be made in their respective production processes, while McLaren makes best use of the benefits offered by its new production centre
“Twenty-five thousand pounds a year for fifteen years is a lot of money,” says Steve Hope, General Manager – Plant Engineering and Safety, at Toyota Motor Europe. The cash, he explains, was the amount wasted at the company’s Burnaston, UK facility, through the failure to implement a simple energy-saving measure in just a single area of the plant’s paintshop.
The oversight involved not switching off the chillers that help to maintain the appropriate micro-environment in the booths between shifts. Hope does not lay the blame with any individual for this, as it was simply a case of nobody thinking it necessary to ascertain whether the equipment could be switched off and still maintain a production-ready status over the eight-hour downtime between the end and start of the plant’s two-shift system.
Instead, Hope points the finger at himself when considering those who failed to ask the pertinent question.
This could lead back to the fact that before he took up his present role, he was based at Burnaston. “I used to walk past them every day,” he recalls, referring to the paint booths and their energy-guzzling chillers.
He draws on this experience in his current position, which involves a focused drive to save money by identifying and eliminating or rectifying equipment and procedures – or the lack of them – that waste energy. In the case of those paint booths, the lesson learned was that attitudes are as important as technologies. “You always have to be prepared to challenge the status quo,” he states. Hope, based in Brussels, Belgium, now heads up the centralised supervisory operation responsible for co-ordinating and monitoring improvement initiatives across each of the nine plants the Japanese-owned multinational operates in Europe, though energy-saving figures are just part of a wider set of efficiency targets. “In general terms we take as our reference the Toyota Charter of 1992,” he says, which revised in 1997, serves to outline the carmaker’s basic policy and action guidelines towards effective environmental management and improvements.
Hope says that improvement targets are precisely defined in five-year action plans that the company prepares internally. Covering a range of parameters, specific energysaving targets are carried over from previous initiatives; the next plan, which will cover 2011-2015, will be signed off in the early part of this year. Specifically, the company is committing itself to achieving cumulative improvements in its energy efficiency over that period, in the order of between one and two per cent per year.
Hope provides the basic figures which will be used by Toyota’s European operations as a performance benchmark, using electricity consumed per vehicle manufactured as the fundamental parameter. He says, though, that the figure is not quite as straightforward as it might appear, as simple economies of scale mean that the number will tend to decrease as production volumes increase, even if all operations remain unaltered. “If production is expanding then energy-per-vehicle can go down without any effort being put in,” he confirms.
Not content with such a passive – and possibly misleading – interpretation of the energy efficiency of its operations, Toyota has created a structured methodology to achieve real reductions in its energy consumption. In 2009, says Hope, the carmaker made 550,000 vehicles in Europe, the same output as achieved in 2004, with the intervening period seeing a production dip, resurgence, and a further fall. In 2004, Hope states that the energy-per-vehicle produced figure stood at 1,560kWh per unit. In 2009 it was 1,442kWh per unit, an 8% reduction.
By the end of the last decade, he explains that Toyota had put in place procedures that allow data to be recorded independent of annual shifts in production volumes. This is where the slight dip towards the end of the five-year period comes into play, as production levels actually peaked at 590,000 vehicles in 2008, falling by 50,000 over the following year. Overall, it was the company’s drive towards continuous improvement in its energy efficiency levels that prevented the energy-per-vehicle figures going into reverse. “We carried on improving,” he confirms.
So how does Toyota organise itself in order to achieve these goals? Steve Hope says that the company’s European operations are using a methodology pioneered in Japan, which has been gradually rolled out across Europe over the past several years. Essential components include the selection and training of energy-saving specialists from amongst existing staff at production sites and the implementation of site-specific projects, set against the wider context of centralised target-setting, authorisation and review carried out at the European headquarters. The relevant activities in Europe, he adds, constitute the first implementation of the approach outside of Japan.
Given his own background, it’s perhaps not surprising that Hope says Burnaston was the first plant to be targeted, with two staff members selected for training by their Japanese counterparts. This was followed by six months of on-the-job experience and a final examination. The initial pair then provided similar training to additional UK colleagues, as Hope puts it, “to consolidate knowledge.” The initiative has now spread to company plants in France, Turkey and the Czech Republic, though not as yet to Russia or Portugal.
At the start of this year, there were 12 members of the energy network throughout Europe, including one lead manager in Brussels. A further three members are close to approval, while further training courses are planned. Hope describes the training as “quite sophisticated”, not least because it involves teaching both appropriate methodologies and the supporting skill sets. Neither, he relates, is sufficient without the other. The technical capabilities involved focus mainly on metrology. “You need good skills in measuring such things as temperatures and pressures,” he confirms, going on to explain that it is necessary to be able to do so at ‘key control points’.
