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A game of "beat the clock?" (selecting the proper cleaning solvents)(includes related article) (Special Report: Beating the Clock on Parts Cleaning)

The manufacturing engineer scrambles around, looking for a solid solution to a serious problem while a clock ticks louder and louder in the background.

Will he make it? Will he be able to cut through a jungle full of government regulations and a plethora of seemingly suitable alternatives? Will he be able to avoid the high taxes that will fall upon the heads of those not able to meet the deadline in time?

The clock ticks on while the engineer debates questions like: Semi-aqueous? Aqueous? Spray? Rotary? UltraSonics? Floor space? Recyclability?

The biggest question, of course, is can he bring in new chemical processes or equipment at a good enough price?

He runs through the maze with confusion mounting--as the clock ticks on...and on...and on...

Does this sound like your company's story? Are you still undecided about the way your company should handle conversion after the big phaseout of ozone-depleting chemicals (ODCs)? Or is it simply the cost of conversion that's holding you back?

If so, you're not alone. The Center for Emissions Control's executive director, Stephen Risotto, estimates that about half of the companies who need to use alternatives are currently in the process of implementing new systems.

"The other 40% are working under cost constraints," says Mr Risotto, adding that many companies are still living the myth that a miracle solution will come in just under the wire. "There isn't so much a panic about what needs to done or the time constraints to do it in -- it's mainly a question of cost."

Companies that haven't made a switch yet are generally those operating at extremely tight budgets. When you weigh the cost of new aqueous systems, which are ranging anywhere from $20,000-$1 million or more, against a gross profit only recently recovering from recessionary times--well, you can see the problem.

With universal cleaning solvents like 1,1,1-trichloroethane and CFC 113 being phased out of production by Dec. 31, 1995, the rush is on to find alternatives that not only work, but that work within the budget.

All of this in spite of a deadline that is only 15 months away--not long, especially when new equipment leadtimes are running an average of at least 14 months. "Manufacturers are pretty much at a point where, if they're going to make a change, it needs to happen now," says Mr Risotto. "They can try to get by for a while on short-term solutions, but we're recommending that they take a step back and look at the whole process--at what role cleaning actually has in their manufacturing process."

According to John Sparks of the US Environmental Protection Agency's Stratospheric Protection Division, the last time manufacturers took such a holistic look at their own processes was during the energy crisis. Taking a hard look into what, when and why you are cleaning certain parts can make you much more efficient in the long run.

Many manufacturers have already made changes to their cleaning systems:

* SK Williams, a Wisconsin-based job shop, switched from vapor degreasing to aqueous and managed to service of its client base during the conversion.

* A Connecticut maker of metal cosmetic shells had been using 1,1,1-tri, but was facing a labeling mandate in a VOC-sensitive state. The manufacturer began to explore a water-based system but didn't have enough time to perfect it because the cosmetic shell industry negotiated a switch to trichloroethylene.

* One manufacturer of seals and gaskets implemented a new system that has actually boosted its productivity--and is guarding its solution as proprietary information and a competitive weapon.

Finding the perfect solvent to clean parts is turning into a multi-faceted challenge for manufacturers who were used to the one-product, "silver bullet" of the '70s and '80s.

"Gone are the days when a single product could take care of all your applications," says Gene Fleishman, president of Warminster, PA-based CRC Industries, Inc. "We no longer have the option of replacing environmentally 'unfriendly' products with just one other product. There is a clear need for a series of solutions."

Fleishman said that today's solutions will focus on specific applications rather than broad cleaning needs. He says it may take combinations of solvents to achieve a desirable level of cleanliness.

But just how clean is clean? And how do you know what the trade-offs are?

One trade-off, Fleishman says, is the inability of some solvents to be used on certain plastics. "The biggest problem," he says, "is that some users are discovering these shortcomings the hard way--only after they've damaged the equipment they are cleaning."

"A cleaner may have a fast evaporation rate, leave no residue, but have a very low flash point that is inappropriate for the application," says Fleishman, whose company has just published a free CRC Cleaner Replacement Guide. Circle 204.

And what do you do with the wastewater created when changing from CFC-113 to an aqueous cleaning system? How do you resolve those problems before you trade an air-quality problem for a water-quality one?

The key to solving your solvent problems is to strike the best compromise you can. Learn about the particular trade-offs involved in each of your alternative possibilities; then, decide which of the products offers you the most desirable end result.

"The cleaning part is the easy part," says Mr Risotto. "It's the processes associated with cleaning, like drying, that present difficulties. No process is without environmental impact or regulatory considerations--and conversion generally takes longer than you think it will."

The following articles on chemicals, equipment and wastewater treatment will help you. But for those who are still confused about how to handle the conversion to environmentally safe cleaning alternatives,there are several hotlines set up to answer your questions:

* Advanced Cleaning Systems, Dow Chemical Co: 1-800-447-4369

* CRC Industries, Inc:1-800-521-3168

* Center for Emissions Control: 1-800-835-5520

* Stratospheric Ozone Protection Hotline: 1-800-296-1996

* 3M Technical Assistance: 1-800-833-5045

Countdown to Complete Phaseout


* Original Clean Air Act amended; provisions included in Title 6 call for total phase-out of Class I chemicals, including CFCs, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform.

* CFC makers are required to submit production and sales records to the EPA.


* IRS issues escalated tax schedule on ozone-depleting chemicals (ODCs), beginning with $1.37/lb. in 1992 and reaching $5.35/lb. in 1995.

* After November 15, EPA must review all replacements for 1,1,1-trichloroethane.


* All products made on or after May 15 must contain highly visible warning labels with the words: "WARNING: Manufactured with (or contains) Methyl Chloroform (or the name of the ODS), a substance which harms public health and environment by destroying ozone in the upper atmosphere."

* Enforcement of the warning label action is delayed until November.


* Production of ODCs in the US to be held at 60% of 1989 levels.

* Phaseout in British Columbia in effect as of January 1.


* In Canada, 85% phaseout by January 1.

* All production of ODCs in the US will be banned as of December 31 as the final component to the complete phaseout.


* Mexico and other developing countries can produce ODCs until December 31.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Jones, Katina Z.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Previous Article:Hydraulic presses: where's the advantage?
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