GM Assembly Plant - Lansing Michigan

Introduction

If one wants to see the future of manufacturing facilities, they should visit Lansing, Michigan, home of GM's new LEED Gold certified assembly plant. Throughout their facilities when conducting renovations, GM works to keep them up-to-date with state of the art environmental practices. However, when given the opportunity to build a new assembly plant they set out to define what the plant of the future would look like. The plant which started producing a number of GM's crossover vehicles at the end of 2006 is one of the "world's most environmentally advanced auto manufacturing plants" and is expected to save substantial amounts of energy and water over similar buildings.1 It is also the first automotive plant to receive LEED certification.


GM's Lansing Delta Township Plant was completed in 2006. Photo courtesy of GM.

The Building

The approximately $800 million USD,2 225,000 m2 (2.4 million ft2) facility includes the body shop, general assembly, administration and visitor's reception buildings.3 These are in addition to the stamping and paint shops which had been built previously on the site and were not included as part of the certification process. When in full operation, the facility will have approximately 3,000 staff working around the clock in three shifts.

When designing the plant, engineers used 3-D technology to build virtual models allowing designers to place assembly equipment throughout the plant and then 'walk' through it. The added time put into the design phase reduced the likelihood of design changes once construction had started which can lead to substantial time delays and additional costs of over 25%.2 This upfront effort was carried through the entire project with designers working in partnership with GM to identify actual needs for each energy, material and water use throughout the facility, and then tailoring systems to meet those needs. An example of this type of thinking can be seen in the building's structure itself.

Unlike most assembly or manufacturing plants where the roof joists support the process by carrying the weight of heavy utility lines or cranes to move objects around, the Lansing Delta plant's roof has been designed simply as a cover for the floor.2 With the appropriate technology this allows for greater flexibility in redesigning the floor layout and reduces the building's material needs.

What Makes it Green - the Building's Features and Copper's Role

Achieving LEED Gold certification was no small feat. At the time, less than 200 buildings worldwide had obtained LEED Gold. To accomplish it, GM integrated a number of critical features to improve the building's environmental performance. They cover the areas of energy, materials, water efficiency, and the site itself. For most of these copper plays a supporting role making many of the savings captured possible. For example in the case of electrical systems, copper is the most efficient, reasonably priced, conductor ensuring that systems do not waste energy. In the case of plumbing, the material's high recycled content, recyclability and reduced use of glues that emit VOCs, contribute to the overall sustainability of the building.


The GM Plant was the first LEED Gold Certified Automotive assembly plant. Photo from www.gm.com

Energy and Atmosphere - In this LEED category, the building scored almost every point which was not related specifically to energy production. The energy used by each of the six buildings on the site is strictly monitored by an advanced Building Management System with each building responsible for its energy use. This internalization of energy costs was one factor which motivated the investments in reducing the buildings' energy demands. With energy efficiency designed into most systems, the building is expected to be 45% more energy efficient than industry standards and lead to savings of approximately $1million per year.4 According to Thomas Taylor of Alberici Enterprises, who worked with GM on the project, much of these savings come from efficiencies in the HVAC system and being very aggressive in regards to lighting.

In lighting they reduced the total watts/sq ft. density from an allowable range of 1.3 to 2.2 to the building's average 0.45 to 1.9.5 To achieve this James Konkle of GM, who was directly involved with design of the electrical systems, described how they divided each building into zones, approximately 100 for the body shop, and considered the best system for each zone. Traditionally a facility like this would be lit at all times and in all areas. In this case they assessed the actual needs of each space asking questions such as 'why are we lighting areas where only machines and not people are working'? In answering this question they realized these areas need only be lit when something needed to be fixed and they designed the system to automatically turn the lights on when this need arises, saving energy and bringing attention to issues on the line. In other areas they found motion sensors or simple light switches to be the best way of serving the areas' lighting needs. They also tied all of these systems into smart panels which can shut the lights off if they know nobody is in an area due to production schedules or can turn all the lights on in the event of a safety issue on the line or in the building. Mr. Konkle described himself as being somewhat skeptical at the beginning of the process expecting that it would be a lot of effort for little gain. However, it proved to be a lot less effort and generated far more savings than he had expected. Looking back at the process he commented that "until you go through it, it seems like a costly way of doing things, but in the end it is just a question of paying attention to what you are doing."

Materials and Resources - An important factor in the success in this LEED category was the use of regional materials - more than 60% came from suppliers located within 800 kms (500 miles) - the use of recycled content within the construction materials, and diverting 3,600 kgs (4,000 tons) of construction waste from the landfill.4 Further, as GM was interested in providing their workers with a healthy workspace, they were very supportive of efforts to reduce or remove VOCs throughout the building including the use of soldered or brazed copper tube which avoids the use of glues needed in PVC piping applications.5


Cisterns over the washrooms capture rainwater and use it rather than potable water for all sanitary flushing. Photo from www.gm.com

Water Efficiency - another area of expected exceptional performance is in non-manufacturing water use, which has been reduced by 45 % or 15,500.000 litres (4.1 million gallons) of water annually. To achieve this, much as they did with the lighting system, they considered the specific needs of each water use and found the best system to meet these requirements. A major focus of this effort was the washrooms.

To begin with they designed the 140,000 m2 (1.5million ft.2) roof over the assembly plant as a rainwater collection system which stores the water in cisterns over the washrooms and uses it for all sanitary flushing rather than potable water. They also installed low-flow faucets, and toilets, as well as waterless urinals. Finally they use motion sensors on the faucets to reduce water use during hand washing.

Sustainable Site - Despite having to provide more parking than one would expect due to shift overlap, the facility left 50% of the site undeveloped and 0.30 hectares (0.75 acres) has been set aside to preserve the existing plants and wildlife habitat. The designers worked with environmentalists knowledgeable in the local ecosystem to ensure that native vegetation and wildlife were able to continue to thrive on the property. The company has gone beyond just preserving these areas by working with local environmentalists to use the green spaces as educational springboards for the public. Finally the landscaping uses native or drought-resistant vegetation to eliminate the need for irrigation.5

Conclusion

When asked to describe his impression of this project, Mr. Taylor of Albrici simply said that it was a tremendous project to work on. It had a number of challenges, but through a true group effort and a clear commitment to reduce the plant's environmental impact that they have produced an exceptional building.

In regards to the success of the project, perhaps the U.S. Green Building Council's President Richard Fedrizzi said it best: "We expect GM's plant will change the way manufacturing buildings are built in the future.1 Few will be able to argue with this given that even beyond the environmental benefits, it cost less to build, costs less to operate, and provides a better work environment. Many features of this building from optimized lighting systems to rainwater collection can easily be incorporated into other new manufacturing plants and those that fail to do so may soon find themselves left behind".

  1. GreenBiz.com "GM Opens First-Ever LEED-Certified Auto Plant" August 4, 2006.
  2. King, R.J. "3D Tech Builds GM Plant" The Detroit News April 11, 2004.
  3. Reliable Plant "GM Opens First-Ever LEED Gold-Certified Plant".
  4. GM "GM Opens First-Ever LEED-Gold Certified Automobile Manufacturing Facility".
  5. Interview with Tom Taylor General Manager/Vice President Vertegy an Alberici Enterprise January 2007.