The inner workings of Volkswagen’s paint shop are complex and delicate.
“About 2.5 percent of the workforce actually works in the paint booth,” Dean Parker, new general manager of the Paint Department, said Wednesday on a media tour of the paint shop. “It’s completely painted by automation.”
The painting of a Volkswagen involves 105 automotive and manual processes.
There are five major steps—pretreatment, e-coat, sealer, top coat and wax—that a Passat goes through in the shop, Leslie Williams, assistant manager of the paint shop, said.
There are some manual decks in between steps for sanding or eliminating dirt and for “finesse.” Some portions, such as the sealer step, need to be done by hand because they take a soft touch, she said.
There are 58 robots in the shop, which is the smallest of the three on the plant. The other two are the body and the assembly shops.
For the first time in about two years, Volkswagen leaders invited members of the media into the shop Wednesday.
In other parts of the process, a robot smoothly dips and tilts an entire car frame at 360 degrees into paint. At one point, a frame is submerged for about five minutes.
Cars come through at 110-second intervals.
Leaders wouldn’t say how long it takes for one car to go through the entire process, but it is one of the targets that leaders measure and try to perfect, Williams said.
The shop is now painting between 600 and 640 cars a day, Parker said.
Volkswagen leaders said they have gone to great lengths to save on energy consumption and to be environmentally friendly in the shop.
They recycle water and air, and the design of the shop is meant to be efficient and clean, leaders said.
Instead of using a wet scrubbing process, like many other plants, VW uses a dry scrubbing system, which allows 80 percent of air to be recycled.
“Air has to be the right temperature and humidity,” Williams said. “Conditioning of air can be expensive. For us to be able to reuse that air—we save energy because we don’t have to condition additional air that we pull from outside.”
Volkswagen made a list best global green brands in 2012.
And, according to Nooga.com archives, Volkswagen officials announced in December that they reached an important milestone as the first U.S. auto manufacturer to obtain LEED Platinum Certification—the nation's top green building standard.
LEED certification is an internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in March of 2000.
At that time, leaders said that they began planning for an environmentally friendly building in the design stages, which helped them achieve the platinum status. He also said it was a cost-effective way to implement the green standards, according to archives.
LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.
The ultra-clean paint shop alone will save 50 million gallons of water in 10 years, leaders said, according to archives.
The Volkswagen Academy was also certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as a LEED Platinum facility.
According to the Interbrand study, VW wants to be the most sustainable automotive company by 2018.
The company aims to increase fuel efficiency for every new vehicle generation by 10 to 15 percent, also according to Interbrand.
VW leaders have said their green efforts go beyond green to blue. "Think Blue" is the name of VW's sustainability program.
Williams said that Volkswagen leaders could have taken an easier route and used already-existing technology for some processes, but it wouldn’t have been as environmentally efficient.
“I’ve worked for other automotive companies, and this is the first one I’ve seen take so many steps to not impact the environment,” she said. “I’m proud to be at VW. It has been a challenge—new people, a new model and new technology, but we’ve taken the challenge on.”