Cleaning with confidence

25 January 2013

Buying new component cleaning plant offers the potential for chaos if not handled properly. Layton Technologies, manufacturer of solvent and aqueous component cleaning equipment, offers advice on avoiding the pitfalls

Buying new component cleaning plant offers the potential for chaos if not handled properly. Layton Technologies, manufacturer of solvent and aqueous component cleaning equipment, offers advice on avoiding the pitfalls

Buying a new piece of equipment to clean manufactured parts or components is something that should be relatively straight forward.Why then are so many companies getting this wrong and finding the experience complicated, costly and fraught with unforeseen problems? The reason may well be due to companies not really understanding the role and contribution component cleaning plays. It can have a direct influence on quality, business reputation, customer satisfaction, new customer acquisition, environmental compliance, production efficiency and costs, employee health and safety, capacity and many other key business activities and management responsibilities.

Installing new cleaning equipment, however simple it might seem, will have implications and getting it wrong will do more than make those involved look silly, it will also be very costly. Existing plant is often basic compared to the plant that replaces it, which can be dramatically more technical and demanding. The reason for this higher technical specification is that modern cleaning plant is designed to meet strict environmental standards and the technology to achieve this has shifted massively. Given that equipment is more sophisticated, the risks involved in specifying it need to be understood and carefully addressed.

Before any specific system is considered a business case should be built to examine and evaluate options and look carefully at what investment in cleaning plant might offer the business. It needs to include a thorough understanding of where costs can be saved and therefore how payback can be improved.

This involves appreciating how cleaning contributes to the manufacturing process, both directly and indirectly, how this is valued and correctly measured.

Poor cleaning standards and an inadequate or inconsistent process can play havoc with quality and raise reject and reprocessing costs - in extreme circumstances leading to product defects, recalls and even litigation. This might seem a little over reactive but there are reference cases in the USA including a recent example of a major healthcare company going through just that experience.

Costs need to be looked at thoroughly, as the true cost of ownership can be affected by unforeseen operating costs, such as consumables, disposal of waste streams, energy and other utilities, maintenance and service costs. These should be budgeted so that surprises are avoided. As part of the financial business case, an evaluation of risks should be incorporated. There are risks of disruption, delay, unforeseen costs, operator capability, all of which can contrive to affect a smooth transition.

The implementation phase of new equipment will create its own problems.

Typically, although new equipment is largely automated, the inclusion of touch screens and computer technology, the need for simple procedures to be adhered to and maintenance tasks completed may mean a real change for operators, who may be more used to basic, low-technology equipment.

Their induction and training should come as part of the standard package provided by the machine supplier.

Clearly the project has an obvious starting point which involves assessing what outcomes for component cleaning are expected and therefore what needs to be achieved.

Establishing the cleaning standard and how is it measured from a quality and consistency point of view will depend on the application. Customer expectations are important and there may be opportunities to impress and retain customers or discover how you might grow new business opportunities.

It is clearly vital to understand what cleaning process will work best, and that means more than meeting a cleaning standard. It will also involve capacity, process times, materials handling and cost of cleaning. This is an area where some testing and trialling can be very beneficial, but it also means recognising how different processes may have different outcomes for quality, costs and environmental compliance.

Cleaning processes have been affected by change and regulation of recent years.Much of the change has been absorbed by the design and functionality of cleaning plant which is now designed to manage and control emissions and exposure. This has meant that chemistries, especially solvents can continue to be used within a safe and compliant system.

Introducing new equipment takes some thinking about, especially when it can involve a sizable investment and carry risks that could seriously affect the business if not understood and managed effectively.