Powerful Cleaning--But Not Too Clean

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Thomas Erie Co., Erie, PA, specializes in the production of round, stamped components such as can closures for the aerosol industry, in addition to serving the cosmetic-packaging industry.
Thomas Erie's new parts-cleaning system
Thanks to its many different process variants using hot or cold immersion with downline vapor degreasing, Thomas Erie’s new parts-cleaning system has proven ideal for meeting requirements related to quality and functionality.
Much of its press time is dedicated to stamping aluminum parts used in pumps, valves or certain types of spray devices.

The firm’s varying customer base and product mix presents unique parts-cleaning requirements—the cleaning processes needed depend on the subsequent assembly steps that take place after each part is stamped. For example, as described by company president Don Morphy, aluminum parts to be anodized must be completely clean of all oils and carbon residues from the stamping process.

However, some of Thomas Erie’s customers—those that do not perform subsequent anodizing—do not want their parts perfectly clean, since bare aluminum parts without any coating tend to be very adhesive. This prevents the parts from moving smoothly along automated tracks during subsequent manufacturing processes.

Ironically, Thomas Erie has had customers reject parts for being too clean. In these cases, the company must process the stamped parts so that they retain a slight oil coating—but not too heavy a coating as to cause the parts to pick up dirt or prevent the customer from printing on the parts. It is a delicate balance: clean, but not too clean.

So, in addition to other requirements, when Thomas Erie recently went in search of a new parts-cleaning system, it specified a process that could result in “semi-clean” parts that would allow the parts to move smoothly through automated assembly processes.

Out with the Old

Thomas Erie entered the market for its new parts-cleaning system late in 2008, to replace its perchloroethylene-based system. That system’s distillation requirements allowed it to run only 16 hr. out of a 24-hr. day—8 hr. were required for the machine’s distillation process in preparation for the next day, an unacceptable amount of downtime to meet Thomas Erie’s capacity requirements. And, the system was providing inconsistent results. Operators would have to stop a particular production process or stop the parts-cleaning machine and re-distill the cleaning solution, possibly delaying production and delivery.

While shopping to replace the aging system, Thomas Erie sought not only a system that could meet the “semi-clean” specification, but also an environmentally friendly system, even though an aqueous washing system had previously proven ineffective for its parts-cleaning needs.

Lastly, the company hoped to reduce energy consumption and the amount of waste produced from its parts-cleaning processes, while boosting capacity.

In with the New

The solution for Thomas Erie: a Dürr Ecoclean Universal 71C solvent-based parts-cleaning system, which uses nonhalogenated hydrocarbons as cleaning media. This setup allows the safe and economical use of solvents for removing oils, greases, emulsions and swarf between or after manufacturing processes. Thanks to its many different process variants using hot or cold immersion with downline vapor degreasing, Thomas Erie’s new parts-cleaning machine has proven ideal for meeting its requirements related to quality and functionality.

The new cleaning system boasts dual work chambers for increased capacity and an automatic feed option that the company can integrate later when it installs a planned conveyor system to further automate cleaning operations. The workpiece baskets at Thomas Erie feed automatically into the first work chamber available, simplifying and streamlining operations.

According to Morphy, the Dürr Ecoclean Universal 71C has provided Thomas Erie the flexibility and consistency it sought, including handling the “semi-clean” specification. The machine’s intuitive control panel makes it easy for the operator to program any number of diverse cleaning cycles, so that, says Morphy, “changing processes takes just a few seconds and a few taps on the touchscreen.

Stamped aluminum components sent through the dual work chambers
Thomas Erie sends millions of stamped aluminum components, such as these aerosol-can closures, through the dual work chambers of its new parts-cleaning system.

And, adds Morphy, the machine provides consistent cleaning results throughout the workday. “We didn’t expect such a high level of consistency. We expected some degradation in the cleaning operation, but that has not been the case.”

Reduced Costs for Waste, Energy and Materials

Since installing the new cleaning system, operating costs for parts cleaning at Thomas Erie have dropped dramatically—for cleaning fluids and electricity. The former machine’s boiler was, as Morphy puts it, “an energy hog,” running continuously, 24 hr./day, even when the machine was not running. And, the firm no longer has to incur costs related to working with perchloroethylene.

Also contributing to cost savings from the new cleaning system: Thomas Erie reclaims and separates solvent from the stamping oil. Solvent used to wash the parts returns to the wash tank only after it has been separated from the oil through the distillation process, ensuring the use of pure solvent when washing parts. Thomas Erie expects to further reduce waste costs by recycling the stamping oil back into the stamping process. MF

Article submitted by Dürr Ecoclean, Plymouth, MI: 734/459-6800;


See also: Durr Ecoclean Inc.

Related Enterprise Zones: Lubrication

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