Achieving sustainability in the automotive industry

FAPM’s recent conference highlights our car industry’s drive to a sustainable future. Hartley Henderson reports.

IN today’s global marketplace, Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry is confronted with a number of major challenges, not least being the proposed carbon tax, and the need to reduce carbon footprints. 

At the recent Federation of Automotive Products Manufacturers (FAPM) conference in Melbourne, which had the theme ‘Sustainability in a Global Market’, Deloitte Access Economics’ Professor Ian Harper said it is a concern that the carbon tax could reportedly add up to $1,000 to the retail price of a locally manufactured vehicle.

"Also, inadequate compensation and less expensive schemes adopted by our competitors could damage the prospects of the Australian automotive industry," he added.

"However, there are also opportunities, particularly in relation to our capabilities in R&D and design. We are world class in these areas and there are opportunities to export these capabilities. 

"But local costs must remain competitive, and there is a need to boost Australia’s productivity growth, which has been negative over the last 3-4 years."

President and CEO of Ford Australia, Robert Graziano, emphasised the need for vehicle manufacturers and suppliers to work together to reduce energy consumption and CO2 levels.

"Corporate responses to climate change need to be prepared in the industry, including how to reduce energy or commodity use by streamlining processes. 

"In Ford’s case, this means taking advantage of our globally developed Lean Supplier Optimisation Program in addition to Supplier Technical Assistance and ASEA (Automotive Supplier Excellence Australia) initiatives," Graziano said. 

"We are working around the world on a broad range of new and exciting sustainable technologies. Under the One Ford strategy, Ford Australia will have direct access to each of those technologies when they come to market," Graziano said.

The ASEA program is aimed at helping companies achieve global competitiveness, and assuring improvements can continue to be sustained into the future.

ASEA director Linsey Siede says the program can help companies to undertake a variety of projects including environmental sustainability. 

"We are currently working with 64 companies and have identified opportunities to save over $1m per company across a three year timeframe. 

"There are a lot of opportunities for improvement in the industry, especially the development of business plans, management and leadership, and quality," he said.

Less weight

Gary Stewart, MD of Lean Design Australia, believes there are substantial opportunities to use lean design to reduce the weight of vehicles and improve sustainability of the automotive industry.

"There is a need to go to the root cause of cost, which is design. We need to design for whole of life and increase simplicity rather than adding more complexity," he said.

"We need completely different up-front thinking to replace multiple parts with a single part, and ensure robust designs are created before the steel is cut. It is possible to achieve 10 to 30% reductions in weight quite easily, as evidenced in the big improvements and savings at Boeing."

Four grants totalling over $6.2m from the Green Car Innovation Fund were recently provided to CFusion, Toyoda Gosei Australia, Composite Materials Engineering (CME) and Hirotec to assist in the creation of lighter cars.

CFusion is using the funding to commercialise the world’s first one-piece carbon fibre automotive wheel, at about half the weight of aluminium wheels, and Toyoda Gosei will introduce and refine technologies for manufacturing lighter components such as body sealing and safety system products.

CME is using the funding to develop a high strength lightweight sandwich panel to be used in the load floor of Australian vehicles, while funding for Hirotec is aimed at producing lighter components including aluminium hoods and deck lids.

Selecting materials

Senior business advisor- sustainability at BlueScope Steel, Ross Davies, believes that a holistic life cycle approach is required to selecting the best materials because the use of single metrics such as recycled content for materials and tail pipe emissions for vehicles can be misleading. 

"There is a need to use comprehensive life cycle assessment to make the best choices and consequently the best material selection and in-use comparisons. There should also be a focus on the sustainability of supply chains from raw materials to the finished product," Davies said.

"At BlueScope Steel a number of sustainability improvement initiatives are underway including in slag processing. In partnership with OneSteel and the CSIRO, a dry slag granulation experimental plant is being constructed at a cost of $5.4m with a view to capturing and reusing the heat from the slag process, reducing water use, improving air quality, and producing a better quality by-product for the cement industry.

"General plant innovation has resulted in a material efficiency measure of over 96% for the last five years. This is a measure of how efficiently a company uses raw materials, which in turn means a significant reduction in waste to landfill.

"Also, a $4.4m project looking at replacing a proportion of the coal used in the iron and steel industry with sustainably sourced biomass is being undertaken in conjunction with CSIRO and OneSteel, and Soy diesel fuel is being trialled for use with fork hoists.

"In addition, our Port Kembla manufacturing processes currently use 96% recycled water and salt water with the long term aim of moving as close to zero dam water use as possible," Davies said.

Glenn Paine, OEM business manager at ZF Group, said the company’s projects, looking at the size, weight and cost of transmissions, have resulted in significant fuel and emission reductions through smart design.

"The new ZF 8 speed transmission provides 6% fuel reduction, and this can be boosted by a further 5% by adding the Hydraulic Impulse System (HIS) to support engine stop/start functionality. Up to 25% fuel reduction can be achieved by converting to a hybridised unit," he said.