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FTS’ Flame Treatment Technology a Green Move for GM
While the Accelerated Thermo-molecular adhesion Process (ATmaP) might sound like something out of NASA, it is actually a process that is being used on parts for the Chevy Cruze, Sonic, and Volt. It is a robot-controlled process that uses a specialized flame to chemically change a plastic vehicle part to promote paint adhesion—eliminating the need for harmful solvents. The patented system is being used on the GM programs was developed by FTS Technologies (ftstechnologies.com; Whitmore Lake, MI).
According to Russell Brynolf, president of FTS, the ATmaP contains a combustion system where compressed air and natural gas are mixed and supplied to an FTS Cirqual gas burner mounted on the end of a robot arm. An oxygen analyzer is used via a closed-loop control system to monitor the flame’s oxygen content 24 hours a day, five days a week, during production to ensure that if there are any changes to the gas or air, they can be addressed immediately.
The burner has a high velocity which allows the 3 in. mushroom-shaped flame to span 8 in. in a single pass. Following a strictly controlled path, the flame moves across the surface of a part (e.g., a dash or door panel) and it changes the molecular structure of the plastic by increasing its oxygen content and surface energy. The specialized flame can spread upon contact to get into deep pockets, recesses, and tight corners of the parts. The change allows paint to bond with the part without the use of primers, which contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
Not only are the primers’ VOCs and HAPs damaging to the environment, the disposal process is costly and time-consuming. Brynolf adds: “We’ve replaced a very dirty, expensive process with high emissions and high-energy use, with a low-energy and very clean almost zero-emissions process—and saved them a boatload of money in the process.” GM says the technology pays for itself in less than four months.
John Bradburn, manager of waste-reduction efforts at GM, says he was approached by Suppliers Partnership for the Environment (supplierspartnership.org)—a collaboration of U.S. automakers, their suppliers, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—to implement the technology. He adds that the collaboration has been key in enacting other environmentally friendly practices at GM: “Many of these revolve around sustainability and stewardship to the environment and being mentors. We see that as one of our responsibilities—to reach out to other companies within our supply base. To go beyond our four walls and work through organizations such as Suppliers Partnership and to teach and mentor other companies.”
While it is currently only being used on the three models, Bradburn says each vehicle line will have an opportunity to use the flame technology, but it’s a matter of matching up the engineering and the materials being used to best meet the needs of process and the product.