Case Study: Water Reductions at the Chihuahua Engine Plant

The Mexican state of Chihuahua has witnessed an industrial boom within the last several decades, with multinational firms setting up production facilities for auto manufacturing, aerospace and electronics, to name a few.

But the region, which shares a border with the United States, has suffered from droughts, with rainfalls that have been well below average, especially the last few years. The mighty Rio Grande River – the primary source of water for the region – can’t keep pace with a growing population and a booming manufacturing base.

Ford opened our Chihuahua Engine Plant (CHEP) in Chihuahua City, the state’s capital, in 1983. As water resources became increasingly stressed, we began to look for ways to reduce our water footprint and limit our impact on the surrounding community. We started making significant changes in our manufacturing processes about six years ago; today, we’re proud to say that the plant does not use a single drop of potable water for anything except human use.

In Chihuahua City, most of the local residents are only able to receive water in their homes at certain times during the day. The industrial park where CHEP is located has its own wells and its own water supply lines; however, the underground wells pump water from the same underground reservoirs that supply fresh water to local residents.

“We were very conscious of the fact that water is not an abundant resource in the areas in Mexico where Ford has manufacturing operations,” said Luis Lara, environmental quality manager for Ford Mexico. “We implemented an aggressive set of actions for water conservation, including a vision that we would use potable water for personal uses only, and that the rest of the water for the plant would be treated and re-used.”

The facility has its own wastewater treatment plant, which has been updated and modified to recycle and reuse as much water as possible. About 80 percent of the treated water goes back into the industrial process; the rest is used for land irrigation around the plant.

Indeed, the plant, which has zero discharge to the municipal sewer system, won the 2010 Environmental Leadership for Competitiveness Award from the Mexican government for projects that are saving more than 32,000 cubic meters of water a year. At CHEP, these initiatives include:

  • Using reverse-osmosis-treated gray water from the city’s water system, instead of drinking-quality water, in the cooling towers of compressor machines and other manufacturing processes, such as washing machines and coolant systems. This system saves more than 3,500 cubic meters of water per year and more than 290,000 pesos per year, equivalent to about $25,000.
  • Using more reverse-osmosis-treated water, rather than drinkable water, for washing equipment and floors in the facility. This saves an estimated 28 cubic meters of fresh water per year and approximately 475,000 pesos ($40,500) in reduced water, labor and cleaning costs.
  • Implementing a new floor cleaning system that saves another 112 cubic meters annually.

Our Company’s recently updated water strategy focuses on regions – such as Chihuahua, Mexico, and Chennai, India – where water is scarce.

“We recognize that water is an important issue everywhere, but we want to focus our efforts where the needs are greatest,” said Andy Hobbs, director of Ford’s Environmental Quality Office. “This enables both Ford and the communities in which it operates to achieve the most benefits.”

Much of the technology used at CHEP is cutting edge. For example, CHEP uses an ultra-filtration membrane process followed by reverse osmosis. We are also implementing this advanced water recycling technology at our Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant, located in the Sonora Desert in Mexico. We will continue to assess opportunities to use advanced water conservation technologies and reduce our overall water consumption across our operations, especially in water-stressed regions.

Chihuahua Engine Plant Facts

  • Year opened: 1983
  • Total employment: 1,300
  • Products: 2.0L and 2.5L Duratec engine, 4.4L and 6.7L diesel engine
  • Site size: 247 acres
  • Plant size: 1,431,600 square feet