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Sustainable Processes for Water

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Without water, many elements of production simply wouldn't function. Conserving water is therefore an essential part of the sustainability strategy at ZF. Modern manufacturing processes and recycling are crucial starting points for this.
Kathrin Wildemann, March 13, 2018
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Kathrin Wildemann has been a part of the permanent Copy Team at ZF since 2016. In her online and offline articles, she likes to cover electromobility and other topics that involve sustainability.
Water, or more precisely its scarcity, is a major global social issue: Without clean water, we would die. The growth of global population calls for a more economic and efficient use of this valuable resource. Of course, this also applies to industry. Even though the share of global fresh water consumption attributable to manufacturing is, according to the United Nations' 2016 World Water Development Report, currently still quite low at around four percent, the authors of this report are forecasting a four-fold increase in this figure by the year 2050.

ZF is meeting this challenge head-on. In countries like India, Brazil and Mexico, where the company operates multiple production locations, water is already a rare commodity. This often results in restrictions on water extraction, higher water prices and therefore also increasing production costs. "However, for us, using water sustainably is not just a question of good economic sense, it is also a question of corporate social responsibility, and it is part of our company values," says Jürgen Holeksa, Corporate Human Resources and Industrial Relations, Corporate Governance, Service Companies at ZF, who is responsible for sustainability. "This is why we are constantly searching for ways to use less fresh water and to reduce our wastewater emissions."

Flushing, cleaning, cooling

Flushing, cleaning, cooling

It goes without saying that a company like ZF requires vast quantities of water. Besides production facilities, canteens and sanitary facilities for 137,000 employees worldwide, the green areas on our plants' premises also need water. However, it is the production process that accounts for the lion's share of consumption. For example, water is an important component in galvanic and chemical treatment processes, where it is used to protect metal surfaces against corrosion or mechanical abrasion. It is used for washing, flushing and cleaning components and also for cooling in many processing operations. In addition, water is used as a solvent and as a base for emulsions, for example for preparing coolants. ZF has long been using all technical procedures available to save water in the production process.

Reducing water consumption: one challenge, many solutions

Reducing water consumption: one challenge, many solutions

To give two examples, the Group has used the cascade cleaning system for washing processes for years. This system is a type of multilevel waterfall which significantly reduces the quantity of fresh water used. The Group has also focused on reusing treated process water. In addition, cooling lubricants are prepared using ultrafiltration. Modernized cooling water systems also increase efficiency. Remanufacturing , too, is part of reducing consumption. ZF remanufactures around the world on a large scale. Remanufacturing means that products are restored to working condition on an industrial scale. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) estimates that the remanufacturing of a component uses up to 90 percent less water than if it were manufactured from scratch.
Using measures like these, the Group reduced its water consumption by 497,000 cubic meters in 2016, compared to the previous year. This amount of water could supply a city of 60,000 people like Friedrichshafen for two months. However, reductions like these can't be achieved year after year – in 2017, water consumption rose again for the first time after years of reductions in the quantity of water used. For ZF, this is an incentive to conduct thorough analyses into why this figure has risen and to push even harder on conservation efforts.

ZF is constantly working on reducing its water consumption via a huge variety of approaches.

Guadalajara,
 Mexico

Guadalajara,
 Mexico

At the wastewater treatment plant in Guadalajara, Mexico, final enrichment with ozone ensures that the water fulfills all local wastewater quality standards. "In Mexico, water is a valuable resource. We use the treated water to water the green areas here at the plant," says Francisco Rosas, who is responsible for maintenance, the environment, health and safety at the plant. Thus, the Guadalajara location not only reduced its fresh water consumption, but also saved the equivalent of around EUR 17,000 in just nine months. However, watering the green areas is only the start. In the future, the treated wastewater will also be used for flushing the chromate conversion coating systems in production. Initial tests are already underway.
In the ZF Guadalajara plant, the quality of the treated wastewater is monitored carefully.

Sorocaba, 
Brazil

Sorocaba, 
Brazil

At the Sorocaba location, around 100 kilometers from São Paulo, a reverse osmosis process has been used to complete wastewater treatment since 2013. In this process, a special membrane only allows water molecules through and retains the substances dissolved in the water. Thus, no deposits are formed when the recycled water is reused to quench heated metal components in production. Afterwards, the water returns to the wastewater treatment plant and the cycle starts over. Production at the Sorocaba location thus saves over 17,000 cubic meters of water per year. "In the past, we had to purchase fresh water for this. Now, the quenching equipment is supplied entirely with our treated wastewater," reports João Gambarra, who is responsible for environmental matters at the Sorocaba plant.

Schweinfurt, Germany

Schweinfurt, Germany

The Schweinfurt location has been using a modern ion exchange system since 2016. It transforms contaminated groundwater into ultrapure water for flushing processes. This water is then used in surface treatment systems. The new system has replaced four old ion exchangers. This process not only saves on huge amounts of process chemicals but also conserves 11,000 cubic meters of fresh water each year, along with 65,000 kilowatt hours of power. Project Manager Felix Röttinger expresses his thoughts as follows: "As part of our reclamation concept, we are collecting groundwater in a well. Up until now, we have had have the water disposed of, which incurred high costs. However, we have now found a way to use it in production." In addition, the new technical solution plays an important role in soil remediation.
Instead of disposing of contaminated groundwater, which is very expensive, we clean it and use it in production. We thus make savings on both fresh water and power.
— Project manager Felix Röttinger

How the automotive industry conserves water

How the automotive industry conserves water

According to the latest figures from the German Federal Environment Agency, the automotive industry in Germany is small fry in terms of water consumption: The chemical industry accounted for a share of 56 percent of total water consumption in the manufacturing sector in 2013. The 2.5 percent share attributable to automobile production and mechanical engineering appears modest by comparison. However, this 2.5 percent represents around 110 million cubic meters of water. Although this figure is huge, German vehicle manufacturing uses about 40 percent less water than it did in 2000, thanks to a change to modern processes and using recycled treated water. This development is not limited to Germany. According to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA), Europe's automotive manufacturers reduced their water consumption by just under 31 percent in the period from 2007 to 2016.
In the period from 2000 to 2013, German automotive manufacturers reduced their water consumption by around 40 percent.