The Value of Direct Interaction

The Cleaning Lady and the Rocket Scientist were LIVE and in person at the recent Parts Cleaning Conference in Chicago. The refrain of the new normal goes something like: “Yippee! We’re talking to each other face-to-face, in person.” Was the conference useful? 

In our opinion, yes. The Parts Cleaning Conference was productive, cohesive, and promoted positive interaction. In addition to our presentations, there were presentations by suppliers of cleaning agents and cleaning equipment. EPA provided an overview of amended TSCA. There was true interchange. Participants were not shy about asking questions, bringing their specific cleaning process problems, making observations, and reporting on their progress. For example, one attendee asked about the best way to remove chlorinated paraffins from product. Another asked about removing process fluids after deep draw. They sometimes disagreed with each other. Read on to hear answers and discover more about what we found useful; and what we would wish for.

Disagreeing agreeably
There were comments, both during Q&A and informally, to the effect that changing the process fluid, to eliminate chlorinated paraffins, would be an obvious solution. It’s not obvious! The machinist or fabricator must determine that the new process fluid works acceptably. There can be materials compatibility issues with the new metalworking or process fluid. One overarching issue is that machining fluids as found in the original container are not the same as residue after machining. Residue after machining can be far more difficult to remove. We’ve talked about caramel (heated sugar) being far more complex and more difficult to remove than sugar. 

We would love to hear reports from manufacturers who have to clean product. Nearly all the presentations were from vendors/suppliers of cleaning agents and cleaning equipment. While several participants commented that they were evaluating replacements for chlorinated or brominated solvents, there were no reports of successful process change. It would be far more useful to hear more success stories (and failure stories!) directly from manufacturers who are trying to change their cleaning process. Building an atmosphere of collaboration and trust where such presentations are fostered is likely to be useful to all of us. 

There was good interaction with the EPA; but there needs to be more. The EPA and industry were in the same room; people talked and interacted. That’s great! However, we heard several comments from manufacturers to the effect that they were reluctant to ask the EPA for an exemption to allow continued use of solvents. The reason was that if, after all their efforts, they did not find an acceptable replacement, their visibility might make them more subject to inspections, fines, etc. This fear is understandable; and it is one that can and should be addressed by everyone. Barbara hates to say “back in the day.” However, back in the day, aerospace/military did work closely with the EPA to communicate successes and failure in finding substitutes. It can and should be productive and non-punitive. 

The Parts Cleaning Conference organizers, Dr. Darren Williams (Sam Houston State University, Product Quality Cleaning Workshop Organizer) and Lori Beckman (Gardner Publications, Production Machining) were instrumental in fostering a collaborative program. One productive approach was to have the Q&A not after each presentation but rather during a “panel of presenters,” held at the end of the morning and afternoon sessions. We had the opportunity to field questions during two panels of presenters. The idea of having a panel address questions is great. For one thing, sometimes we find it difficult to absorb what is being communicated during a given talk. People had time to mull over what has been said and formulate their questions. Because presenters had different viewpoints and did not always agree, we think attendees gained more insight.

A trade fair about product cleaning
The Parts Cleaning Conference was useful; but we also wish for a trade show in the U.S. that focuses exclusively on issues of critical product cleaning, one that builds on the parts2clean trade fair in Stuttgart. While IMTS is comprehensive, it is so large that finding the right people is difficult. Finding suppliers of cleaning agents and cleaning equipment at IMTS involves roaming through the long, cavernous halls of the McCormick Center. 

Molecular interaction requires a degree of proximity; so does interaction among people. After wandering around IMTS for a time, the Cleaning Lady and the Rocket Scientist made the strategic decision to mosey on over to the Field Museum to peer at the immense dinosaurs and immerse ourselves in the collection of Egyptian hieroglyphics. 

Speaking of old fossils and hieroglyphics
This very moment is is an excellent time to communicate the costs and implications of process change to upper management. Some really old-school managers are still convinced that changing the cleaning process involves no more than pricing out a few pieces of cleaning equipment, pricing out the costs of cleaning agents, and handing them cost estimates. As critical cleaning experts, you know better! Dinosaur bones are impressive; they endure. Innovation and well-designed cleaning process change drive the future.

Hieroglyphics, mil-specs, aerospace requirements, industry standards, and EPA reports may seem equally incomprehensible. However, given the technical and regulatory drivers to change cleaning processes, right now is the time to delve into the reports and documents. In terms of EPA amended TSCA, some companies may qualify for a usage exemption for certain degreasing chemicals. However, it would seem logical that those same companies having an exemption would have to use those chemicals in a way that conforms to what the EPA expects in terms of worker exposure. For example, the EPA ECEL for trichloroethylene is indicated to be 0.004 ppm for an 8 hour exposure. This level would not be achievable in an open-top degreaser. Aerospace requirements can no longer be assumed to be a shield. Some requirements are functionally imperative to assure product performance; take a deep breath and dive into the documents!

Those who attended the Process Cleaning Conference learned more about the many factors involved in setting up a successful new cleaning process. Education, training, and advancing in manufacturing are likely to take many paths. We will continue to explain more factors in our feature articles as well as through our educational opportunities in Knowledge is Power.

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