Cleaning – When Things Go Wrong

When everything is going well and final inspectors are finding nothing but acceptably clean parts, cleaning can be a pretty boring part of the overall production process.  As soon as a dirty part shows up, however, it seems that cleaning becomes the focus in the investigation to find out what’s gone wrong.  It is automatically assumed that problem is due to poor cleaning!  But, in fact, the defects may not be due to cleaning at all.

Without hesitation, I can say that troubleshooting “cleaning” problems has provided some of the most challenging and interesting (as well as satisfying) moments in my 45 year career in industrial parts cleaning.  Maybe I should have considered a career as a detective?  Anyway, there is something exciting about the frantic calls from customers who need immediate assistance in rectifying cleaning problems that have shut down their production.

By the time a trip to a customer’s facility becomes the only solution, most of the factors that could have an effect on cleaning that are related to the cleaning equipment itself have already been considered.  Things like time, temperature, chemistry, water purity and those types of things can often be verified and resolved quite quickly by phone.  Perhaps, for example, a thermal sensor has gone bad resulting in a cleaning bath operating at a temperature that is either too high or too low.  This can be quickly verified using a thermocouple that is known to be accurate or even a dial or mercury thermometer.  Likewise, things like bad nozzles, pumps that are not working or clogged filters can be diagnosed quite simply.  But, when all else fails, it’s time for a visit from the “expert.”  I was often the expert!

On arrival at the facility, I was often met by a frantic process engineer and often one or more members of management all with the only focus of solving the “cleaning” problem.  The first step, of course, was usually to sit around a conference table and discuss the problem.  This meeting, by the way, almost never included machine operators and other floor personnel.  After this meeting (which was often a waste of time but at least gave all involved an opportunity to express their extensive knowledge of the problem and do a little finger pointing) it was off to look at the cleaning machine.  Along the way, I always kept my eyes open for “clues.”  Things like the manufacturing processes involved, the general “culture” of the people and the condition of the facility itself can often provide insight which can be useful in diagnosing a “cleaning” problem.

On arrival at the cleaning machine, there was always an operator, fearing for his job, who was consciously trying to do what he had been told was the right thing.  Unfortunately, operating the cleaning machine seems to be an “entry level” position with relatively short longevity so work instructions are often sketchy or written with such detail that only a Harvard graduate could understand them.  They also seem subject to a considerable amount of verbal and non-documented modification. It was at this point that it sometimes became obvious that some of the people I had first met in the conference room had no idea of what the cleaning process was or, in a few cases, even where it was located (but that’s another story).

Once at the machine, it didn’t usually take long to either discover the problem (if it was related to cleaning) or determine that the “cleaning” problem was not, in fact, cleaning related.  And then the detective work would begin.

(to be continued)

–  FJF  –

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