07.05.2008  Component cleaning: Solving the solvent issue

Environmental, technological – the challenges to component cleaning for the aerospace industry fall under similar headings as challenges to the industry itself. But with clear health in the quality of manufacturers supplying the equipment necessary and in the solutions they continue to innovate, Cleentek Ltd managing director Kevin Whittle believes the industry has never been better served.

Greener systems and faster throughput may have been among the recent drivers, as we shall see, but even with the ever developing range of equipment and accessories, there is much to be said for simplicity and robustness to ensure long-lasting performance. The philosophy at Cleentek has always been “the fewer the parts, the better the quality”.

“Try before you buy” is another important service that allows aerospace companies to assure themselves that the technology they may be buying into meets all their requirements – particularly with aqueous systems now rivalling solvent cleaning as the technology of choice.

Cleentek has been manufacturing environmentally friendly cleaning equipment for 20 years, supplying machinery to many industrial heavyweights such as Daimler Benz, VW Audi and Bosch Rexroth, and now increasingly to manufacturers for the aerospace industry such as Eaton Aerospace, as well as maintenance departments for leading airlines such as Lufthansa and SAS.

Although Cleentek A/S is the market leader in its domestic Denmark, Cleentek Ltd (founded in 2006) is a relatively new name to the UK market. Based just outside Chester, it is now looking to focus specifically on the requirements for aerospace and take advantage of its proximity to some of the UK’s leading manufacturers.

Environmental regulation concerning the use of carcinogenic cleaning solvents such as trichloroethylene has forced companies to either adopt aqueous based cleaning solutions or else ensure that their cleaning equipment is enclosed, so as to effectively minimise workplace exposure.

Investment costs for an enclosed solvent cleaning system are not insignificant, and the concern for many companies is that in a few years, even the use of these systems could be prohibited due to increasingly stringent controls.

While there is now large acceptance by industry that aqueous cleaning is the route for the future, there is still doubt in some minds whether aqueous is as effective as solvent cleaning. We offer prospective customers the opportunity to test our aqueous cleaning equipment before they buy to satisfy themselves their cleaning requirements are met. The key to achieving the results required is very often the selection of the correct aqueous cleaner, which Cleentek should certainly have the knowledge and experience to identify.

One of the big advantages of using solvents for cleaning is that traditionally, simple tanks were used to hold the solvents in which products were immersed, and once removed any remaining solvent would flash off the surface quickly, leaving a dry clean product ready for further processing.

With aqueous cleaning, in contrast, cleaning solutions do not flash off so quickly and water-staining can sometimes detract from the finish. This need no longer be a problem thanks to the evolution of multi-stage aqueous cleaning equipment, which can clean, rinse and dry in one machine.

Sometimes, space availability is limited in existing factory environments, so we have had to design our equipment to carry out all these functions in a machine with a compact footprint. This can be achieved in our COMPO through-feed conveyor wash machine, which is a has a modular design to easily incorporate the specific cleaning requirements of a process, which may involve cleaning, rinsing, de-ionised rinsing, phosphating and drying. The COMPO cleaner is suitable for products up to 600mm wide and 200mm high. It can handle any length, since it is a through-feed machine. For larger products, Cleentek supplies Frontloader cleaning machines, which can handle products up to 2m long x 2m wide x 1.4m high and weights of 2000kgs.

Our customers appreciate the simple, proven designs of our equipment, the result of serving a good number of Northern Europe’s leading manufacturing companies. Moving parts are kept to a minimum to maximise reliability, and access to all service and maintenance areas on the machine is made as easy as possible to encourage operators and maintenance technicians to look after the equipment.

In the future, with price, quality and delivery as a given, we anticipate that the emphasis for cleaning equipment specialists will continue to be environmental. The chemicals will need to be pH-neutral and the cleaning solutions will need to last longer and/or require re-cycling, so as to reduce water costs / wastage.

That aside, like the aerospace industry as a whole, we need to continue enhancing our products and service through better and more flexible solutions, strong customer relationships, and committed after-sales support.