Accolades all round

Accolades all round

Vehicle manufacturers the world over are embracing SHEQ standards to the full – and it isn’t going unnoticed. Volkswagen Group South Africa has won the SJM Flex Environmental Award for the third year in a row … but this isn’t all. The company is also attaining accolades for other aspects of the acronym.

It’s said that no good deed goes unnoticed, and the Exporters Club is proving this point. The club’s top annual environmental accolade, which recognises companies for their efforts in implementing environmentally responsible manufacturing practices, has been presented to Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA).

The company received this prize, along with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of the Year award, at the annual banquet of the Exporters Club of South Africa: Eastern Cape – held at the Port Elizabeth Boardwalk Convention Centre.

According to the judges, VWSA is a worthy winner: “It continued to reduce the carbon footprint of its factory and products and also introduced a unique spraying system in its paint shop, which has significantly reduced hazardous waste in the production process.”

The environmental magic behind the new painting process

The new painting technique, called the Bell Bell process, is 100-percent electrostatic. VW’s manufacturing plant, in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, is the first paint shop in the VW Group to introduce a water-borne derivative of this painting process (before this it had been used only with solvent-borne paint). The spraying system reduces hazardous waste, while improving the painting efficiency levels.

“There are two different application processes – one for uni-base colours (for example red, white and black) and a second for metallic colours (for example silver or shadow blue),” explains Nico Serfontein, head of the paint shop at VW’s Uitenhage manufacturing plant.

“The first application process, employed in Base Coat Station 1, is used for all colours; uni-base and metallic and is referred to as an Esta or Bell application.”

He continues: “The second, more conventional application process is used in Base Coat Station 2, where only metallic cars are painted with a second coat. This system works on the same principles as a manual spray gun, except that a double gun configuration is mounted at the end of a robot arm. It is referred to as a Spraymate System.”

The Esta system’s main advantage is that it uses electrostatics to improve the transfer efficiency of atomised paint. In short, 70 percent of the paint goes onto the car and the rest is disposed of as waste.

MD of VWSA, David Powels, with the company’s thrid consecutive SJM Flex Environmental Award.  Base Coat Station 2, on the other hand, has a transfer efficiency of only 35 percent, with around 65 percent of the atomised paint going to waste, but the Spraymate System improves the colour’s appearance on a painted surface.

With the Esta system, however, the application is a lot softer – which means less over spraying and fewer chemicals in the washout area. This, in turn, has lowered the volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. The Bell Bell painting process also uses less compressed air, resulting in increased energy efficiency.

David Powels, managing director at VWSA, says that the new painting system is in line with the VW Group’s “Think Blue. Factory” strategy, which aims to reduce the environmental impact of each car produced by 25 percent.

Think Blue. Factory – not just a strategy, but part of the company’s culture

This global, wide-ranging umbrella brand defines the Group’s ambitious strategy of transforming its vehicles, manufacturing processes and business operations to environmentally conscious elements that would make the hardiest of hippies proud.

It aims to reduce the environmental impact of all existing factories and new VW locations by 25 percent by 2018. And the Uitenhage plant is definitely making blue the new green …

It recycles over 23 000 t of waste a year. Some of it does get disposed of normally, but this 2 900 t pales in comparison to the amount being recycled.

The company has also been salvaging steel for more than 50 years – with paper, cardboard and plastic recycling inaugurated 13 years ago.

All the paper, ink cartridges, cardboard and scrap steel that the plant generates is sent to its self-sufficient waste yard where it is bailed and compacted. From here, the waste bails are sent to companies such as Reclaim and Sappi. The funds generated from recycling are used to pay for the labour and equipment used in the yard.

VWSA is also ensuring that everyone is kept in the environmentally friendly loop with an internal “Think Blue. Factory” awareness campaign. Through this the company aims to communicate the goals and key messages regarding the “Think Blue. Factory” strategy to all VW employees.

As part of the awareness campaign, the “Think Blue. Pavilion” – specially designed as an information point for the strategy – has been erected at the Uitenhage plant. Itself an environmental ambassador, the pavilion is built out of new and recycled material (sourced from the waste yard) and eco-friendly, water-based products have been used to paint the walls and varnish the floors.

The structure is divided into four quadrants; each dedicated to the “Think Blue.” focus areas of waste, water, energy as well as CO2 and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. Surrounding the pavilion is a “Think Blue. Garden” that houses water-wise plants. This area will remain a green space, for VW employees to enjoy, once the awareness campaign has been completed and the pavilion removed.

The SJM Flex Environmental Award’s judges add that, over the last three years, through the environmental “Think Blue. Factory” strategy, the company has reduced its electricity usage by 20 percent, waste disposal by 26 percent, water usage by 40 percent, CO2 emissions by 14 percent and VOC emissions by 18 percent.

“VWSA is a clear leader in the area of environmental awareness,” says Quintin Levey, Exporters Club chairman and one of the judges. “It has dedicated a large amount of time and a large sum of money to assessing and monitoring the reduction of its carbon footprint.”

Environmentally conscious and a “quality” ambassador

As for the OEM of the Year award, the Eastern Cape branch of the Exporters Club presented this accolade to VWSA for the 2013 export volume of its Polo model (to over 30 different countries) and its parts and accessories turnover volume (the highest in VWSA’s history).

The judges point out that VWSA has achieved first place in the passenger car market for the fifth year in a row, was awarded gold status for Audi and VW on the IPSOS customer satisfaction index and was placed first and second in the dealer satisfaction index.

The company’s customer interaction centre was also voted the number one call centre in South Africa, at the Contact Centre Management Group’s (CCMG’s) annual Contact Centre Awards, held in Johannesburg. (CCMG is the official professional association responsible for the development of businesses and individuals in the South African contact centre industry.)

VWSA scooped up two gold awards; one for Best Supervisor and another for Best Workforce Planner. The centre also won silver for Best Contact Centre Manager and a bronze award for Best Contact Centre Service Professional.

Sir John Vanbrugh, an English architect and dramatist who lived in the early 18th century, said it best: “Virtue is its own reward. There’s a pleasure in doing good which sufficiently pays itself.” However, there’s nothing wrong with due acknowledgement every now and then … especially if what you’re doing keeps customers happy and is better for the environment.

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