Cleaning – Where Does Cleaning (Cleanability) Start?

Cleanliness, as important as it is, is too often relegated to the final and “detached” stage in the process of product design.  Even a very insightful design engineer seldom looks at a design from its conception with an eye to how this thing is going to be cleaned in the end.  I suppose this is due, at least in part, to the fact that designing and cleaning are seen as two different disciplines addressed by two different groups of individuals.

In the past, it seems, this division of task was less of an issue than it is today.  When manufacturing processes were more limited in scope, there was a ready solution to cleaning most geometries that could be produced with those technologies that were available.  As manufacturing processes have advanced, however, the range of possible challenges for cleaning has grown at an increasingly faster rate.  Today, an item that previously consisted of a collection of individual parts arranged in an “assembly” is produced as a single item.  The opportunity to clean individual parts prior to assembly has been lost.  At the same time, cleanliness requirements have advanced at a similarly rapid rate.  Very simply, a part that was “totally clean” by the standards of 50 years ago wouldn’t have a chance of meeting even today’s most relaxed cleanliness requirements.

Hit and Miss Engine     Modern Automobile Engine

Consider a “hit and miss” engine from the early 1900’s compared to a typical automotive engine of today as shown in the pictures above.  I can’t believe that the people who made the hit and miss engine had the least problem getting it clean enough to work and they worked “forever.”  There are many of these engines that are 100+ years old in everyday use even today.  The automotive engine, though more powerful and, maybe, more reliable, has 100’s of parts many of which require tolerances measured in tenths of a thousandth of an inch which must be perfectly clean to function properly.

The lesson here is that more now than ever cleaning must be considered as an integral part of the design process.  Just as an aerospace engineer can design an airplane that man can’t fly, it is similarly easy for the design engineer for nearly any device can easily design the device in a way that it can’t be cleaned and, therefore, the design is useless.

The disaster at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City when a suspended walkway collapsed is a classic example of a perfectly functional and safe design which could not be executed.  The “work-around” devised by the construction crew resulted in the deaths of over 100 people. Had there been effective communication and understanding between the designer (architect) and the builder, the disaster would never have happened.  Unfortunately, both were working in their own little worlds. More detail is available at Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse if you are interested.

Similarly, as cleaning becomes more and more a critical part of manufacturing, the communication between the people doing the design and those responsible for achieving cleanliness has to improve.  I have seen many, many cases where a simple and otherwise inconsequential change in design would have made the difference between a part that was easily cleaned vs. one that could not be cleaned.  I’m not sure exactly how we, on the cleaning side, make this happen.  Perhaps the simplest approach is to raise the awareness of cleaning technology across the board – all the way from the “dreamers” to the “doers.”  Maybe things have changed, but I don’t remember a single course in cleaning being offered when I went to school some 50 years ago.  I doubt that has changed.

In an upcoming entry here, I intend to further explore how cleaning technology propagates and why we are failing to get the message across to those who can make a difference.

–  FJF  –

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