In Ford's Chicago plant, huge machines stamp the hoods of various vehicles from large sheets of aluminum. Scrap pieces fall to a conveyor belt below, which carries an assortment of materials left over from the manufacturing process. In order to reuse the aluminum, it has to be separated from the other scrap. Ford turned to OmniSource Corp. of Fort Wayne, Indiana, which designed a system using magnets and shaker tables that separates ferrous metals and other contaminants from the aluminum. The remaining clean aluminum is pressed into 1,000-pound bales and shipped back to the Alcan Aluminum Corp. where it originated.
The returned aluminum is remelted and re-rolled into aluminum sheets and in turn shipped back to Ford. Alcan realizes a significant reduction in costs because remelting aluminum requires only 5 percent of the energy that is needed to create primary aluminum from ore. These savings also are passed along to Ford. And while the OmniSource separation system was a $400,000 investment, the car manufacturer is now saving more than $2.5 million a year by recycling high quality aluminum.
The project's success has encouraged other car companies to explore recycling options and at the same time incorporate more aluminum into their vehicles. The benefits extend to overall weight reductions for new cars, which can increase fuel efficiency.
The closed-loop aluminum recycling program meets criteria set by Ford chairman Bill Ford: to reduce waste, enhance efficiency, and reduce costs.