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A 21st Century Cleaning Perspective

October - 2008
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Learn and teach: Those were my two goals in presenting my course about cleaning technology (21st Century Cleaning) at the fifth annual Southern Metal Finishing Conference, held September 15 and 16 in Charleston, SC. The class included a crosssection of suppliers and end users, with points of view provided by a military organization, environmental staff, industry sales personnel, and operating management.

As so often happens in these experiences, I learned a lot from my students. I want to share some of that because it speaks to what the cleaning sector of the metal finishing industry believes
we need now. In lively group discussions, the following opinions were voiced. While spoken by others, these specific opinions are consistent with my general view of our sector.

1. Information is Key - and we don't have it. The level of distrust of supplier claims has
risen, reminding me of the bitter maelstrom during the CFC phaseout of the 1990's. Users want, and apparently value cleaning science (knowing how things work); competent training of some staff (so work is done right and consistently); correct and limited commercial claims (so management expectations are fulfilled); and a belief that there is a commercially-sound future for some metal finishing operations, so they can continue to feed their families.

2. Energy prices are driving change, whether or not the technology is available to support cleaning work with reduced energy costs. Users want to clean with water and detergents at room temperature - not 100, not 120, not 140, or 160̊F. They don't want to heat the cleaning bath and then cool the parts. The technology doesn't exist to do what's wanted, at least at the same level of cleaning quality that they currently enjoy (or hate). We don't have detergents to do that, and allow efficient separation of the soil from them.

3. Floor space is driving change. Users want to skip the rinsing step because it requires a second tank and its associated utilities. The product they seek is a "no-rinse" cleaner. Claims for its existence precede its actual commercial arrival. One knowledgeable, experienced student was adamant about this.

4. Users want to do aqueous cleaning because they believe it removes concern about environmental, safety, and health (ESH) issues from their already thick list of worries. But they dislike it because of its high cost and complexity of operation. Rising energy prices have exacerbated this situation.

5. Users are intrigued by and attracted to use of cleaning solvents, chiefly n-propyl bromide. Remembered simplicity and lower energy costs of solvent cleaning spur this inquiry. Because change from aqueous to solvent cleaning hasn't significantly happened, misapplications lead to misinformation, which is misdirected by competitive suppliers. Of the many topics covered, this one had the participants' highest level of interest.

Dr. Durkee is an Industry leader and professional consultant in developing and implementing new technology in the critical, precision, and industrial cleaning sectors, as well as an Educator in cleaning science. He is the author of several industrial cleaning textbooks, including his most recent Management of Industrial Cleaning Technologies & Processes. He is also a frequent contributor to Metal Finishing Magazine.

John B. Durkee, PhD, PE
Consultant in Industrial Cleaning
POB 847 Hunt, TX 78024