Monday, July 02, 2012

Taking the cost out of cleaning

In many manufacturing situations, a clean environment is essential for safe, legal handling and processing, particularly in sectors such as food processing and pharmaceuticals. It can represent a significant cost as it simply has to be right to avoid contamination and ramifications down the line. Yet many companies spend far more than necessary on both cleaning and wastage resulting from inefficiencies in production and cleaning processes.


Poorly maintained equipment contributes significantly to unnecessary extra cleaning. Engineering leakages and other mechanical problems not rapidly remedied result in production downtime and extra work for cleaners. Oils and hydraulic fluids, for example, are highly toxic and must be completely removed before the equipment can be used again.


However, a frequently far more time-consuming task is removing highly adherent substances spilled into sensitive handling areas, whether through carelessness or inadequately functioning machinery.


Once congealed, thickening agents such as lecithin, and ingredients such as malt, syrup and honey, if not wiped away immediately by production operatives, can be difficult to remove, even with sophisticated cleaning agents. Yet it would be very simple for production managers to build, for example, an hourly surface check and wipe-over into the daily schedule.


Waste also occurs when ingredients or completed items are not cleared away and correctly stored at shift end. In certain manufacturing situations items can become contaminated, for example, in bakeries where loaves or pies are left to cool in ovens or open trays. Yet when these products come into contact with any cleaning products sprayed in the room, or even just water, they must be discarded. In tough economic times, it is almost unthinkable that companies are prepared to accept such a level of waste – yet simply ensuring products are moved out of the area to be cleaned at the end of the shift would instantly negate this issue.


Companies can also do more to ensure the cleaning process itself works optimally. In some environments which are cleaned overnight, the available hot water typically only lasts until 1 or 2am. In fact many factories do not provide sufficient hot water for the whole cleaning cycle – production facilities have grown but investment in water heating equipment has not always kept pace. Yet raising the temperature of water used for cleaning by 10°C can as much as halve the required cleaning time- and the cost for heating the water is invariably lower than the extra time needed to clean with colder water.


Properly maintaining equipment will also help reduce cleaning time. For example, many of the ‘pressure-pot’ foam generators commonly used in food production environments are illegal. They are air receivers, and it is a legal requirement that they, as well as the air compressors, are regularly tested. Most, however, are not and this lack of attention also extends to routine maintenance.


It is common to find these machines with only one wheel, broken pressure gauges, and leaking hoses and lances. Also, the valve creating the foam is commonly stuck. Hence, the machine is almost impossible to move, the leaking chemicals make it unpleasant and possibly risky to use, and the foam produced is either so thick that it cannot wet the surface or be rinsed away, or so thin that it hardly clings at all. This wastes time and delivers poor results – and all for the sake of simple, cheap, preventative maintenance.

Similarly, incorrect dosing - using cleaning products at a lower or higher dilution than prescribed - is again wasteful, as the wrong strength of mix will invariably impact negatively on cleaning effectiveness. It’s a myth that using a stronger mix will clean better or more quickly, as a certain amount of water is needed to suspend removed material, while too weak a mix will not get the job done. Taking simple measures to ensure the correct proportions – whether through manual or mechanical measurement – will save both time and money in the long run.


Materials wastage isn’t helped by another common misperception - that having a lot of water around makes for a cleaner working environment – meaning hoses are often left running unattended for hours on end. This wastes a precious and increasingly expensive resource - to say nothing of the health and safety risks posed to production staff and cleaning operatives by a permanently, and often unnecessarily, wet and slippery floor.


While cleaning is a necessity, costs can be reduced if companies take a few simple steps to manage both production and cleaning - minimising time and resources used, and wastage of ingredients and end product, and thus impacting positively on the bottom line.