In Practice: SEAT’s largest solar array in the automotive industry

In a move to capture the benefits of Industry 4.0 and reach sustainability targets for 2025, Spanish carmaker SEAT is showcasing its Martorell factory as hub for innovative environmental solutions - including the largest solar plant in the automotive industry.

The Challenge

Earlier this year, SEAT announced that it had surpassed its key sustainability goal of cutting its environmental impact by 25% by 2020 against a 2011 baseline. In fact, the automaker achieved a 35.5% reduction, meaning it has surged past this target two years early.

After investing £5.25bn in sustainability projects in 2017, carmaker has now set a new ambition of cutting its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2025 in a bid to halve its overall environmental footprint by the same deadline.

The company has utilised its Ecomotive Factory Plan, which aims to optimise resources and time while limiting the environmental impact of production, to good effect since 2011. With focus now shifting to how automation and robotics can streamline operations at its facilities, SEAT is combining the impressive environmental track record at its Martorell factory with new opportunities for innovative start-ups to help reach its lofty goals.

The Solution

The Martorell factory, located north of Barcelona, turned 25 earlier this year. It has a total surface area of 2.8 million sq.m and manufactures around 2,300 cars every day. As a result, the energy requirements of the plant are vast and SEAT turned to onsite technologies to help cater for some of this energy demand.

SEAT’s Ecomotive Factory Plan was originally implemented at the Martorell facility in 2011. The most noteworthy aspect of this over-arching initiative was the 11MW “SEAT al Sol” solar installation.

With Spain enjoying between 2,500 and 3,000 sunlight hours annually, SEAT has utilised a photovoltaic plant consisting of 53,000 panels that generate onsite renewable electricity for the plant. The array measures 276,000 sq.m – equivalent to the size of 40 football pitches. Since the installation was completed in 2013, more than 112m kwh of renewable electricty has been generated, accounting for 6% of the electricity used at the factory.

Globally, 50% of the energy and 100% of the electricity consumed by SEAT comes from renewable sources.

Gestamp Solar worked in collaboration with Trina Solar to install the panels during numerous phases. Now completed, the project has solar panels covering six workshops and the canopies of four parking areas.

More than 17 million kWh of renewable electricity is generated every year at the plant, enough to supply a city of 15,000 people or charge 3,000 mobile phones every day for an entire year. The energy produced onsite to date has enabled the production of 67,000 cars since the facility became operational.

A drone is used for maintenance purposes and flies over the plant once a month to check the operational performance of panels, using visual sensors and a thermographic camera. A total of 16 inspection flights are made at a height of 35 metres.

Wider Benefits

The factory was constructed in just 34 months at a cost of €1.47bn. In the following 25 years, SEAT has produced almost 10 million vehicles from the facility. Around 2,300 cars are manufactured daily – accounting for 95% of the plant’s capacity utilisation and production has grown by 50% since 2009. As a result, Martorell is the second largest vehicle manufacturing plant and the eighth biggest in the world.

The Martorell facility provides jobs for more than 12,000 production line employees and 21% of the workforce is made up of women – almost double the national average of 11%.

One of the more innovative projects to be fitted at the plant are the self-illuminating access bridges, which combines walkable tiles that generate 0.1KWh each day alongside tiles that capture solar energy to light up access bridges.

SEAT has installed 4,000 sq.m of air-cleaning paving slabs at the plant. The photocatalytic paving slabs, which are made by applying titanium dioxide to cement, convert pollutant nitrous oxides (NOx) into water-soluble nitrates when they are exposed to light, oxygen and NOx at the same time. This means they are self-cleaning as well as pollutant-trapping.

SEAT estimates that the installation of the first phase of slabs has cut NOx pollution at the plant by 40%, and will install them on a further 26,000 sq.m of walkways in the complex before the end of 2018 – a move it claims will reduce NOx emissions by 5.2 tonnes annually.

The manufacturing giant is also investigating whether it can apply paints with the same decontamination properties to the 147,000 sq.m of exterior walls on the plant’s workshops.

These initiatives, combined with an energy recovery project to convert heat into electricity, have prevented the consumption of more than 100,000 MWh at the plant. According to SEAT, the firm consumes half as much energy to produce vehicles compared with other European carmakers, as well as using 23% less water and emitting 65% less CO2.

Looking Ahead at Industry 4.0

According to SEAT, the Martorell plant is “fully involved in developing industry 4.0” in order to create a production environment that is “smart, digitised and connected”. The plant is currently utilising 3D printing, exoskeletons and autonomous, collaborative robots to streamline production.

SEAT notes that use of robot-based transport has optimised functions for factory workers and has reduced production time by 25% as a result.

Last year, the company introduced a training programme for staff on the fourth industrial revolution, to enable them to better interact with increasingly autonomous functions. Smart glasses and virtual and augmented reality devices were all used during these training sessions.

In October 2018, SEAT is opening the Martorell factory to start-ups and innovators to discuss and highlight the role of technology in the production process.

The plant is also installing the tallest automated logistics centre in Spain. At more than 43 metres high, the building will have a capacity to manage almost 120,000 boxes of components. The logistics centre is expected to go into operation during the last quarter of 2018.

Matt Mace

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