Touring Renault's Flagship Green Car Factory


Image by B. Alter

Renault's factory, Maubeuge Construction Automobile, is its flagship, state of the art environmental workplace. Located in Maubeuge, northern France, since 1978, all the Kangoo vans are made there, as will the new electric Kangoo Be Bop Z.E. in 2011.

The factory is usually not open to the public for obvious reasons of confidentiality, but a group of green bloggers and journalists were invited to learn about and see for themselves the many and all encompassing environmental measures that have been introduced. No photo's allowed, unfortunately, but lots of fascinating insights into the car manufacturing business.
Image by B. Alter

Located in a poor region of northern France, the place is enormous: 2,300 people work here, mainly from the surrounding area and they make 45 vehicles an hour; 113,488 in 2009 alone. Renault has invested 323M euros ($392M) in the plant.

Renault started working on becoming more environmental across all 38 of its plants in 1995--they consider themselves to be pioneers in the field--and by 1999 they received ISO14001 (an international) certification. The two big areas where they concentrated their efforts are energy consumption and water reduction.

In fact these early efforts served them well when the recession hit last year. Being able to reduce energy consumption during off-production time is key. The plants had already introduced so many energy saving devices and procedures that they were able to cut back dramatically and quickly to save money. That's the fascinating thing about becoming more environmental: reducing use of valuable resources goes hand in hand with the financial side: saving the environment and money at the same time.

Through their environmental measures they have decreased their energy consumption by 30% and their water consumption by 65%. Renault has an environmental policy for all of its sites. They manage and compare the environmental efficiencies between plants, using benchmarks and sharing information amongst the 38 factories.

It takes 2 1/2 days to make a car from start to finish. They make 630 cars a day at the plant: 45 per hour with 2 shifts going. Not all of the parts are made here: the engines are trucked in from Spain, the gear boxes from Normandy.


Images from Renault
1. Renault Reduces Energy Consumption

Power is needed all the time in a plant. In France the electricity source is nuclear. Because it is expensive they are making continuous efforts to reduce the amount that they use. They use the equivalent energy to that of a town with 25,000 inhabitants and gas equivalent to 7,900 apartments.

The first area is the Stamping department where all the metal which comes in sheets is cut to size. all of the metal offcuts are sent back to the mills to be recycled. The rest of the waste is recycled or incinerated with energy recovery.

There are huge robots working here, with the arms going up and down and forwards and backwards. They are all programmed to do serious precision work such as welding. Fifty men use machines to guide them. The robots do not run all the time but they are high energy consumers.

The Paint shop uses an enormous amount of waste water. They soak the bodies of the cars in anti-corrosives and do all kinds of surface treatments to preserve them. Although there is constant monitoring of the temperature and humidity they use a lot of energy here

Visitors are usually not allowed in this area. It is a huge operation: one hundred different colours of paint can be used because of the different orders. The robots do the painting and it is fascinating to see how they are used and can move in all different directions. There is air blowing from the ceiling to get the paint to adhere and vacuum cleaners wrapped in plastic working away.


Image from Renault

The Assembly plant comes next and there are no robots here; everything is done by hand by 800 people. The workers are sitting on trolleys that slide inside the cars and rise up and down depending on the job. They then move onto the next car so there is no walking and bending. The boxes of screws and bolts travel with them.

At the end of the line each car is sprayed to ensure that it is water tight, using recycled water. And then there are visual checks. And then each car is checked by hand, workers wearing white gloves are looking all over each car for imperfections.

The finished cars go off to the shipping centre where they are loaded onto trains for their final destinations.

All of the unused parts are sorted into bins and recycled. The stock is the "just in time" system which means they order and control the flow of the parts. By reducing stock and handling they reduce energy and surface area used. This means less lighting and heating costs.


Image from Renault
2. Renault Reduces Water Consumption

Water usage is huge in factories; it is used in every stage of car manufacturing. Equally, the quality of the water is very important because it is so key to each step of the process. The engineers at this plant are particularly dedicated (obsessed) with water filtration: they have achieved awards already and their goal is to have a closed loop so that no water is wasted and all is returned to the environment.

The plant has a whole water treatment station on site. The rain water is collected, used in the plant, treated and returned it to the local river Flamme with minimum impact to the environment.

The rain water is collected from the roofs and a network of gutters on site. It is collected in 3 storage tanks which hold 4,000 M3. The amount of water recycled depends upon the amount of rainfall - on average it is between 25%-33% of the total amount of the water consumed by the site for the industrial process. The remaining water comes from the city water network. Since the town is in a particularly rainy area the tanks can be filled up very quickly.

The water that has been collected is pumped into the rainwater treatment station. It starts off in a settling tank with sand and carbon filters; gravity is used at this stage, not electricity. From this they can make 70 M3 a hour and they consume 55 M3 an hour so there is a surplus for a "rainy " day.

The water is used in to wash the car bodies of all the residues from the welding, to get rid of all the phosphorus and heavy metals, to clean it during and after painting and for corrosion treatments. All the waste water from the body shop and the assembly processes is collected. It is treated in the station and returned to the local river.


Image by B. Alter: Kangoo Be Bop Z.E.

Whilst many plants do this, this is the only Renault site to use rainwater for industrial purposes and the only one in Europe to reach such a high level of efficiency.

One cannot ignore that Renault and all car manufacturers are carrying out many environmental measures because they are obliged to by law and because they want to save money. However, we all came away from the tour with a great appreciation of the complexity of the task and respect for the sincerity and dedication of the staff to the preservation and enhancement of the environment.

More on Renault
Sustainable-Mobility.Org: The Resource Centre for Zero Emission Mobility
Test-Driving Renault's All- Electric Car at the Frankfurt Motor Show
The Inside Scoop on Renault's New Electric Cars

Tags: Driving | Energy Efficiency

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