Deere Recycles The Rain

When it rains in the Dutch town Horst, about 80 miles southeast of Amsterdam, water pours off the roof of the Deere & Co. agricultural sprayer factory and into four 2,600-gallon underground tanks. The water is drawn, rain or shine, from the tanks at John Deere Fabriek Horst BV and used to test sprayers for compliance with operator safety and environmental protection standards, a process that requires a lot of water. Tank sizes on the sprayers, which are used mainly in orchards and on farms, range from 260 gallons to 1,040 gallons. And every sprayer is tested and calibrated before shipment to customers in Europe. From January 2001, when the underground tanks were put in place, until January 2004, the factory collected and then used more than 2.6 million gallons of rainwater in its two end-of-production-line quality test stations. Recycling rainwater has saved Deere money and dramatically reduced the cycle time for sprayer testing. The company figures the free water from often-rainy skies over Horst would have cost the sprayer factory about US$0.65 per 100 gallons had it been purchased from the local water utility. At the quality test stations, tanks on the sprayers are filled at the rate of 62 gallons a minute -- nearly 10 times faster than they were when water came from the local utility. A result is a 40% reduction in cycle time, says Wim Jans, supervisor of quality and environment at the Horst plant and the person the company credits with coming up with the idea of collecting rainwater to test sprayers. "I saw some greenhouses using this principle for giving the plants water, and so I thought we can do it also in the factory," says Jans. Although Jans' exact idea has not been put to work elsewhere in the company, "we do have some innovative uses of water taking place in a few other factories," says Laurie Zelnio, Deere's Moline, Ill.-based director of safety and environment. For example, instead of using chemicals to treat wastewater, engineers at John Deere Werke in Mannheim, Germany, are testing a process that uses roof-mounted troughs of plants to remove pollutants from water that's used to wash tractors prior to painting. "That whole process of treating the water that way is 75% less than the cost of the chemicals," says Zelnio. Meanwhile, at three Deere plants in Mexico, "process wastewater is treated through ultrafiltration . . . and used for irrigation -- either the grass in some cases or, at one factory, they grow agave plants out in front of the factory, [which is] basically in a desert area," says Mike McGuire, Deere's manager of environmental control.

TAGS: Environment
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