3M Co., maker of all things Post-it notes, Scotch tape and a boatload of everything else, also happens to have a piece of a car company creating a lot of buzz.
Maplewood-based 3M celebrated its burgeoning partnership with electric carmaker Tesla Motors on Tuesday as it hosted an event to showcase an assortment of energy-saving technologies that drew honors from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including LED light bulbs and window films.
But the sparkling-white 2014 Tesla Model S sedan clearly took center stage, as gawkers posed for photos, hopped behind the wheel, pushed buttons, kicked tires and searched fruitlessly for a motor that was completely hidden. The more startling discovery, however, was that 3M makes more than a dozen products for the upscale, all-electric car, everything from lining adhesives and fasteners to a new kind of non-lead wheel weight that keeps tires balanced.
“We feel it’s been a game-changer in the tire industry, and Tesla has embraced that. They are one of the first of three original equipment [auto] manufacturers to embrace it,” said Tracy Termini, 3M’s account manager for Tesla.
3M, which also celebrated Earth Day on Tuesday, has worked with Tesla since at least 2008, but its relationship has blossomed over the years and culminated in the Tesla Model S. In many cases, 3M products replaced traditional steel nuts and bolts that are common in steel cars. Because the Tesla is made of aluminum, 3M created a host of lightweight adhesives, Thinsulate sound proofing materials and fabric fasteners that could work with Tesla’s body without adding pounds.
That helped Tesla promise customers up to 285 miles of driving on one battery charge, provided temperatures were above freezing, said Gayle Schueller, 3M vice president of global sustainability.
The Tesla is just one example of 3M’s sustainability efforts, Schueller said, noting that 3M cut 2 million tons of waste, from its global plants and operations between 2000 and 2012. The reduction, which is part of 3M’s Pollution Prevention Pays program, includes greenhouse gases, water and raw materials, Schueller said. 3M has worked to share its waste-saving practices with partners like Tesla, she said.
To demonstrate how the non-lead wheel-weight technology works, 3M’s Fred Koerschner, rolled a large tire rim into a conference room for a visitor to see.
“This is the rim for the Tesla,” said Koerschner, who heads global marketing operations for 3M’s automotive division. “Usually whenever you get new tires on your car, they have to rebalance the wheels and use clip-on lead weights. That requires storage costs … and if they come loose, that lead is in the environment.”
But he said 3M worked with its customers to develop a lead-free metal-alloy tape that is attached with a high-performance adhesive. The company puts it inside the wheel well so it’s less likely to come off.
“We introduced the tape five years ago for the aftermarket auto [shops]. But today, we are slowly getting added to automakers’ factories,” Koerschner said. General Motors and BMW are now customers in addition to Tesla.
Determined to shine the spotlight on more than just cars, 18 3M employees gathered in the middle of the display hall to assemble 100 solar-powered lights and battery kits. “These LED light kits will go to Ethiopia,” said 3M manufacturing engineer Oredola Taylor. “They will go to 100 students who go to school every day but who live in two rural villages with no electricity. They either use kerosene or that’s it, they just go to bed.”
With the 3M light kits, the students will recharge the small battery pack using the sun. At night, they can use the battery to turn on their light to do homework or they can recharge their cellphones. Each light, which consists of a small solar board fastened with 33 LED lights, emits five hours of light per charge that is equal to a 100-watt incandescent bulb.
3M, which is partnering with the nonprofit New Vision, made the solar reflective film as well as the LED lights.
It’s just one initiative designed to get employees involved in addressing the world’s energy problems, said 3M’s corporate energy manager, Steve Schultz. “We encourage employees to sign up for a pledge drive with Energy Star. They can change to energy-efficient light bulbs, buy a more efficient appliance, ride a bike to work” or help put together light kits for Ethiopia. “About 20 percent of the world’s population has no lights.”