Painting Plastic without Primer: GM Suppliers See Efficiency, Environmental Benefits

Aug 25, 2011 11:30 AM ET
Campaign: GM Waste Reduction

Beyond Now - General Motor's blog

General Motors is introducing a flame treatment technology that lets paint stick to plastic vehicle parts like instrument and door panels without using primers that contain solvents and can foul the air.


The use of solvents in paint primers is an industry-wide challenge. We’re committed to reducing emissions throughout our operations and supply chain, so we manage solvents through recycling, energy conversion and superheating the gases to break them down. However, these efforts are costly.

The new flame treatment uses an energy-efficient, robotic system that creates a molecular change in the surface of the plastic, allowing paint to bond with it.

“Once I understood the potential of this process, we worked to connect the right GM engineers and our suppliers,” said John Bradburn, GM’s manager of waste-reduction efforts. “As we strive to design all of our vehicles for the environment, we can create requirements for our suppliers.  In this case we were able to provide the enabling technology, making it easier for all of us.”

The process is used on the Chevrolet Cruze, Sonic, and Volt. Using it on the Cruze alone, GM suppliers:

  • Reduced solid and liquid waste (filters, cleaners, solvents and coatings) from 48 tons a year to less than one.

  • Decreased air pollutants from 810 tons a year to 80 tons a year.

  • Eliminated landfill waste like paint sludge and painted scrap material from 25 tons to nearly zero.

It’s also faster than having to spray primer and the capital expense pays itself off in less than four months.

“As engineers and technology developers, we have the capability to improve the environmental footprint of the manufacturing process,” said Russell Brynolf, president of FTS Technologies, the company that manufactures the flame treatment technology. “Technology drives us forward and it’s encouraging to see companies like GM willing to change a process.”