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Finishing Spotlight: Dr. John B. Durkee

March - 2008
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This month, Finishing Talk interviewed professional consultant, author, and educator in cleaning sciences, Dr. John B. Durkee, PhD., P.E. Having served as an experienced chemical and engineering professional for more than 25 years, in addition to innumerable accomplishments, awards, and publications, Dr. Durkee has become an industry leader in his field. In this interview we discuss how he got to where he is today, current and future issues that effect the industrial cleaning sector, Dr. Durkee's most recent publication and his upcoming workshop.

FTalk: How long have you been working in the critical, precision, and industrial cleaning sector, and what got you interested in this industry?

JD: In 1989, I was assigned by Du Pont and Conoco to develop equipment and chemistry for cleaning technology to replace CFC-113 ("Freon") as a core business. My work involved extensive contact with end-use customers to learn of their needs and preferences, as well as partner firms who produced equipment for use with Du Pont's proprietary cleaning chemicals. A significant portion of my time was spent in understanding competitive patent art, as well as that owned by Du Pont, so that a proprietary basis for commercialization could be found. This work involved cleaning operations from critical cleaning in a clean room to metal cleaning in a working machine shop.

In 1993, Du Pont sold this business. At this point, I retired from Du Pont to pursue independent opportunities as a professional consultant in industrial cleaning. In 1993, along with several associates, I formed Creative EnterpriZes with the mission of providing consulting service to both end-use and supplier firms with technology to replace CFC-113 and other ozone-depleting chemicals. Nearly all work on the ozone-depletion initiative was confidential for a variety of reasons. However, it included: cleanliness evaluation and monitoring, product and process selection, market research about industry needs, parts drying, and drying equipment, management of hazardous chemicals, ultrasonic and megasonic cleaning and rinsing, control of particles via hydrodynamic and other means, solvent substitution and selection, and many other affairs.

I have taught cleaning science by invitation to firms and chaired and/or presented technical papers at conferences and seminars such as Clean-Tech, NEPCON West, APEX, the Phoenix Solvent Substitution Workshops, the NASA Aerospace Conferences on Environmental Affairs, the International Conferences on Elimination of CFCs, International Symposia on Particles on Surfaces: Detection, Adhesion and Removal, International Symposia on Contact Angle, Wettability and Adhesion, and others. Clients which can be identified include the Los Angeles South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I am frequently asked to, or do, comment on pending environmental regulations.

In 1999, I ceased being part of and managing an organization providing consulting services. I accepted an assignment which lasted through 2002 to a single client, Flo-Matic, located in Rockford, Illinois. At Flo-Matic, we developed technology for cleaning machinery parts without use of cleaning solvents or detergents. This technology is protected by U.S. Patent No. 6,368,414. Ultrasonic force was applied and controlled for this purpose. We designed, constructed, and sold several machines to local machine shop customers. The machines provided dry parts through management and application of compressed air, and efficient waste disposal through a unique evaporator. My assignment with Flo-Matic was terminated in 2002 due to lack of funding.

In 2002, I initiated work to complete a self-generated challenge. The industrial cleaning industry has little unbiased science-based literature about the foundations of its technology. Moreover, the industry had little or no literature about management of that technology. Since 2003, I have endeavored to develop and provide that literature through lasting resources: books, magazine columns, training courses, and occasional papers.

In 2004, I started a self-funded and managed project to invent and develop replacement cleaning technology for users doing, or wanting to do, solvent cleaning. The approach, long laying fallow, is to use binary azeotropes to replace single solvents. I have developed, with the University of Massachusetts (Lowell) Toxic Use Reduction Institute, basic data teaching and showing how this technology works. I have recently filed an application for comprehensive U.S. patent covering a broad-based new approach to solvent cleaning which involves new process technology and new cleaning formulations. This work is ongoing with more tests being conducted.

FTalk: What is the most common question, concern, or problem that arises from the companies and individuals who request your consulting services?

