Competing Ideas: Aqueous Cleaning--The Cost-Friendly Solution

Last month, I discussed many of the advantages offered by environmentally-friendly aqueous cleaning systems over solvents. One such widely used solvent, trichloroethane 1,1,1 (also called TCA), is legal to use, but is illegal to manufacture.

Columns From: 10/1/1997 Modern Machine Shop,

Last month, I discussed many of the advantages offered by environmentally-friendly aqueous cleaning systems over solvents. One such widely used solvent, trichloroethane 1,1,1 (also called TCA), is legal to use, but is illegal to manufacture. Not only are aqueous cleaning systems preferable from an environmental standpoint, but companies that have installed these systems have discovered some significant cost savings. This month's column will focus on the various types of savings that companies have realized from the implementation of aqueous cleaning systems.

Companies that have installed aqueous cleaning systems have done so with the expectation of reducing operating costs. Obvious cost savings have been realized through reductions in government compliance paperwork and chemical waste disposal. However, many companies have achieved cost savings that have been unexpected, such as labor savings and improved part quality. The following are examples of the types of savings achieved.

Red Devil Corporation, Hillside, New Jersey, manufactures putty knives and other types of hand tools. Recently, Red Devil replaced their solvent degreasing system with an aqueous cleaning system. The change lead to the following savings for Red Devil:

  • Elimination of the cost of solvents, $38,000 annually.
  • Reduction of hazardous waste removal cost by $2400 annually.
  • Reduction of stack emissions from 11,000 pounds to zero.
  • Reduction of fugitive emissions (that is, emission in excess of what is allowed by law) from 16,000 pounds to zero.
  • Reduction of compliance and paperwork costs, such as Toxic Release Inventory requirements, Pollution Prevention
  • Plan, and numerous permitting fees.

Washington Scientific, a precision machining company located in Long Lake, Minnesota, had traditionally used TCA vapor degreasers in its operation. As a pilot program, Washington Scientific replaced one vapor degreaser with an aqueous cleaning system using a mild alkaline detergent and a rust inhibitor sprayed at high pressure. Using the aqueous system eliminated the use of 1,000 gallons of TCA annually, as well as 200 gallons of chemical waste. The first year's savings of approximately $7,000 paid for the aqueous cleaning system.

Dayton Rogers Manufacturing Company is a short-run metal stamper located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dayton Rogers had used a vapor degreaser to remove oil-based lubricants from metal parts prior to deburring. The company was able to combine its cleaning operation with its deburring operation by using a vibratory tumbler with an aqueous cleaning solution. The aqueous cleaning solution contains rust inhibitors, which are needed for steel parts. All of the parts are air-dried after the simultaneous cleaning and deburring process. Dayton Rogers eliminated the annual purchase of 1100 gallons of trichloroethane and has realized an annual savings of $36,000 in labor and other operating costs.

The Ross Gear Plant, Greeneville, Tennessee, manufactures fluid power components that are extremely sensitive to contamination. The company had used a trichloroethane vapor degreaser for many years, but now cleans with an ultrasonic aqueous system using an alkaline solution. The change eliminated health hazards associated with trichlo-roethane use, reduced overall hazardous waste by 50 percent, and significantly reduced material and waste disposal costs.

Crown Equipment Corporation, New Bremen, Ohio, manufactures materials handling equipment, such as forklifts. Crown Equipment's cleaning was done mostly with TCA, either in cold tanks or with vapor degreasers. Crown replaced both the cold tanks and the vapor degreasers with aqueous solutions. Crown then was able to eliminate some of the interim parts cleaning completely. Crown also combined cleaning and deburring by installing a vibratory cleaner. Through the implementation of aqueous cleaning, Crown eliminated the annual purchase of 17,000 gallons of TCA, and has saved close to $100,000 annually.

These are just a few documented examples of the savings companies have realized by switching to aqueous cleaning systems. These savings are typical of those that you can realize by making the move to environmentally friendly cleaning.

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