Archived Newsletters

Feature Article - March 2012

Measure Twice, Clean Once

Barbara Kanegsberg, BFK Solutions

•Do you need a different brand or type of cleaning system?  Or maybe a new cleaning process?
•Should you refurbish used cleaning equipment?
•Should you trust vendor claims?
•Should you get help with your process?

As a late-night television aficionado, I really empathize with a series of commercials that go something like this:

Insurance agent: “Have you driven your car up a telephone pole again?” 

Sheepish answer, as the screen flashes on the remains of a car that has melded with a house: “No … but can you help me?” 

Reply: Gee, I’d like to, but you dropped your insurance with us and went with something cheaper.”

Sheepish answer: “It only took 15 minutes to change the policy, but it’s taking a lot longer to hear from the other insurance agent.”

I empathize with these commercials, because we run into too many manufacturers who buy “bargain” cleaning equipment or spend a very little time planning their cleaning process. Then, disaster strikes; and we get a panicked phone call.  While we’re always happy to hear from our clients, we are happiest when we get to help you design a great cleaning process from the start. Here are a few ideas to help avoid ineffective cleaning and costly mistakes.

Do you need a different brand or type of cleaning system?  Or maybe a new cleaning process?
Some people are addicted to a certain brand.  Over the decades, they automatically purchase the same automobile.  Is this always a good idea? In the field of industrial and critical cleaning, the answer is a resounding “no.”  Even if your product and cleaning requirements have not changed, there can be changes in the company producing the cleaning system.   These changes can mean decreased reliability.  When we help clients purchase new equipment, we always take a fresh look at the equipment manufacturer.  We look at current equipment  design, current production practices, current customer support,  and current ruggedness.

Maybe your favorite cleaning equipment has not changed, but your product line and/or customer requirements have gradually shifted.  For you to compete, consistent surface quality and low surface contamination are a must.  Have your customer requirements increased?  Can you  boost your company to a competitively-superior position by changing the cleaning process?  If the answer is yes or even probably, you may need to look at a new cleaning system or even a new cleaning process– and that involves both the equipment and the cleaning chemistry.  

We all want to save money. Perhaps the capital investment in a new cleaning equipment is not necessary.  We find we can often improve our client’s cleaning process with a strategic tweak of their current cleaning system.  If a new cleaning system is in order, figure out what you really need. An assortment of bells and whistles can make cleaning more effective;  but you may not need to invest in all of them.

Finally, be sure the new cleaning process meshes with safety and environmental requirements.  Regulations are always a location-specific and moving target; you need to be aware of the latest requirements in your area. The cleaning equipment may still operate in the same manner, but restrictions on the cleaning agent may result in reformulation or other changes that make cleaning less effective.

Should you refurbish used cleaning equipment?
Sometimes, this is a good move.  You may be able to purchase used equipment for pennies on the dollar.  If the equipment currently resides in a warehouse at your company, the capital investment may be nil. Free cleaning equipment! This is tempting.  Proceed carefully.  

First make sure that the cleaning equipment is suitable for your cleaning process. Can it provide the appropriate washing, rinsing, and drying steps?  Is it designed to use the cleaning agents you need?  Are the materials of construction compatible with the cleaning agent? Does it have the peripherals you need, like filtration?  You may save money on the initial investment.  However, if you compromise on the cleaning process, yield and customer satisfaction may suffer.

Look at the physical condition of the equipment.  Find out how it was used.  That includes knowing what was cleaned and how often, what kinds of soil were on the parts cleaned, and what cleaning chemistries were employed. I would be suspicious of assertions that the equipment was only used by a little old lady from Pasadena to keep her company while crocheting.  I crochet; and believe me, critical cleaning is a very different activity. “Gently-used” cleaning equipment, even equipment used by sophisticated manufacturing companies, tends to degrade and to become contaminated over time.   If the equipment belongs to your company, find out why it landed in the warehouse.  Ask the engineer in charge.  Even better: ask the technicians who actually had to operate it on a routine basis.

Should you trust vendor claims?
You probably know the answer: trust, but verify. 

Educated, reliable suppliers of cleaning agents, cleaning equipment, and peripherals are a backbone of critical cleaning and manufacturing.  However, you also need to think for yourself. This means understanding all of your options.  A cleaning agent or equipment supplier is passionate about his or her own products.  Your most profitable approach is to become passionate about achieving an outstanding, trouble-free, and reliable cleaning process. 

Should you get help with your process?
Sure! This means educating yourself and using free and relatively low-cost resources.  You can read, surf the net, peruse the trade magazines, go to trade shows.  As critical cleaning consultants, we don’t sell insurance, however, like many pro-active advisors, we are definitely into avoiding disaster. A bit of planning, and, yes, the help of experienced advisors, goes a long way to avoid the technical equivalent of crashing your cleaning process into a house.

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