GM adopts greener approach to painting plastic car parts

The giant automaker worked with suppliers to create technology that lets paint stick to plastic vehicle parts without using solvent-heavy primers.

Think about all the plastic parts that come on your typical car, particularly door and instrument panels, and now think of all the paint that covers same. Now, think about all the solvents that go into making sure that a paint color you like sticks to the plastic. Clearly, an issue that literally surrounds every one of us each and every time we get into a car.

Working suppliers, General Motors has introduced flame treatment technology that is helping transform painting plastic car parts into a greener process. The technology uses robotics to change the surface of the plastic, which makes the paint adhere better and eliminates the need for primers. The company that came up with the technology, FTS Technologies, captured GM's attention through a group called Suppliers Partnership for the Environment.

Said John Bradburn, GM manager of waste-reduction efforts:

"Once I understood the potential of this process, we worked to connect the right GM engineers and our suppliers. As we strive to design all of our vehicles for the environment, we can create requirements for our suppliers. In this case, we were able to provide the enabling technology, making it easier for all of us."

So far, the technology is being used in manufacturing of the Chevrolet Cruz, Sonic and Volt vehicles.

What is the environmental impact?

GM notes that using the technology paint parts on the Cruze models has helped reduce the solid and liquid waste related to the process to less than one ton per year, compared with 48 tons previously. The pollutants released to air during the process are now 80 tons, compared with 810 tons. Waste-to-landfill was reduced to almost zero from 25 tons.

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