Who: Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Inc.
Where: Georgetown, Ky.
Problem: Water supply
Toyota's large Georgetown Camry/Avalon plant is in an area that draws its water from the modest river system of central Kentucky. Toyota prides itself on frugality with resources, but drought in the region in recent years has tested Toyota's efficiency. Even during normal conditions, the water supply can be low during the hot, dry summer months. In the past, Toyota has faced water conditions that required cutbacks and threatened production interruptions.
Solution: Reuse wastewater.
How it works: A new pilot filtering system the size of a kitchen stove is purifying and reusing wastewater that normally would leave the property. That system is the first step for a larger, plantwide water-treatment process coming this year. Toyota plans to reduce its 320 million-gallon-a-year water consumption rate by 40 percent, or more than 350,000 gallons a day. Once filtered, the wastewater's secondary uses will include boiler operations and plant cooling. The recirculation system means not only that Toyota can get by on less water - and therefore pay lower water-use fees - but also that it will spend less on the chemical treatments that are required before it can release the water back into the environment.
Who: Mercedes-Benz International Inc.
Where: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Mercedes-Benz is nearly tripling the size of its Alabama plant. Doing so meant building a body shop directly in the path of M-class SUVs leaving the existing assembly line en route to a test track and the marshaling yard. The obvious solution would have been for workers to drive around the new 500,000-square-foot building, following property roads that circled the site. But that would have subjected the new vehicles to the elements, as well as construction dirt and damage.
Solution: The E-Z tunnel
How it works: Engineers in Stuttgart, Germany, were skeptical when Phil Onstott, Tuscaloosa's assistant manager of facilities, suggested running the M-class exit road beneath the massive new body shop construction area. But Onstott had a hunch. Arriving in his office early one morning, he got on the Internet and searched for "prefabricated tunnels." The first result was a company that specializes in exactly what Onstott had envisioned: a pre-cast concrete tunnel to serve as an underground passageway between Mercedes' assembly line and its storage yards and test track out back. The two-lane, 270-foot tunnel arrived in two pieces from Baton Rouge, La., and took two days to assemble and put into position. Among the rejected solutions: cutting the new body plant in half.
Who: BMW Manufacturing Corp.
Where: Spartanburg, S.C.
Problem: The cost of power
Fluctuations in utility costs are a challenge for long-range planners. Like other large-scale industrial plants, BMW faces uncertainty in natural gas prices and little opportunity to reduce costs through conservation.
Solution: A direct pipeline into recycled energy
How it works: In a partnership with Waste Management Inc. and Ameresco Energy Services, BMW last year devised a plan to siphon methane gas out of the local Palmetto Landfill for factory use. The partners installed a 9.5-mile pipeline from the landfill to the BMW plant, which now delivers one-fourth of BMW's total energy needs. Besides supplying direct heat for the Z4/X5 plant, the reclaimed methane fuels four turbines that provide electricity and hot water. The system also runs the plant's paint shop ovens. The concept cost about $12 million but is saving the company $1 million a year, in addition to stabilizing utility costs. On the environmental side, BMW projects that it has reduced its carbon dioxide emission levels by 55,000 tons a year.
Who: Honda Manufacturing of Alabama LLC
Where: Lincoln, Ala.
Problem: Construction dirt
Honda needs its second Alabama factory built in record time to capitalize on the hot light-truck market. The 17-month construction project leaves little time for error or cleaning up sloppy work. But one of the most labor-intensive and time-consuming stages of any auto plant construction is the deep cleaning necessary to get the dust out of the paint plant before the lines can get up and running.
Solution: Plastic wrap
How it works: Since there is little hope of limiting the amount of dust and dirt generated in construction, Honda and its building contractors have focused on restricting where the dirt goes. The biggest hassle of deep cleaning afterward is finding the nooks and crannies where the dust has accumulated, such as inside steel beams and ceiling rafters. Honda project managers have ordered that many such areas be covered in easy-to-use plastic cling wrap. Dust accumulates, the managers acknowledge, but the protective film should help speed the cleanup.