PORT ELIZABETH – General Motors South Africa (GMSA) is putting ‘greener’ cars on the road, thanks to significant reductions in the energy used to manufacture each vehicle – an achievement recognised recently with ENERGY STAR certification from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for both its Port Elizabeth plants.
GMSA’s drive towards more energy efficient production has resulted not only in cost savings on utilities for the company, but a lighter carbon footprint and improvements in vehicle quality. The company manufactures the Chevrolet Spark, Chevrolet Utility and Isuzu KB ranges at its Struandale plant in the city.
The improvements resulted from GMSA taking up the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Challenge for Industry, which involves a commitment to reducing energy intensity (measured as energy consumed per vehicle produced) by 10% within five years or less.
Within two years from the baseline year of 2011, the company had achieved a 22.6% reduction in energy intensity at its Kempston Road facility and 14.5% at its primary manufacturing site in Struandale – and this year exceeded their stretch target of a further reduction of 12.5% on average.
“We are proud of this recognition from an external, credible body whose standards are used as a baseline and reference point for other environmental standards,” GMSA Facilities Lead Ncedisa Mzuzu said.
GMSA Energy & Utilities Engineer Craig Beetham, who led the effort to optimise and improve the efficiency of production processes, said the focus was on reducing the overall consumption per vehicle manufactured of all forms of energy – electricity, fuels and gas.
What made the achievement particularly significant, he said, was that any investments made in new technology to improve efficiency were based on a business case of a payback period of less than two years, and most of the improvements had been achieved through no- or low-cost initiatives.
Process optimisation had in fact led to improvements in first-time quality, he said.
The paint shop accounts for 90% of energy consumption in the plant and had presented the opportunity for the biggest impact, Beetham said. Initiatives there had included adjusting equipment set-points in the paint-shop operations, resulting in significant savings without impacting on vehicle quality.
“Our goal is to reduce overall energy consumption, reducing demand first by introducing process improvement, rather than investing in ‘green energy’ while continuing to consume the same amount of energy.
“There is a positive impact on utility costs, and payback is good in the process, generally under 12 months. It is significant that we have achieved this for two plants in one country, and through a strong focus on innovation and improvement,” Beetham said.
The energy crisis in South African in 2008/9 had made reducing electricity consumption an urgent necessity at the time, but once the crisis had passed, the company had continued to voluntarily pursue reducing energy consumption, and would continue to set annual targets, he said.