Great Ways to Learn about Critical Cleaning, Part 2

To achieve and maintain world-class manufacturing, many of you ask how to become a Cleaning Lady. This is not surprising, because critical product cleaning is essential for successful assembly, for effective coating, and for product quality and reliability. In Part 1, I covered ideas ranging from articles and podcasts to conferences and trade associations. Read on for more ways to using resources including workshops, on-the-job-training, company lore, and sales reps. I also show how to learn from mistakes (yours and other peoples) and how to make the most out of cleaning tests.

The term Workshop is perhaps overused; it’s sometimes another way to depict pitches by sales reps or death by PowerPoint. The workshops I like best also include demonstrations and opportunities to actually try the cleaning processes. Which is why we value working with Dr. Darren Williams at Sam Houston State University on the Product Quality Cleaning Workshops (PQCW). 

Some workshops are presented by providers of cleaning agents and cleaning equipment. They may include a sub-set of available options, like aqueous or solvent-based cleaning. They may be promotional vehicles for certain cleaning chemicals or cleaning equipment. Should you ignore these opportunities? No – as long as you understand where the organizers are coming from. Attend and ask questions – lots of questions.

On-the-Job-Training (OJT)
Because cleaning is so application-specific and is not taught in school, this is the way people learn about cleaning – myself included. OJT has the advantage of including visual demonstrations and hands-on exercises. There are disadvantages. If the cleaning processes are not sensible or effective, OJT can perpetuate fossilized, irrational cleaning methods. Sometimes, written documentation is inadequate or non-existent. This leads to arbitrary, unwise, ineffective, or inconsistent cleaning processes, processes that result in product that fails.

While you can learn from OJT, it’s important to contextualize it. Process changes may be in order. Of course, prior to changing any manufacturing process, test changes off-line (not on product to be sold), document the results, and obtain appropriate by-in.

Gathering Company Lore
While OJT may teach the current cleaning process (and by current, I mean what’s been happening for a week or so), it may not convey the rationale for cleaning and crucial details may be lost.  This is why I suggest also enlisting the advice of really experienced people. These people could be engineers, production people, analysts – sometimes even sales reps. Take them to lunch, to coffee break; listen to their stories about cleaning. Thrill to their exciting sagas of product failure and of how they fixed the failure (Be patient! They truly believe those convoluted stories are riveting). Take notes. You may know that when I first became involved in cleaning, I accumulated an entire laboratory notebook consisting of cafeteria napkins with the wit and wisdom of experienced employees. It was the only way I could figure out to capture the information, This documentation is important because, astonishingly, some engineers and manufacturers do not keep complete experimental records.  Then, filter the information you have gathered through your own growing understanding of how cleaning works.

Providers of cleaning agents and cleaning equipment
Some manufacturers grumble, “We don’t bother with any of this – we just ask the sales rep. They tell us what to use.” However, profitable manufacturers demand more than pompous infomercials.

You are well on your way to becoming a critical cleaning expert. Becoming an expert will help you to select intelligent resources among reps, marketing people, technical specialists, and formulation chemists. Rather than taking unquestioned advice from a sales rep, talk to them. Ask for advice; but often ask “why.” If the only response is “because I said so,” find another expert.

Learn from cleaning mistakes – your own and the mistakes of others. Understanding process failures avoids the definition of insanity – trying the same failed experiment over and over and expecting a different result. There are drawbacks to learning from the mistakes.  I know people who say “that won’t work” about any process change, often based on something they tried decades ago and without anything to back up their assertion. Understand the details of the failure, including the time-frame when it was conducted. Keep in mind that the technology may have developed. For example, using 18KHz ultrasonics at a high power density might damage a delicate substrate like aluminum or a fiber-filled composite. Frequencies over 100 KHz at a lower power density could eliminate substrate damage while achieving  a clean surface..

Testing new cleaning processes is a great way to learn about cleaning. Testing is also a way to make mistakes before the new cleaning process goes into production. It’s a way to stretch the cleaning process to its limits, and beyond its limits. Sometimes you want the test to fail. One urgent proviso: always test with scrap, not with product you intend to sell.  A second urgent proviso: consider the safety aspects of chemicals and cleaning equipment. Examples include mechanical constraints, flammability, reactivity, and worker exposure. Stay safe!

Ask for help
I am aware of no “all knowing Wizard of Oz” of cleaning. Becoming a critical cleaning expert is an ongoing activity. Keep asking questions; keep learning. We’re always happy to talk with you about your cleaning challenges. Please reach out to the Cleaning Lady and the Rocket Scientist at BFK Solutions. Talk to us; and be sure to ask questions about our advice.

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