Car driving down a tree lined country road

A Trendsetter in Sustainable Manufacturing

Last winter, Alex von Knobloch revisited the site of his grandparents’ farm in Haliburton, Ontario, where his deep roots in sustainability were planted and nurtured.

“My grandparents came from generations of foresters in Germany, and when they got to Canada, they planted thousands of trees on 200 acres, turning their farm into a forest,” he recalled. “My grandparents are long passed, but it’s amazing to see how the forest is flourishing today.

“As a boy, I took daily hikes there and learned that everything in nature is connected. It’s a lesson that has stuck with me. My parents and grandparents taught me to be environmentally conscious. This is the inspiration for my work in sustainability at Magna.”

It’s all about sharing ideas to ultimately help the planet.

Von Knobloch, Operational Excellence and Sustainability Leader at Magna’s Modatek division, was recently selected as one of Canada’s most innovative professional energy managers who deliver lasting value to organizations across Ontario.

Head shot Alex von Knobloch

He won the 2022 IESO-CIPEC Energy Manager Leadership award. IESO is the Independent Electricity System Operator; CIPEC is the Canadian Industry Partnership for Energy Conservation, a partnership between the government of Canada and Canadian industry.

Alex von Knobloch with 3 colleagues

A Pioneer in Sustainable Manufacturing

Von Knobloch’s selection was based on “making Modatek a pioneer in sustainable manufacturing and a trendsetter in the industry,” said Save on Energy, an arm of IESO, in a statement. “Their energy-efficiency projects are helping to make the company more efficient as well as more competitive for the future market in electric vehicles.”

Sustainability projects at the Milton, Ontario, Magna division, which produces chassis components, kicked off in 2022 with a scavenger hunt throughout the 20-year-old facility to identify areas of energy waste and areas that needed improvement.

An outgrowth of that exercise was the deployment of a Building Automation System (BAS) that manages Modatek’s HVAC and facility systems. The BAS system is a web-based Factory of the Future initiative that allows the 50 HVAC units on the division’s roof to be controlled with the click of a button, instead of manually adjusted. The system resulted in a 20% reduction in heating costs in 2022.

The division also implemented an Energy Management Information System (EMIS) that allows Modatek to pinpoint areas with high energy usage to improve energy efficiency. As of mid-2023, 350 energy sensors have been installed on Modatek’s compressors, chillers, pumps, motors and the lighting grid. The plan is to install up to 100 additional sensors in the near future. This project is critical in a large industrial facility as you cannot improve what you are not measuring.

Building Awareness

For von Knobloch, building awareness about energy usage and sustainability starts at the shop floor. His approach is to ensure that the division’s 900 employees can easily visualize how much energy is used in their daily work.

“I try to break it down in ways that everyone can understand,” he explained. “Running one of our air scrubbers for an hour is equal to the amount of energy I use in my house in a month. That’s an easy way to explain why it’s important to turn off the machine if it’s not being used.”

Educating the Modatek workforce about Magna’s most ambitious sustainability commitment to date – achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 – is a new priority.

“Working to achieve net-zero makes us competitive, helps the bottom line and allows us to take energy savings more seriously,” von Knobloch said. “I’m proud to be working for a company that has a bright future and lives its Core Values, such as never settle and think big.”

Beyond Modatek

At home, von Knobloch is equally committed to sustainability. He’s installed an extensive rainwater system made up of four massive water tanks on the side of his house in Kitchener, Ontario. The renewable system collects nearly 1,000 gallons of rainwater for his native wildflower, butterfly and bee-pollinator gardens.

“I’m proud to say I never have to turn on a hose,” he said.

Since winning the IESO-CIPEC award, von Knobloch has been contacted by other organizations, such as hospitals and school boards, to share best practices.

“The energy-saving initiatives we’re implementing at Magna can be used in multiple organizations,” he said. “If a school board can reduce heating costs by 20%, the money could be used to ensure children are getting the best education. It’s all about sharing ideas to ultimately help the planet.”

He adds: “For someone like me, with an engineering and manufacturing background, it’s exciting to think that what we do at Magna can impact the greater good everywhere.”

Alex von Knobloch's garden filled with beautiful flowers
Alex von Knobloch with 3 colleagues receiving an award

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