Long-term sustainable cleaning solutions for Metal Finishing

In today’s demanding manufacturing environment, parts must leave the production floor perfectly clean, dry and ready for post-processing. But, in a world where safety, compliance and energy efficiency are paramount, the question is, what cleaning process is the most sustainable? One of the most effective and environmentally-responsible methods to achieve parts cleanliness is through using a vapour degreaser and modern metal cleaning fluids.  This cleaning procedure offers many benefits to those in the metalworking world.

Vapour Degreasing: the green cleaning option

Producing metal components through environmentally sound methods is important in metal workshops today. Green manufacturing is not only beneficial to the environment, but it also has a large effect on other important areas.  Improved worker health and safety, meeting regulatory compliance and profitability are some of the key objectives.

Those who adopt a sustainable focus and put environmentally-progressive processes into production can improve and enhance not only their sustainability, but also the quality of their end product. Cleaning is an important area where sustainability can work effectively and be practiced with ease if the correct method is selected.

A flawless finish is crucial when it comes to producing quality metal parts. It is essential to the success of other down-line production processes like coating, adhesion and plating. Or simply to improve the final appearance. The smallest amount of surface contaminant whether it’s oil, grease, lubricants, polishing pastes, metal particulate or other production material, can impair a finishing method. It may also result in parts not functioning reliably. A long-term cleaning method that not only achieves a quality finish, but supports sustainability is vapour degreasing.

Vapour degreasing is a closed-loop industrial cleaning process. It usually consists of a top-loading machine composed of two chambers, the boil sump and the rinse sump. Both filled with a low-boiling, non-flammable cleaning fluid.

In the boil sump, the fluid heats. The parts immerse and clean in the fluid. Once cleaned, the parts are mechanically transferred to the rinse sump for final rinse in a pure, uncontaminated fluid. The parts come out clean, dry, spot-free and immediately ready for the next step in the process or packaging.

The benefits of sustainable cleaning fluid

Vapour degreasing cleaning fluids have advanced tremendously since they were first introduced many decades ago. Sustainable and safe cleaning fluids now outperform many other processes like aqueous cleaning because of its combination of effective cleaning power, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

These innovative low-boiling fluids have the correct cleaning characteristics. For example, high densities, low surface tensions and low viscosities to wet every surface. This means they penetrate the most complex part shapes to completely dissolve contaminants and remove stubborn particulate.

The vapour degreaser cleaning fluids are available in unique blends in order to accommodate many different types of applications. This allows removal of a particular soil from a specific substrate. This helps to maximize cleaning effectiveness without substrate damage.

Cleaning fluids compliant with regulations

Finding sustainable cleaning processes and fluids is important for all metal fabricating companies looking to follow an increasing number of environmental laws that control the use and disposal of cleaning fluid.  There are a growing number of legislations that must be adhered to as agencies enforce more laws to reduce any negative impact on the environment.

Significant advancements in industrial metal cleaning make vapour degreasing cleaning fluids a safe, sustainable and cost-effective option. Modern cleaning fluids now have impressive green credentials. Not only are most created with an ozone-friendly low VOC formula, but some also follow with strict European regulations including F-Gas and REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) legislation.  This helps manufacturers to replace outdated chlorinated and brominated solvents, like Trichloroethylene (TCE), methyl pyrrolidone, perchloroethylene and n-propyl bromide (nPB). All which contribute to ground water and air quality problems.

Some metal cleaning fluids now use HFO (hydrofluoroolefin) formulations. This means they are environmentally sustainable with a low GWP (Global Warming Potential). The GWP of a cleaning fluid is a measurement of the atmospheric lifetime of the fluid or its gaseous vapours. The longer a trapped gas absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere, the more it may contribute to global warming and climate change. The new cleaning fluids typically have a low GWP of 3 or less. By comparison, old cleaning solvents like HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) had average GWP ratings in the thousands. Also, the ODP (Ozone Depleting Potential) ratings of many of the new sustainable cleaning fluids is zero. So, they meet all EU air quality emission regulations.

Working safe in the Workshop

Sustainability is important, but if the cleaning fluid used is not worker safe it is not fit for purpose. Advanced vapour degreasing fluids are non-toxic and have a good safety profile.

The PEL (Permissible Exposure Limit) or OSHA-designated time limit for worker exposure to a cleaning chemical is much better for sustainable cleaning fluids.  Typical permissible exposure levels for the sustainable fluids are 200-250 ppm.  Compared with TCE which has a 100-ppm PEL or nPB that is US EPA rated at only 0.1 ppm. Sustainable metal cleaning fluids are much better for the safety of exposed workers.

Other concerns that were once high on the list for health and safety managers like flammability and emissions are now less concerning. New cleaning fluids are non-flammable. They also have fewer emissions. So, they meet new stringent regional air quality regulations.

A final environmental flourish

Because vapour degreasing does not use water to clean, it conserves this precious resource.  So, there is no wastewater to worry about. This means that specialty water filtration, distillation, deionization and osmosis processes are not required, another environmental benefit.

There are also significant energy savings with vapour degreasing. Many of the modern cleaning fluids have a lower boiling point and heat of vaporisation than the older solvents. This reduces the amount of energy needed to heat the fluid in the vapour degreaser for cleaning. This reduces fossil fuel consumption, lowers total carbon emission and produces less greenhouse gas output.

One of the Best Options

Sustainable cleaning can be a challenge. There are many considerations that have to factor into any cleaning decision. From its cleaning effectiveness, and worker safety credentials, to its environmental impact and regulatory compliance.

Vapour degreasing, when used with an advanced cleaning fluid, combines all these requirements. The process is simple, flexible and effective resulting in precision cleaned metal parts ready for post-processing. It is also not a short-term option. It is one of the most sustainable long-term cleaning solutions available to metalworking industries.

For companies looking for help in selecting and using sustainable metal cleaning fluids, it is essential to work with a partner that has sustainable cleaning fluid and vapour degreasing expertise. Based on specific parts make-up and the contamination encountered, they can recommend the sustainable fluids and metal cleaning methods that will work best.

About author
Redattore presso Tecniche Nuove S.p.a da gennaio 2002. Attualmente è Coordinatore Editoriale nella Divisione Meccanica del Gruppo per le seguenti testate: Lamiera, Subfornitura News, Trattamenti e finiture, Tecnologie del filo, Fonderia, Metalworking World Magazine, Wiretech World, BiciTech, Click The Gear, Veicolielettricinews, Meccanicanews.
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