Volkswagen introduces a holistic programme for environmentally responsible manufacturing
Volkswagen South Africa has introduced a holistic programme for environmentally responsible manufacturing at its plant in Uitenhage.
Think Blue. Factory is the extension of Think Blue. philosophy into Volkswagen production plants worldwide. Think Blue. is Volkswagen’s global initiative that intends to address how individual mobility and sustainability can be harmonised. It serves as an umbrella brand for Volkswagen’s activities relating to environment sustainability. This includes environmentally-friendly technologies such as BlueMotion Technologies and its concepts brands like BlueMotion as well as BlueMotion Technology.
Volkswagen South Africa is using a three-pronged approach to introduce the Think Blue. initiative to South African consumers, namely BlueFactory, BlueMotion and BlueEnvironment.
With these Think Blue. initiatives, Volkswagen intends to shows its commitment as an environmentally responsible company. It also forms part of the company’s vision to be the top automotive company by 2018.
Think Blue.Factory covers a wide-range of resource efficiency and emission reduction measures in the Volkswagen plants. The aim is to achieve efficient usage of energy, materials and water as well as reduce CO2 carbon dioxide (CO2 – moved from page3) emissions and pollutants during manufacturing.
Volkswagen has set a target of reducing environmental impact at all its plants by 25% by 2018.
The Think Blue.Factory initiative was first introduced at the Uitenhage manufacturing plant just over a year ago. Volkswagen’s state-of-the-art paint shop was the first facility in the company to be commissioned using many of the principles formalised under the Think Blue. philosophy. Since then a number of initiatives have been rolled out to other areas of the plant.
Think Blue.Factory is based on four focus areas: society, efficiency, energy supply and employees.
Volkswagen has partnered with local and national organisations involved in environmentally friendly activities and provides financial support to assist them to achieve their objectives and mandates. In some instances, Volkswagen employees, through a volunteering programme – Show of Hands – give up their spare time to work at these organisations’ facilities.
The focus here is on introducing key performance indicators in the production process to measure the reduction of water and energy consumption, as well as waste, CO2 and VOC generation. The five indicators are energy, waste, water, CO2 and solvent emissions. The target is to achieve a 25% reduction on all of them.
Recycling initiatives have been introduced to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill. These are mainly from packaging materials such as polystyrene and packaging straps.
Each production area in the plant is measured over a weekend when the plant is not operational. The energy load drawn, is measured and this becomes the target for every weekend and periods between shifts periods.
When new facilities are planned, efficient and modern technology that reduces energy consumption is considered, as was the case during the planning phases of the new press plant. The new press plant uses “wavelength technology” whereby excess energy from one pressing operation is recuperated and used to power another operation in sequence.
Uitenhage is the first Volkswagen press plant to use the wavelength technology. This makes it the most environmentally friendly press plant in the Volkswagen production network.
“Nothing is too large or too small to escape the attention of the Think Blue initiative,” said Nico Serfontein, Think Blue Project Leader at Volkswagen Group South Africa.
“The wavelength technology is like perpetual motion, imagine waves washing up on a beach, with little going to waste. That should result in a 30% saving in electricity compared with the existing press shop,” said Serfontein.
The technology in the new press plant was the main citation from the judges for the 2012 Exporter Club Environmental Award bestowed recently on Volkswagen South Africa for its Think Blue.Factory initiatives.
“Actions range from simple steps such as switching off office or factory lights when not required to, at the other end of the scale, achieving large savings across all fronts when developing and constructing new plants and other facilities.
“Techniques also include using sensors to monitor when offices and factory areas are not occupied; meaning lights and other power sources can be automatically turned off. This is controlled by a real-time computer system that shows what is in use at any time and can also be controlled manually by specially trained Think Blue. Factory marshals,” explained Serfontein.
Energy marshals have been appointed in certain areas to monitor and record the usage as well as the performance of their respective areas.
Serfontein explained: “The marshals are just part of a programme to involve employees at all levels – from the managing director and other directors, to operators and office staff – through communications and incentive programmes. This includes a Think Blue.Pavilion at the plant and special exhibitions to show the results.”
As Think Blue. is an international initiative, information is shared and solutions are offered worldwide across many of the initiative’s components.
“We don’t always have to re-invent the wheel,” said Serfontein. “If a plant in Brazil or Germany has faced a similar challenge and found a solution, we can adapt or replicate it and implement it locally. This information and local performance are updated daily online.”
Volkswagen is investigating alternative energy solutions that can be implemented to reduce energy consumption. This includes the use of solar heating for water, instead of gas. This, in combination with a heat pump, will generate some of the cold water needed for cooling operations and save electricity.
Volkswagen has a launched a comprehensive communication strategy to raise awareness among its employees about responsible resource usage and environmentally friendly manufacturing practices.
The key element of the strategy is the Think Blue.Pavilion, a one-stop facility that aims to educate employees on practical environmental ideas that can be implemented at home and work.
To encourage employee participation, the company has negotiated special discounts with leading retailers on energy-efficient equipment, including solar-powered geysers, for use at home.
Think Blue. Factory achievements over the past year and estimated to the end of this year include, the paint shop having saved 294 000 cubic metres (one million litres) of water and power usage in Volkswagen – including reducing the use of very expensive compressed air – has been cut by 6 518 Megawatts. This is the equivalent of the electricity used by a small town of about 800 homes for a year. The saving achieved by the end of the year is estimated at around R5.5-million with more reductions planned.
Also, CO2 emissions have been cut by 721 tons a year, while hazardous waste has been reduced by 117 tons a year. General waste has been cut by 277 tons, largely through reusing recycling and reducing unnecessary materials.
Component and material suppliers are also being encouraged to Think Blue, with advice being offered and specifications set to reach targets in line with the Volkswagen philosophy. An example of this includes the development of water-based paints that have dramatically cut solvent emissions and the need to dispose of hazardous waste.
Looking ahead, Serfontein added: “The introduction of new products in the years ahead will also provide major opportunities for more efficient and environmentally neutral processes to be implemented, showing that Think Blue. Factory is an on-going initiative. It will pay benefits for all future products, especially as the Volkswagen supply chain is becoming involved from the ground up.
“In some cases the payback may be achieved over a number of years, while some innovative solutions can provide very quick results.
“Whatever the case, the overall objective of finding innovative and financially viable solutions under the umbrella of Think Blue. is to ensure sustainability that will pay off for the company, its employees, and Volkswagen vehicle owners all the way into the future.”