GM's Orion Assembly Plant is Eco-Innovation Station

GM's Orion Assembly Plant is Eco-Innovation Station

From recycling parts in vehicles to saving energy on the plant floor, employees find ways to reduce environmental impact

Energy produced from Orion Assembly's 350-kilowatt solar array is sent back to the grid and helps avoid the equivalent of 261 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

Landfill gas piped into GM's Orion Assembly plant from a nearby landfill is a significant part of the plant's renewable energy use.

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Friday, July 10, 2015 - 3:10pm

CAMPAIGN: GM Greener Vehicles


At this year’s North American International Auto Show, Chevrolet introduced the game-changing Bolt EV concept. The Bolt EV will deliver 200-miles of range at an affordable price. A pure electric vehicle, the Bolt EV has solid green credentials. And it will be built at a facility with equally high green credentials: our Orion, Michigan Assembly Plant.

Orion Assembly has been using landfill gas to heat and cool its facility for several years. We recently brought the process of generating electricity from landfill gas onsite, thereby eliminating the use of coal at the plant. Landfill gas now supplies 66 percent of the energy consumed at Orion, making it our largest user of this type of renewable energy. The facility creates enough energy from landfill gas to power 8,000 homes at any given time, and this year alone has generated 17,200 megawatt hours of electricity from landfill gas. Orion Assembly also houses a 350 kilowatt solar array, which sends clean energy back to the grid.

Orion Assembly pioneered the industry’s first “three-wet” paint process, which allows three layers of paint to be applied to the car followed by a single trip through the oven. Other processes require an additional oven trip between the first and second coats of paint, using about 2.5 megawatt hours of energy in total. The three-wet process only uses about one megawatt hour of energy to paint the vehicle. That’s a lot of energy savings. Orion uses the three-wet process to paint the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano, and the Bolt EV will also get the energy-saving paint job when production begins.

This plant also finds innovative ways to reduce waste. Orion has a cardboard bailer inside the plant, which makes recycling cardboard shipping boxes simple. What’s even cooler is the cardboard is recycled into an insulation material that reduces noise in the Buick Verano’s passenger compartment, bringing the waste full circle.

The plant’s penchant for reducing waste extends beyond its walls and vehicles. Orion has donated more than 1,200 used shipping crates to serve as raised garden beds throughout Detroit. The project started with the Cadillac Urban Gardens in Southwest Detroit, a community garden hosted by supplier Ideal Group to provide fresh produce to the surrounding neighborhood. Even more crates were recently added to the rooftop of a parking structure at the GM Renaissance Center. This garden, made up of 48 repurposed crates, is nourished with compost developed from Ren Cen restaurant food scraps, and the produce is donated back to a Ren Cen restaurant for fresh dishes.

Many of Orion’s environmental successes come from our employees. The plant’s culture encourages employees to offer solutions to challenges that will have a positive impact on business. For example, rags used in the paint shop to clean up excess paint were previously thrown away or shipped out for cleaning. A group of resourceful employees, represented by UAW Local 5960, identified the waste involved in buying new rags or having them cleaned and returned by a service provider, and recommended GM install energy efficient washers and dryers in their department. Now employees clean the rags onsite, which not only helps to save money, but minimizes our environmental impact.  

Employees are actively pursuing landfill-free status for the plant by recycling any material that cannot be reused. The recycling process starts in general assembly and the paint shop. Any recyclable by-product from the line is sorted into a designated container right on the plant floor, where they are later collected and moved to a bailer or sent to a recycling facility.

“Employees implement the majority of our recycling initiatives and are instrumental in making sure recyclable materials in the assembly process end up in the right place,” said Rob Fenn, Orion Assembly’s senior environmental engineer. “They have their hands in the recycling process from the beginning and recognize the importance of the effort to the plant’s sustainable progress.”

We continue to invest financially in Orion Assembly, in part because every single employee is personally committed to improving the plant’s performance, environmental and otherwise. And fostering a culture that harnesses the collective innovation of employees is certainly a sound investment.

CATEGORY: Environment