Three Cleaning Challenges That All MRO Professionals Face

    April 25, 2016

For MRO professionals, cleanup counts as maintenance.

It may sound obvious, but cleaning can sometimes be a neglected part of the process. Industrial equipment works best when it’s clean. Let it go too long and you’ll undoubtedly get a reminder of why you shouldn’t forget or ignore it. Machines will start to operate less efficiently, or worse, stop working all together.

industrial cleaning 

The challenge comes in understanding the specific cleaning solutions that different types of equipment and materials require. In one type of facility, particulate debris and dust can cause equipment damage – an unfortunate but manageable situation. In another, the results can be much worse – maybe even a fire or explosion. 

Matching the right cleaning solution to the right application is important for equipment efficiency, longevity, compliance with regulations, and safety.

A simple solution

Sometimes plain old water is the best cleaner. Ever spill maple syrup (sugar) on the table and find it with your elbow at a later point, dry and sticky? A damp or wet towel will break down the sugar just fine, then a second clean wipe will insure no sticky residue. 

This is just one example of a low cost, low tech cleaning application. You don’t need a special cleaner for everything. There are times when you do, though.   

Here are five of the most common examples.

Common cleaning challenges that require a specific cleaner

1. Grease and Oil Removal

Much of industrial cleaning begins with removing grease, lubricant, and oil buildup from engines, motors, castings, valves, and other parts. Ignore it and it can lead to excess wear, heat, premature breakdown, or even fire.

Cleaning vegetable oil

A few years back I was helping with maintenance in a biodiesel factory. We came across a vegetable oil-based scum that was heavily built up around tanks and pneumatic pumps. This is a fairly common problem.

To get it cleaned up, we chose water in combination with a cleaner that had surfactants and change in PH. These two characteristics are important for breaking down oil and grease.

Surfactants are compounds that lower surface tension. They help break down grease and oil so they’re easier to remove. 

Water has a PH of seven. It’s right in the middle of the PH scale. Oil and grease require a more alkaline solution, but using one that is too alkaline can damage the surface you’re cleaning.

PH Scale

Bleach and ammonia are common cleaners, but both wouldn’t be ideal in this application. Their PH levels of 11 – 13 would be too strong. LOCTITE SF 7840 is in the 7.5 – 9.5 range and is safer in this application, so that’s what we went with.

After cleaning, be sure to add an extra water rinse when you’re using these products, as they typically leave a residue behind.

As an added tip, if you have a particularly tough buildup of oil or grease, heating the cleaning solution can often be very effective at increasing the cleaning capability.

Oil buildup on a shaft seal

During the same visit to the biodiesel factory, while we were cleaning up and doing some light maintenance work in the compressor room, we discovered a leaky shaft seal on a compressor pump. The leak left an oil-based grime with dust and dirt sticking to it.

To clean it up we used a solvent-based cleaner that dissolved and washed away the debris. We needed a solvent that sat on the surface long enough to loosen grime and wash off, but also dried residue free. This left a clean surface perfect for installing a new seal.

We then applied a small film of LOCTITE® 243™ Blue Threadlocker around the outside surface of the seal to act as a lubricant for insertion. It also served as a seal for any imperfections in the housing.

2. Cleaning Electrical Parts

Oil and contaminant buildup on electrical parts can cause contact failure. It’s often unknown whether electrical components are charged or uncharged. In my opinion, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You should always use a cleaner that is both non-conductible and non-flammable. Use the wrong product and you cause a short or worse – a fire.

pressure switches

Repairing a pressure switch

Back at the biodiesel factory, we identified a damaged pressure switch in the compressor room. It was obvious that it had been bumped and broken. 

Our initial thought was to repair the plastic cover with an adhesive. It’s best to work with a clean surface when applying any adhesive because surface contaminants can affect bond strength. The cover was over an electrical starting and stopping the compressor, so we made sure to choose an electrical contact cleaner for the job.

We also had to be sure the cleaner was compatible with the specific type of plastic, and that it dried residue free. Cleaner residue is a surface contaminant that could affect the bond strength. 

3. Cleaning Plastic Parts

Plastic components face many of the same issues as other materials, but are susceptible to the harsh chemicals found in some cleaners. 

Typical cleaning solvents such as brake part cleaners, carburetor cleaners, and pro-strength part cleaners can cause stress cracks or brittle many plastics. There are even some cleaners that will actually reduce the strength of an adhesive applied during a repair. 

To avoid these problems, you should use a cleaner specifically designed for plastic. Look at the label and be sure it it’s compatible with the type of plastic you’re going to be cleaning. 

This will also help you avoid a cleaner that can cause cloudiness in clear plastics. I once needed to wash grease and grime off of a compressor and reached for brake part cleaner. I quickly realized my mistake when I over-sprayed the face of the pressure gage causing cloudiness to the point where it could no longer be read.

Some of Our Cleaning Solutions

At LOCTITE, we’re MRO professionals just like you. We know the importance of cleaning with the right product. We offer a wide range of cleaning solutions, from our non-flammable LOCTITE® SF 7629™ to our LOCTITE® ODC-Free Cleaner & Degreaser for plastic parts, to LOCTITE® 7611™ that aggressively penetrates, dissolves, and removes oil and grease. 

Got questions related to your cleaning application? Let us know in the comments, or reach out to us on Twitter

About the Author, Loren Nauss

Loren Nauss is currently Business Development Manager for maintenance chemicals at Henkel. In his 24 years of experience, Loren brings expertise in everything mechanical to his personal and work-related projects. Loren's built, assembled and fabricated American and foreign cars, trucks, motorcycles, manufacturing, processing, and pumping equipment. He earned a Bachelors Degree in Business from Eastern Connecticut State University.

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