One of the world’s largest automakers sought to reduce its water usage per vehicle as part of a long-term goal to improve sustainability in its vehicle manufacturing processes. As a longtime strategic partner of the company, Nalco Water was asked to help identify areas for water reduction without negatively affecting quality or production.
From Nalco Water’s experience in the Automotive industry, pretreatment is among the most water-intensive processes within the plant and the biggest opportunity to reduce water consumption. The pretreatment area prepares vehicle bodies for painting using multiple chemical baths and water-rinse stages.
Water balance in the pretreatment area is typically managed manually with minimal visibility to actual water usage. The plant did not have meters in most locations, and the few available meters were rarely checked. Even in areas with water meters, the optimal flow rate was never determined so changes to flow rarely happened and water was often overused.
Nalco Water responded with Water Flow Intelligence, a digitally enabled program that uses real-time flow monitoring to help better manage water balance. Data and insights from impactful locations are sent to a secure cloud-based portal, allowing visibility and triggering alerts when water flow rates exceed prescribed limits. Real-time monitoring and smart alarms allow leaks and overuse to be identified and addressed quickly. The program was installed at one of the automaker’s North American plants to demonstrate its capabilities.
Over time, the data collected by Water Flow Intelligence also allowed the site to set benchmark flows. Placards were placed by flowmeters, displaying target flow rates so adjustments could be made if the flow was outside of range, optimizing water usage while also ensuring enough water was used to maintain performance. For instance, the rinse stages were supposed to use 50 gallons per minute (gpm) of water flow to ensure full rinse of the vehicle before the e-coat bath. Without the program, flow rates varied greatly based solely on the operators’ judgement.
In another example, Water Flow Intelligence’s smart alarming capabilities and the ECOLAB3D™ digital platform identified excessive water use in the phosphate area – more than 91,000 gallons. These alarms prompted the on-site team to investigate. The Nalco Water team identified the boiler blowdown as the source of the overuse and quickly fixed the issue. Without Water Flow Intelligence, this type of leak would have gone undetected for months.
Once the leak was repaired, usage in the following month was 300 gallons, confirming the leak had been fixed. Now, the plant uses Water Flow Intelligence to ensure the gains are maintained year over year.