JD: Question: "Tell me in twenty five words or less how this works, and don't cost me any money in doing so!"

Concern: "I'm whipsawed between increased demand for quality and consistency by my customers, and increased need to make quantum-sized (major) reductions in cost by management's need to preserve jobs in the U.S. I want something better, but I can't spend any money to get it; if I knew what it was." Summary = frustration.

Problem: "Finishing work is being driven by environmental regulations which are out of my control, whose details are so complex I need a specialist, and whose cost appears unjustified. I'm a good citizen. I don't pollute. I don't violate laws. I want to protect the environment. But how do I deal with environmental regulators who can see only one side of my situation?"

FTalk: What is the biggest trend, from your perspective, that is going on right now in the industrial cleaning sector?

JD: TODAY: Getting toxic metals (Chromium, Lead, Cadmium, etc.) out of wastes.

TOMORROW: EPA has regulated since 1970 on the basis of mass amount of emissions of specific chemicals. Their decisions were fairly easy to understand. Now that pollution has generally been reduced by ~80% or so, EPA is starting to regulate based on risk to human life. Future decisions will be harder to understand and accept because the basis for risk determination is not consistent, well-proven, or well-known.

FTalk: In addition to consulting, you are also known for your various publications - most recently being Management of Industrial Cleaning Technology and Processes, published by Elsevier, 2006, (ISBN 0-0804-48887). In your opinion, who would benefit the most from the information and insight you present in this book, and what are some of the major themes you touch upon?

JD: Firms and persons trying to manage cleaning better using existing technology and not spending substantial new investment for quality, safety, and environmental improvements. Persons seeking to understand the fundamentals of technology, medical and environmental hazards, and organizational management applied to cleaning work. The chapter themes are: (1) how the unit operations of cleaning, rinsing, and drying work, (2) environmental regulations and trends from a global point of view, (3) hazard management and recognition, (4) process control using simple and powerful techniques well-known in other industries, (5) evaluation of cleanliness quality, (6) specific equipment guidance, and (7) special topics such as particle removal and how to purchase new equipment. There are two appendices, one of which provides specific instruction on use of spreadsheets to manage cleanliness based on statistical principles.

FTalk: What kind of impact do you think current environmental and global issues will have on parts cleaning?

JD: They are everything! Globalization is driving prices that customers are willing to pay down by large increments. Differentiation between developed and developing countries in international environmental regulation generates contempt for the former and a cost advantage for the latter.

FTalk: You will be teaching a workshop on cleaning technology later this year at the annual Southern Metal Finishing Conference in Charleston, SC. Who will benefit from taking this course, and what should they expect to learn during the class?

JD: The course includes most of the materials mentioned above in Management of Industrial Cleaning Technology and Processes. But the course material is tailored for those doing aqueous cleaning in the finishing industries. If you read, or should read, Metal Finishing Magazine, you should attend this course.

Ftalk: Will you be giving presentations or speaking at any other locations this year?

JD: Yes. I will be speaking at both the Sixth International Symposium on Contact Angle, Wettability and Adhesion; and the Eleventh International Symposium on Particles on Surfaces: Detection, Adhesion and Removal. Both will be held July 16 - 18 (2008) at the University of Maine, Orono, Maine. My workshop, 21st Century Cleaning Technology, may also be presented in locations other than Charleston; these locations are still being determined, and will be announced at a later date.

FTalk: Do you have plans for another publication in the near future?

JD: I am completing preparation of forthcoming book Solvent Cleaning for the 21st Century, also to be published by Elsevier, in 2009. I write monthly columns in Metal Finishing Magazine, Controlled Environments Magazine, and Galvanotechnik Magazine; and contribute occasionally to Process Cleaning Magazine. ~FT~

For more information about Dr. Durkee, he can be reached directly phone at (830)-238-7610 or by e-mail at Visit his website at

For information about his upcoming workshop hosted by the International Surface Finishing Academy, visit