What Goes Around, Drives Around
As Henry Ford watched the steel frame of a new stamping plant rise in Dearborn, Mich., in the late 1930s, little did he know that someday the same steel would end up in company products.
In 2012, Walbridge demolished large sections of the massive facility. Huge stamping equipment was removed. Steel plating was cut away from floors and stacked in large piles. Steel trusses and pieces of the roof were removed and collected.
The steel was transported to a recycler, who stripped it of any paint, dirt or debris. Once processed, the material was sold to steel mills. Those mills – operated by Severstal, Nucor Steel and Great Lakes Steel – then converted it into new rolled sheet steel and sold it to auto manufacturers, including Ford Motor Company. Ford then stamped the steel into doors and body panels to be used in the assembly of new vehicles.
By the end of 2012, more than 9,400 tons of steel and nearly 60 tons of copper had been recycled on the project. These products were once considered construction “waste” and used to be hauled away to landfills for disposal.
But today, Walbridge envisions how to separate these materials in advance and then integrates recycling activities into the operations.
The stamping plant was a premier production facility at Ford’s Rouge complex since 1939, according to Todd Harris, Ford Land Senior Project Manager. Once modernized, the plant will again produce vehicle parts for Ford.
Back Into the Stream
“We’ve taken over 114 million pounds of steel out of the building, including structural members and old production equipment, and put them back into the recycle stream,” Harris said. Valuable copper and aluminum have also been recycled, some of which will end up in wiring and other parts to be used in Ford products.
Ford’s blueprint for sustainability promotes environmental stewardship and the company. According to Harris, that blueprint depends on its relationships with suppliers to help Ford meet important performance goals.
“On a project like this, it’s important that we bring in a partner like Walbridge early on,” he said. “We need to resolve how to get all of the materials out of a building, especially what we’re going to re-use, and get them into a recycling program. We work to minimize any materials that would have to go to a landfill. We put no steel, aluminum or copper into landfills from this project.”
“If you’re getting a vehicle built in Dearborn in 2013, you’d see some of that steel came from our recycling program,” Harris added.
Focusing On Metal Recycling
Rick Haller, President and Chief Operating Officer of Walbridge, said metal recycling has become a bigger part of the construction company’s focus in recent years.
“In electric arc furnaces, 100 percent scrap steel is used,” Haller said. “In oxygen furnaces, 30 percent of the material comes from scrap steel. There’s a need in the process of making steel that requires recycled material.”
Walbridge separates stainless from regular carbon steel on projects and to improve efficiency, crews cut it into pre-determined lengths for recyclers.
“There’s a market for this,” Haller said. “Ultimately, it reduces the capital investment of tearing down buildings. In Henry Ford’s case, the same metal he invested in to build a plant is now being recycled and being used on some of his product. It’s come full circle.”
Walbridge looks for ways to minimize the intrusiveness of the construction process, including reducing use of metals, concrete and wood. Today, Haller said, Walbridge uses more steel forms than wood forms on sites in order to reduce the use of wood. “There are a lot of ways contractors can be sustainable,” he said.
Kirk Heinze, host of the “Greening of the Great Lakes” program on radio station WJR-AM in Detroit, calls the recycling program at the Ford Dearborn Stamping plant, “A paradigm example of cradle-to-cradle sustainability.”