SOLVING FOR THE SOLVENT

REDUCING CHEMICAL USE AND WASTE

One person really can make a difference. Just ask the folks at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC), where Dawn Ng played a big role in solving a complicated issue that ended up reducing raw material use, air emissions and water as well as improving quality and saving money. That’s an impressive formula!

Two years ago, Dawn was a student at the University of Waterloo and a co-op at TMMC. As she studied and learned the vehicle painting process, she noticed every time a new color was applied to a bumper, a solvent-water mixture was used to clean the nozzles of the high-tech spray robots. The cleaning agent contained about 10 percent solvent.

“As I watched the robots clean the nozzles between colors, I wondered how much solvent is really needed in the mixture to do the cleaning,” explained Dawn. “My manager, Ryan Slute, asked me to look into it.”

Collaborating with the University of Waterloo

“With the help of the University of Waterloo and other Toyota team members, Dawn researched, analyzed and tested different cleaning agents. She even developed a computer program to test the “cleanability” of different solvent/water mixes.

“Our lab was able to utilize a sophisticated approach that combined experiments with modeling the Toyota paint booth environment,” said Leonardo Simon, professor of Chemical Engineering at Waterloo University. “This is a real-world application of our curriculum that would not be possible without Toyota‘s collaboration.”

After months of work in the university lab, Dawn developed a new cleaning agent with better and faster cleaning ability than what was previously being used. The new solution is currently in use on the water-borne paint line installed at TMMC in 2018.

IMPRESSIVE RESULTS

The new cleaning agent is used during the painting process on RAV4 bumpers and reduces the use of solvent by 43,000 liters (about 11,300 gallons) – a staggering 80 percent reduction. On an annual basis, it also reduces emissions of VOCs by 22 metric tons, saves 66,000 liters (17,400 gallons) of water, cuts the number of defective bumpers that need to be recycled in half, and saves almost CAN$600,000!

The results were so impressive that Toyota’s parent company in Japan is developing a new standard to evaluate and optimize solvent/water mixes whenever a paint material changes.

“We are super proud of Dawn,” said Ryan Slute, Plastics Engineering assistant manager. “She is a great example of someone who takes our commitment of continuous improvement to heart. It’s also awesome to see a young engineer make a real difference for us.”

LOOKING AHEAD

The success of this project inspired the university to grow the partnership, getting more students involved on other exciting Toyota projects. Dawn is now a full-time engineering specialist at TMMC, and she’s helping other students on their co-op terms.

Way to go, Dawn!

Vehicles in this story include
the 2019 RAV4, manufactured in
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.