In descending order of preference they are:
- find a way of avoiding the energy usage involved altogether.
- reduce the amount of energy used if complete obviation is not possible.
- re-use wasted energy, for instance any heat generated by the process involved, if initial energy input cannot be matched exactly to process requirements.
Supporting both the technical and procedural elements is an attitude that combines straightforward attention to detail and a determination to succeed. “You have to believe that you can do it,” states Hope. Day-to-day, he estimates the trained energy specialists spend approximately half of their time on energy-related projects. That they retain other responsibilities is important, he indicates, as this helps integrate the energy-related work into the normal operation of the plant. Ideally, he says, a pair of individuals will be based in each major sub-area, such as an assembly shop, as they have been organised at Burnaston.
Yet even with this local element, the centralised co-ordination and supervisory team at a European level remains important – but it is not simply a mechanism for monitoring returns and offering advice. Hope explains that the central team retains the authority to give the go-ahead for specific projects, which in turn allows the local plant managers to divest themselves of responsibility of initiatives not directly related to local production operations.
“That way the plant doesn’t take any risk,” Hope explains, “so you get their support.”
No area of operation is exempt from scrutiny, but some clearly lend themselves to the art of energy savings. As Hope’s experience at Burnaston demonstrates, paintshops are a primary target. Using the highest percentage of all energy across vehicle production, they are also the area most likely to offer potential energy savings. “Paintshops typically account for as much as 60% of total energy usage,” he confirms. “If you operate on a Pareto rule basis, that has to be where you look first.”
Specifically, the savings achieved in the paintshop at Burnaston involved a pilot project that extended acceptable temperature and humidity levels in the application booths. Toyota documentation outlines how a fixed temperature of 23oC was extended to 21-25oC, while humidity likewise moving from a fixed 70% to a range between 60-80%.
This deregulation has resulted in reductions of four, five and six per cent in total plant energy usage at respectively, Burnaston, Valenciennes (France), and Bursa (Turkey), all without any reduction in quality levels.
The basic principles and techniques involved hold firm in almost all instances. The ‘switch-off between shifts’ tactic, for instance, is applicable across nearly all installations. “Most equipment can be safely switched off,” confirms Hope, outlining a strategy that includes powering down robots, machine tools, and even office equipment. The necessary precondition is simply creating the appropriate mindset. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that Hope has a guarded attitude towards on-site renewable energy generation. “We certainly don’t ignore its potential, but it can be expensive,” he explains. Case in point is the solar power generation at Toyota’s Valenciennes plant, where roof-mounted photovoltaic panels generate 37kW of electricity. While he admits this is a relatively small scale exercise, it might have significant implications in the future. For example, the roof at the Burnaston plant is likely to need replacing within the next five to ten years, an opportunity the company may use to install a much larger array of solar panels.
The company is also participating in a UK research project called THERM, which brings together companies from various sectors to in order to develop a new type of software system designed to enable integrated plant and process energy control (see box on opposite page). But whatever the activity, the general lesson is that energy efficiency always makes sense. “It is good business to save energy,” Hope observes. “There is always a worthwhile payback.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, two individuals who would surely agree with Hope’s final comment are George Andraos and Gary Jensen. Andraos, Director of Energy for Ford, is ultimately responsible for supervising two teams, one covering energy supply and another for energy efficiency, both of which take care of operations in North and South America and the Asia-Pacific region. Jensen, who like Andraos is based at Dearborn, Michigan, heads up the energy efficiency team.
While the past 15 years have seen Ford’s European operations exercise a degree of independence with regards to the management of their energy-related operations, Andraos says that this is about to be abolished in favour of a ‘globalised’ solution; Andraos already reports to the company’s worldwide vice-president for manufacturing.
“There are a lot of synergies,” states Andraos, citing regulatory changes and the introduction of renewable energy supplies as instances where the exchange of information between the two areas is necessary to support corporate goals.
Like Toyota, where the promotion of energy efficiency is concerned, Ford combines the efforts of both a centralised team of ‘energy engineers’, managed by Jensen, and ‘energy and environment co-ordinators’ at individual plants.
There are currently seven of the former, says Jensen, all of them fully-qualified engineers and all of them – a point he stresses - with experience outside of Ford. Typically their qualifications are in mechanical or electrical disciplines, though Jensen points out that one is a nuclear engineer. Again, the mix of responsibilities is that of local implementation with centralised support and authorisation.
