Safer and greener: auto partsmaker improves environment and saves over $340,000.

Position:Fluid management
 
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Despite meeting industry standards for quality manufacturing, Flex-N-Gate Corp. of Ada, OK, needed to address environmental concerns about the hazardous chemicals used in its manufacture of bumper and fascia systems for automobiles.

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Through creative fluid management and a bit of ingenuity, Flex-N-Gate saved more than $340,000 over a three-year period.

Flex-N-Gate employs over 13,000 people at 50 manufacturing plants and six product development and engineering facilities throughout North America, Mexico, Argentina, and Spain.

At the Ada facility, Flex-N-Gate uses thermoplastic injection and gas-assist molding operations to produce large body and mold-in color automotive parts. In a recent year, the facility produced 2.9 million parts in its 366,000-square foot manufacturing space, which is TS16949--and ISO 14001-certified.

While Flex-N-Gate was a minor source emitter of hazardous air pollutants (HAP), it needed to follow regulations under the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act, which bans certain chemicals. This list includes methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), a hazardous, carcinogenic chemical that the automotive industry is moving away from using.

Hazardous air pollutants

In 1990, Congress enacted changes to the federal Clean Air Act, including a regulatory program designed to reduce hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions. The legislation included a list of 189 chemicals and chemical categories that are classified as HAPs.

The EPA regulations focus on the amount of HAPs that may be emitted into the air, not the amount that may be used in production. For this reason, facilities have the option to install a control device to meet the regulations. Flex-N-Gate used a regenerative thermal oxidizer to destroy emissions at 98-percent efficiency, but it still had a small amount of HAPs and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that it needed to control by other means such as a non-HAP, low-VOC purge solvent.

To address reducing HAP and VOC emissions, Flex-N-Gate Oklahoma contracted with Houghton Fluidcare, a fluid management consultant. The consultant's goal was to help Flex N-Gate optimize chemical use by procuring less hazardous chemicals for manufacturing operations.

Over a three-year period, the fluid management contract guaranteed Flex-N-Gate a 15-percent cost savings in chemicals--10 percent the first year, 3 percent the second year and 2 percent the third year--by decreasing the use of HAP solvents/chemicals and...

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