Water-saving technologies at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, implemented toward the end of 2016, helped the facility reduce water usage by 13 million gallons last year, and the automaker expects to that number to be significantly higher in 2017 after a full year of use.
Ford implemented two projects at the plant last year: an increase in the re-use of water in the plant’s pre-treatment system and the addition of a cooling tower side-stream electrolysis (water softening) to remove calcium and magnesium.
“It may come as a surprise just how much water automotive plants actually use,” said Rhonda Turner, plant environmental control engineer. “Last month alone, we used 17 million gallons, so it’s really beneficial for us to find innovative ways to save water.”
Ford would not comment on how much it spent on the plant’s water management initiatives or how soon it expects to see a return on investment.
The company’s water saving announcement, made today, coincides with the UN’s World Water Day.
A large use of water in the plant is the pre-treatment baths – where metal is treated before getting painted. The company added meters to each bath to continuously monitor overflow when they are refilled as part of the pre-treatment process or weekly cleaning. The system is pre-set to refill at a certain rate, and the meters send an instant e-mail alert to paint process engineers if there’s a change in the process. Previously, this took a couple of days.
Another large use of water in automotive manufacturing comes from cooling towers. The cooling tower water treatment program utilizes expert staff, effective chemical and mechanical technologies, and always-on, automated control equipment to provide effective water treatment and minimize water make-up and chemical use.
Chicago Assembly Plant’s new side-stream electrolysis system is on one of the largest cooling towers at the plant, sifting out contaminants and enabling the plant to use water longer.
The plant is developing additional innovative processes that aim to re-use up to 90 percent of water used in the pre-treatment process, reducing the need to use Chicago city water, Ford says.
Late last year, Ford announced its updated manufacturing water strategy, which calls for an additional 30 percent reduction in water use per vehicle from 2015 to 2020, along with a long-term aspirational goal of zero drinkable water use in manufacturing.
The company achieved its water reductions to date — Ford saved 10 billion gallons of water from 2000 to 2015, a decrease of 61 percent — by implementing new technologies such as its 3-wet paint process and minimum quantity lubrication or “near dry machining,” which save hundreds of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per year.
Ford also works with its suppliers to reduce their water use and says they are on track to save an estimated 550 million gallons of water over the next five years, according to data collected in 2016.
For these and other water-saving strategies, CDP awarded Ford an “A” grade for its water management efforts — it is one of only 24 companies out of 600 to earn an A and one of only two US companies to receive the highest water-management mark.
“Ford, who is on our A list for the second year running, has for example set a new goal to cut water use per vehicle by 72 percent in the next four years, compared with 2000,” said Lance Pierce, CDP’s North America president, in an earlier interviw. “They conduct comprehensive risk assessments across all their direct operations and suppliers, using tools such as the Global Water Tool and Aqueduct to determine which facilities are located in water-scarce regions, both now and in 2025.”