This is a greener General Electric Peterborough

There was a time when the machine was everything in industry, and everything was designed around the machine.

Not today. The machine is one piece in a process and everything about the process is important.

That focus on the entire work environment – and its effect on the natural environment – is evident during a tour of GE Canada’s venerable Park St. plant.

Raul Ceron, the plant quality and process improvement leader, leads the way to Building 16 and a bank of ovens where huge stators are baked to harden their coating. A stator is the stationary section of a motor. The 20-foot-tall ovens can accommodate a 30-tonne stator.

Russell Nash, the advanced manufacturing engineering leader, says the new, largest ovens were installed during Project Caribou, a comprehensive overhaul that began three years ago.

“These other ovens were retrofitted with RTO, regenerative thermal oxidizers, and we were able to get some incentives from Enbridge Gas on that,” Nash explains. “Essentially what it does, the heat that you are generating in the oven goes through an oxidizer and that subsequently reclaims the heat and it goes back into the oven.”

Carbon filters added to the top of the emission stacks mean they also burn cleaner, reducing their environmental impact.

Enbridge is also a player in week-long “eco-treasure hunts.” Hunt teams includes specialists from other parts of the GE operation as well as suppliers such as Enbridge and Peterborough Utilities Inc. They look for ways to improve environmental efficiency.

Projects identified during a hunt are followed up on, “then we come back in a few years and do another one,” Nash says.

Involving suppliers is key, he says, “because things are always changing, things are always improving. So they are coming to us with different ideas, different ways of doing things, different products that we can use.”

Project Caribou had a larger scope. The $26-million investment involved tearing down 300,000 square feet of old, unused building space – equivalent to 60 football fields – and redesigning other buildings.

Building 16 is still vast, with 30,000 sq. ft., of floor space, but the main workspace ceiling was lowered to 20 feet. Towering skylights in the peaked roof remain, providing natural light that employees asked for. All surfaces are white and the space feels very modern.

A single steam boiler system that served the entire plant is also gone.

“Now we have distributed heating systems. We have high intensity, low intensity radiant heaters and we have two smaller boilers,” Ceron says.

The project reduced energy use by 15%, an annual saving of 45 million BTUs. Scrapping the old steam heat system cut water consumption by 60%.

Consolidation also brought more efficiency to the work process. Stators, for example, are now built and baked in the same building.

“Imagine moving 30 tonnes of weight on a transfer cart between buildings during the snow time,” says Ceron. “I mean, it was a lot of movement and a risk to quality.”

Moving heavy machinery also involved injury risk for workers and made a lot of noise.

“We reduced the amount of noise, externally to our neighbours, with not having to transfer equipment back and forth,” says Steve Masciangelo, environmental health and safety manager.

“Removing the buildings helped us with the noise as well, so around the facility it’s quieter.”

The improvements save money and make the plant greener, both part of GE’s vision for a competitive future, says Rahim Ladha, GE Canada’s communications director.

“Our customers are looking at that sort of thing as well. Increasingly it’s becoming part of their evaluation of their supply chain, their attention to environmental performance and their footprint.”

Ceron, who transferred to Peterborough from a GE operation in Monterrey, Mexico three years ago, hopes the improvements bring new work to the plant.

“There are opportunities … but we don’t know it yet. We are working with the global team.”

Once thought to be in survival mode, GE Peterborough is now on a global treasure hunt, dressed in green and looking for jobs.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, May 7, 2016.