The Next 25 Years of Critical Cleaning, Part 1

March 2019 marks the 25th Anniversary of BFK Solutions. Twenty-five years of helping manufacturers improve critical product cleaning, achieve superior surface quality, and minimize residue level. In celebration, we’re providing you with a heads-up about trends and opportunities that we see happening over the next twenty-five years. Truth be told, we considered retreating to a tropical beach and sipping a relaxing beverage adorned with a festive paper umbrella.  We decided it would be more beneficial to give you steps to keep your manufacturing business productive, profitable, and ahead of the game.

In this article, we will cover

• Cleaning – and  manufacturing  – move out of the hands of the manufacturer

• Abundant options: design, manufacturing methods, materials

• Decline of the skilled workforce

Cleaning – and  manufacturing  – move out of the hands of the manufacturer
In a certain sense, automation and machine learning can mean less direct control of the cleaning process by the manufacturer. Additions of cleaning agents or rust preventative, pH adjustment, tuning of cleaning process parameters can be done automatically. Automation of the process depends on algorithms or set protocols; all these are basically rules. The challenge is to set up correct, comprehensive rules, protocols, and algorithms.

Remote process control can be a tool to allow manufacturers to watch and adjust the cleaning process from a smart phone while walking along a tropical beach (and sipping that refreshing beverage). Such control can also be ceded over to the company that provides the cleaning equipment. 

How much control will manufacturers be comfortable giving away? The decision is partly situational; and partly a matter of systems development. It’s related to the debates over autonomous vehicles. Some people look forward to the prospect; others simply don’t trust the concept. Perhaps, as a manufacturer, you need to have someone on site, at least sometimes. Maybe you would like the option to override automated process control or remote process control. Changes are likely to be gradual. Manufacturers who understand the basis of how cleaning processes work are more likely to make intelligent decisions.

Abundant options: design, manufacturing methods, materials
Technology continues to accelerate; approaches to critical cleaning will change. Product design and configuration are changing. New materials of construction are available; and the number of these materials will increase dramatically. Additive manufacturing, (3D printing), are changing the way products, including surfaces, are produced. Additive manufacturing encompasses a wide range of materials including metals, polymers, and biologic materials. More combinations of materials will be used.

Miniaturization and tight spacing of components are challenge the physical ability of many cleaning chemistries to access all surfaces and remove the soil; rinsing and drying are becoming more difficult.  Cleaning using traditional manufacturing techniques is enough of a challenge. Additive manufacturing allows honeycombed and porous structures that may be exceedingly difficult for cleaning and rinse fluids to access. Manufacturers will have ample opportunity to essentially paint themselves into a corner. The dream is to produce an entire product using additive manufacturing. This may happen eventually. The reality is that over at least the next decade or so, additive manufacturing is likely to be combined with traditional manufacturing techniques. The combination of additive with traditional is often referred to as post-printing manufacturing or post-printing fabrication. In addition to the design and structural considerations of combining the techniques, manufacturers have to consider the reality that metalworking fluids creep into the assembly, including the porous 3D structures and creatively-designed tight spaces. Then – oh, yeah! – you have to clean the entire assembly.

Materials compatibility issues will increase. Cleaning agents and other process fluids can react unfavorably with materials of construction. Understandably, the impetus to use lighter-weight materials such as aluminum, magnesium, and composites will continue to grow. Such materials can react with cleaning agents. Such reactivity increases with temperature, time, and physical forces. And, as products become smaller, and more closely spaced, the negative impact from cleaning processes will become more pronounced. The more different kinds of materials are in close proximity, the more difficult it will be to find a cleaning process that does not damage any of the components. We already see this problem with combination devices. These are medical devices that contain biologics, pharmaceuticals, and non-biologic (eg. Metal or polymeric) materials.

Future critical cleaning problems are likely to sneak up on us. At this point, the best approach for manufacturers is to be aware of the potential impacts of product changes. This means being aware of design changes, being aware of the capabilities and limitations of members of the supply chain, and really understanding current critical cleaning capabilities and limitations.

Decline of the skilled workforce
How do we train the workforce of the next generation or two? In the January 2019 issue of Clean Source Newsletter, (“Rosie, Robots, and Critical Products Cleaning”), we discussed how robotics can impact skilled workers and technical specialists.

We suspect that even with the rise of the robots, even with machine learning, even with remote process control, there will be a need for skilled workers. If there is a large puddle, someone will have to turn off the tap and call the repair droids. Someone needs to notice that the cleaning agent has suddenly turned fluorescent pink. Someone will have to monitor change. Change can occur in the cleaning agent, the process, the materials of construction, metalworking fluids, etc.  Most traditional training programs we have heard about strive to compel workers to comply with a specific process. When the process changes, the workers have to be trained again.

One answer is to stop attempting to train skilled factory workers and start educating them. Teach them how to keep learning, and treat them with true respect 

The future
How will you as a manufacturer concerned with critical and precision product cleaning, residue level, and contamination control respond to change, opportunities, and challenges? 

In Part 2, we will cover

• Critical Cleaning Specialists
• Specialization, isolation, secrecy
• The good old days
• Cleaning techniques – back to the future
• Can we stop cleaning?

Give us a call; tell us your ideas and problems and complaints about critical cleaning and manufacturing. As the future encroaches, we’ll help you.

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