Johnson Matthey’s Emission Control Technologies site in Nilai eliminates health and safety hazards and improves work practices

Johnson Matthey's Emission Control Technologies site in Nilai

Johnson Matthey's Emission Control Technologies site in Nilai, Malaysia manufactures catalysts for cars and trucks. Over the last two years the site has seen a huge increase in sales and their project team commissioned a second production line by end of 2011.

The second production line (Precision Coater Application Line 2 – PC L2) began producing parts early 2012. In the beginning, the catalyst coating slurry (washcoat) from batching tank located in the basement of the batching area was pumped to PC L2 at ground floor some 70 metres away via two methods:

  1. By manually relocating a large and tall 1,000 litre application tank (using a forklift) nearby the batching area then using long convoluted hoses (30 meters) and a pump
  2. Using a very long convoluted hoses (~70 meters) and two pumps.

Both methods had major disadvantages. The setup and transfer process was time consuming, required considerable employee resource, raw material and was water intensive. Furthermore, the manual handling posed health and safety risks for the staffs and the hoses placed along the ground also presented trip hazard. Beside this, the method also present high chance of washcoat contamination since cleaning the convoluted hose is not always effective.

It was time for change. A senior project engineer on the site led efforts to design a better transfer method. The solution was to replace current washcoat transfer methods with a fixed and insulated sanitary pipeline equipped with automated pigging (product recovery) system.

The pipeline connects batching area directly to PC L2's application tanks. Long hoses were replaced with a short one (<5 meters) which connects the batching tank to the start point of the pipeline's pigging system (located at basement). In the new system, even the pump and filters have been automated. As a result, only one employee is needed to connect the short hose and simply press 'START' button.

The system begins by filtering while transferring the washcoat to PC L2's application tank. Once done, the pigging system will auto recover products along the pipeline and deliver them to the same destination tank to be consumed by PC L2 – therefore eliminating waste. The system will also auto clean the pipe quickly, safely and with minimal resources without the need for staff to physically reset the system.

Besides transferring washcoat, the system has also been designed to transfer batching tank washdown rinses (at basement level) to the waiting rinse collection drum (at the ground floor) via a bypass line so the system doesn't interfere with washcoat in an active application tank. The rinse is then moved to rinse collection area to be added to future similar batches.

By November 2012, the new system was up and running smoothly and improvements were felt from the start. The employee time required to set up the washcoat transfer has reduced dramatically. The only manual operation is fitting the short light hose and the employee simply has to press a button to start the transfer. Afterwards, cleaning time is reduced and cleaning both the hose and the pipeline is simpler. Less water is needed in cleaning – down from 100kg after each transfer to only 3kg.

Washcoat contamination risk has been eliminated since the system auto cleans the pipeline twice to ensure cleanliness before next transfer. In addition, preventive maintenance is also in place to verify the system's condition is always optimum.

On the employee front, the benefits are wide ranging. There is less risk of back injury now that the long heavy hoses have been eliminated. Gone too, is the risk of tripping over them. This is having a positive impact on employee health.

Financially, the new process has a potential saving of £46,400 – £82,700 a year, derived from the reduction in key material resources, more efficient operations without downtime and a better use of manpower. So far the project has saved ECT Malaysia ~£55,000 (December 2012 to November 2013).

The project gained a Sustainability Award 2012/13, with the judges much impressed by this "excellent submission showing multiple improvements, elimination of health and safety hazards and improved work practices with very good financial payback and environment, health and safety gains".