L’Oréal USA Takes on General Motors in the Latest Better Buildings Challenge SWAP

The New York-based L’Oréal USA team is committed to excellence in operations and energy efficiency.

The New York-based L’Oréal USA team is committed to excellence in operations and energy efficiency.

At first glance, it may seem like they don’t have a lot in common: the nation’s third-largest carmaker and a world leader in beauty brands. But Detroit-based General Motors (GM) and New York-based L’Oréal USA are manufacturing giants that are committed to excellence when it comes to operations and energy efficiency. Moreover, they share a willingness to learn from others. The shared enthusiasm of both teams for finding significant energy savings through collaboration made these two companies a natural choice for the latest season of SWAP, the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge reality-show-style online video series.

Now in its fourth season, the Better Buildings Challenge SWAP brings the energy-management teams of organizations together, then sets them loose in the other team’s facility to find energy-saving opportunities; gain insight; and, ultimately, take away lessons they can apply in their own operations. DOE’s cameras follow all the action to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to improve competitiveness through energy efficiency.

L’Oréal USA’s North Little Rock, Ark., plant and General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant are finely tuned operations. At both locations, employees work alongside advanced robots (large and small) to create products the public uses every day. The imposing scale of both operations means the energy challenges these organizations face are remarkably similar. Whether you’re making beauty products in Little Rock or assembling cars in Detroit, the more efficiently you can turn raw materials into finished products, the better for the environment and your bottom line.

General Motors also has a commitment to operations and energy efficiency. The shared enthusiasm of both teams makes them a natural choice for the latest season of SWAP.

Driving Innovation

Like all Better Buildings Challenge participants, GM committed to a 20 percent reduction in energy intensity across its operations by 2020, which it has achieved ahead of schedule. One strategy that has helped the company reach its goal is “treasure hunts” conducted throughout its facilities—essentially a way of engaging employees to “hunt” for energy-saving opportunities, track down inefficiencies and correct them.

When L’Oréal USA’s energy team arrived at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, team members brought fresh pairs of eyes to the “treasure hunt” challenge. They were impressed by the sheer size of the 4.1-million-square-foot facility and scale of the operation. At the plant, GM assembles four vehicles: the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala and Volt, and Cadillac CT-6. In the body shop alone, which is the first step in the auto manufacturing process, there are 1,100 robots in operation.

The L’Oréal USA team noted many of the robots were powered up but not in use, identifying a potential source of energy savings. Another issue common to large manufacturing plants is air leakage in processes that use compressed air; the L’Oréal USA team suggested regular “air walks” to identify any leak sources.

The walkthrough revealed many areas where GM’s efficiency game was on point, from lighting to an integrated Energy Management System that allows the energy staff to monitor steam, electricity, natural gas and water use at any given time.

“They have a clear understanding of the highest-energy consumers in the plant,” says Carlos Ruiz Rabago, L’Oréal USA’s senior vice president of manufacturing, North America. “You need to go and really apply your efforts to the biggest opportunity and they’re doing it.”

GM also has succeeded in bringing employees on board the energy-efficiency train with workers at all levels invested in finding ways to save.

About the Author

Maria T. Vargas
Maria T. Vargas is director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge.

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