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Green Guide: Flame Treatments, Battery Systems, and Energy Use

Flame Treatment Technology a Green Move for GM; A Cleaner Cleaner; Freudenberg's “Simple” Devices May Make Big Differences in Battery Systems; SolidWorks “Sustainability” Offers Real-Time Green Solutions; Siemens’ “Ctrl-Energy” Monitors Machine Tool Energy Use
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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. 

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FTS Technologies’ Accelerated Thermomolecular adhesion Process (ATmaP) flame treatment technology is currently being used by General Motors on three models to alter the molecular structure of plastic parts to allow for paint to stick to surfaces without the use of environmentally harmful VOCs.


A Cleaner Cleaner 

50 billion. That, Ontario, Canada-based Sarjeant Co. Ltd. says, is the number of microbes in a liter of its eco-friendly degreaser Micro 50 (micro50.ca). That number of microbes might sound ominous, but in this case, they’re environmentally beneficial microbes that can be used to clean paint, oil, and grease, and the like. When diluted with water and sprayed and brushed on a stained floor, piece of equipment, or part, the degreaser biodegrades the stain’s enzymes, then the microorganisms digest the broken-down hydrocarbon molecules that might otherwise require the use of not-so-earth-friendly solvents.


Freudenberg-NOK’s “Simple” Devices May Make Big Differences in Battery Systems

“There’s just so much activity right now in the world of electric vehicles and battery packs. Everybody has their own idea of what it should look like, how it should be assembled, what kind of batteries there are. There really isn’t any real consistency when you look from manufacturer to manufacturer. Everyone has the same issues, but they’re building their packs differently.” That’s Rory Pawl, manager of innovation and trend research for Freudenberg-NOK (F-NOK; Freudenberg-nok.com), a supplier of sealing products, describing what he calls the “wild, wild west” of battery system development in the auto industry. This variance can make it tough on suppliers who want to work with more than one OEM. So F-NOK is working to add some consistency with its development of three components that can be used on different battery systems so they—and the electric vehicles relying on them—run smoothly. 
Although these developments are seemingly simple, Pawl notes that sometimes, “It’s the simple things that take the most to design.”
Here’s a look at what the company has in the works: 
  • Pressure Control Valve
    This is a simple rubber safety component that is attached to a battery pack to continuously monitor pressure levels while the battery is in use. If for any reason there is an excess amount of pressure, the valve opens to release the excess gas, thereby preventing system damage. If valve opening occurs, the valves can be reclosed and reused. Pawl says the valve’s ease of installation, light weight, and inexpensive material make it beneficial and cost-effective. The pressure control valve is in the prototype stage and being tested by OEMs. 

  • Breathable Sealing Element
    When a battery charges and discharges, there’s a lot of heat involved. Air expansion and moisture are consequences of the battery cycling. So they’ve developed a nonwoven and porous seal that prevents moisture from penetrating the filter of a battery, while allowing it to breathe via volume exchange between the atmosphere and pack. The seal also has a “deep filter” effect, which helps prevent oil or water from getting inside and contaminating the battery pack. It can be used in conjunction with the pressure control valve to ensure proper functioning. The breathable sealing element is in the prototype stage.
  • Liquid-Detection Sensor
    This sensor was developed in Europe by Freudenberg-NOK Mechatronics (freudenberg-mechatronics.de) especially for battery pack systems in vehicles. When attached to a battery pack, the device senses and distinguishes between moisture like pure water, dirty water, coolant (many battery packs are cooled by ethylene glycol), and the electrolytes used in lithium battery cells. Because battery packs are often clamped or bolted together with the idea that they won’t need to be serviced, the liquid detection sensor offers an internal look at what type of moisture is developing without the hassle of dismantling the battery pack. The liquid-detection sensor is currently in the refinement stage and is being tested by an OEM.


 Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies’ pressure control valve monitors pressure levels in renewable energy battery systems. When excess pressure is detected in a battery, the valve opens to release gas to prevent system damage. The valve is one of multiple devices the company is working on to improve the way battery packs function.



SolidWorks “Sustainability” Offers Real-Time Green Solutions 

SolidWorks Sustainability in SolidWorks 2012 (solidworks.com) computer-aided design (CAD) software package has an advanced user interface which lets users more easily assess a range of environmental factors to incorporate more environmentally friendly options throughout the product development process.

Considering four key environmental indicators—carbon footprint, total energy consumed, and impacts to air and water—Sustainability gives users the tools to perform real-time “what if” scenarios and product assessments to test a design’s potential environmental impact, and make instant changes when products don’t meet a company’s expectations. 

Some new features of the software include: 

  • More advanced inputs into life cycle assessment (LCA) calculations, such as recycled content, editable manufacturing conditions, custom multi-modal transportation distances, and custom product end-of-life scenarios. 
  • The ability to download the latest LCA database from PE International (pe-international.com) and its GaBi software, which includes new materials and processes. 
  • Access to the latest materials, which can be found in the Sustainability Extras folder, as soon as they become available.

Asheen Phansey, product manager of Sustainability for SolidWorks, says that with environmental standards increasing all the time, considering sustainability strategies during the design process of a product whether it’s as simple as a disposable cup or as complex as an automobile is more important than ever. He explains: “Sustainability is now where the ‘Quality’ movement was in the 1980s. We have sustainability directors and even ‘chief sustainability officers’ who are trying to institute company-wide behavioral shifts. Probably in the next five years—certainly in the next 10—corporate sustainability and sustainable design will be baseline practices in every industry.”


Siemens’ “Ctrl-Energy” Monitors Machine Tool Energy Use

If you’re looking for ways to reduce the amount of energy used in your machining operations, you might want to check out the Sinumerik “Ctrl-Energy” function that Siemens (siemens.com) has developed for its line of factory automation products. By using the “Ctrl” and “E” key combination (a.k.a., the “Analysis” function), the control display will show the energy use of a drive system and of the entire machine—without interrupting production. The “Ctrl-E Profiles” function allows energy-saving modes to be programmed to, for example, shut down specific power loads during downtime.

As Siemens offers Sinumerik CNC controls, Sinamics drive systems, and motors, “Ctrl-Energy” has the potential of resulting in big energy savings.