“We work closely with all the plants,” says Jensen of the way his immediate team operates. “They regularly visit plants so we have lots of data and can act like a clearing house.”
Another point of commonality between the two companies is their recognition of paint booths as areas of energy inefficiency. As Andraos observes: “Energy intensity is really concentrated in spray booths.” In Ford’s case, though, a focus on paint operations has resulted in a ‘fumeto- fuel’ technology that, as the name indicates, supports the capture of the waste products generated in the paint booths – in this case volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – in a form that enables their subsequent use as a fuel. Andraos confirms that the system has been in operation for the last two years at the company’s Dearborn Truck Plant, the starting point of which is the capturing of VOCs in carbon pellets, which leads to an “absorb, desorb, burn” process.
The final stage of this process neatly combines two things at once, since it provides both a source of recovered energy while destroying a potential pollutant. “We use a waste product as fuel to destroy that waste product,” he states. The process also uses natural gas in the combustion process, generating what Ford describes as ‘small amounts’ of water vapour, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
The paint application process has itself come in for attention. The company has developed a ‘wet-on-wet’ procedure to replace successive applications and forced curing. In reality, the process is actually ‘wet-on-wet-on-wet’, since it involves successive layering of the primer, base and enamel products. It relies on what the company describes as a ‘highsolids, solvent-borne paint formulation’, claimed to reduce process times by up to 25% compared with water-borne formulations.
Andraos says that the technique is already in use in Ford plants in North America, India, China, Mexico and Thailand. From the energy saving perspective, the important point is that the group he leads can help ensure that such innovations can be applied globally. “It will be part of the specification for all new plants,” he states. “We have to ensure that each line change becomes an opportunity to roll out best practices.”
Global carmakers are not alone in looking to achieve energy usage reductions, as companies with considerably smaller volumes can win similar percentage benefits. One such company is UK high-performance sports car manufacturer McLaren Automotive, which earlier this year took possession of its new manufacturing facility, the McLaren Production Centre (MPC), located at its design, development and production site in Woking, UK. The new facility will at first be dedicated to the production of the forthcoming MP4-12C supercar.
According to Alan Foster, Operations Director for McLaren, the new building will be both unusual and innovative, an extension of the company’s ethos that says all aspects of its operations should combine cutting-edge characteristics. Energy efficiency, moreover, has been high on the list of priorities. As Foster explains, perhaps the most unusual feature of the two-story building, which comprises 32,000m2 of floorspace, is that nearly two-thirds of it is located below ground level. Though this fact was initially dictated by planning restrictions covering the permitted height of the structure, it has enabled McLaren and its architects to exploit the insulating properties of the surrounding earth, meaning pumps and compressors for air conditioning will be replaced by a system of fans, controlling temperature through the simple movement of air.
Sinking the structure as much as 11 metres below the surrounding surface requires eight layers of material to separate the structure’s interior wall from the outside material. These include foam and a polymer membrane, materials which also serve to insulate the building. “It’s as if we had built the structure in a giant bathtub,” says Foster, noting that a further benefit of this approach has meant there was no need for continued pumping to remove groundwater – another energy-saving feature.
This aside, Foster is adamant that simply minimising future energy bills was not a primary consideration for McLaren. “It wasn’t a question of money,” he states. Instead the company has aimed to achieve efficiencies as an expression of its own dedication to excellence for its own sake.
This approach is evident in other building elements at both macroscopic and microscopic levels. On the former, Foster points out that the new facility will enable the company to consolidate all the manufacturing and associated support operations for the MP4-12C within a single building, with logistical and sub-assembly activities taking place on the 12,000m2 lower level, while the 20,000m2 upper level will house assembly and paint operations. Foster says that the upper floor is precisely 99 metres wide, to avoid cutting the ceramic tiles with which it is covered. “This will save us about four weeks on the construction schedule,” he states.
The tiles, moreover, play a vital role in facilitating McLaren’s distinctive approach to manufacturing, where power-hungry assembly transport systems, most obviously conveyors, are conspicuous by their absence. Instead, lowfriction trolleys carry the individual bodies which are then manually pushed from one assembly operation to the next.
Foster says that McLaren is looking to maintain a culture of ‘hand delivery’, which by definition is a zero-energy procedure, although production will outstrip former volumes. Where the McLaren-Mercedes SLR averaged 300 vehicles per year, the specialty carmaker has plans to produce about 1,500 examples of the new model in 2011, ramping up to 2,500 in 2012, on to at least 4,000 per year from 2013 - with the introduction of new models. “We know what we want to achieve. While we have not been reckless, we always want to be at the edge of everything we do,” states Foster.