Vapor degreasing can promote energy efficiency

Reducing energy use isn’t only beneficial to company finances, but also to the environment.


Rising energy costs are affecting manufacturers, including medical device manufacturing. Wholesale petroleum, electricity, and natural gas prices remain high. Some sectors are facing uncertain import supply, negatively affecting manufacturing production and processes. Companies are under pressure to cut energy costs across manufacturing.

There are ways to reduce energy consumption, including facility heating, ventilation, and lighting. But there are other energy saving opportunities, including production parts cleaning.

Cleaning is a critical process in medical device manufacturing. Production debris such as machining, stamping, or cooling oils; dust; metal filings; marking inks; fingerprints; and other soils must be removed before assembly, coating, sterilization, or packaging. Any remaining particulate or residue can lead to inconsistent production outcomes with a possible impact on the devices’ appearance or performance.

Smaller medical devices typically have tighter spaces that can be more difficult to clean and dry during manufacturing. They often have intricate shapes and feature-restricted apertures, making cleaning particularly difficult. Medical device manufacturers require newer, better ways to get the devices clean and dry, and the cleaning and drying must be achieved in the most sustainable, cost-effective way.

The vapor degreaser reuses the cleaning fluid hundreds of times before it needs to be refreshed or replaced, drastically reducing waste removal costs.

Energy efficient cleaning options

One environmentally acceptable choice for critical cleaning is vapor degreasing. This is true when energy consumption and costs are compared. A large portion of atmospheric emissions come from burning fossil fuels, and much of that pollution is generated by producing electricity. Cutting electricity consumption helps protect the planet by reducing global warming and production costs.

Unlike aqueous, or water-based cleaning, vapor degreasing uses little electricity. A vapor degreaser is a closed-loop consisting of two chambers, filled with high-purity cleaning fluid. In one chamber, the cleaning fluid is heated to a boil, which generates a vapor cloud rising to meet cooling coils. These cooling coils cause the vapors to condense and return to their liquid state. This liquid is channeled back to the rinse chamber.

Soiled parts are immersed in the continuously filtered and distilled cleaning fluid inside the vapor degreaser to dissolve or lift the soils from the surface of the parts. As the parts are lifted from the cleaning fluid, they undergo a brief vapor rinse and drying process. The cleaning fluid condenses and drips back into the vapor degreaser for another round of use.

The vapor degreaser reuses the cleaning fluid hundreds of times before it needs to be refreshed or replaced, reducing waste removal costs. After a typical cleaning cycle of around 6-to-20 minutes per batch, the parts come out of the vapor degreaser clean, rinsed, dried, and ready for the next stage of production.

There are significant resource and energy savings with vapor degreasing, especially when compared to aqueous cleaning. Aqueous systems require hundreds of gallons of non-renewable water and generate a wastewater stream that requires expensive treatment. Water needs large amounts of electricity or natural gas to heat the water to a high temperature for cleaning. Because aqueous cleaning machines are generally bigger than vapor degreasers, they consume more energy to run.

Saving kilowatts

A typical aqueous system can consume 5kWh at the drying stations, or twice that on a bigger machine simply because of the increased size of the drying fan motors and compressors.

There’s also water pre-treatment and post-treatment systems to consider that use large quantities of electricity. Once the water is deionized, it’s usually heated to 60°C to 70°C for the cleaning process, which requires 2kWh to 3kWh of power or more for the pumps and support equipment. Aqueous cleaners are often on standby because of the cost of coming up to temperature and the delay in re-heating. The idle systems will use a further 2kWh to 5kWh of electricity minimum, hour after hour, even when no cleaning operations are being conducted.

A typical vapor degreaser will use approximately 30A of power when cleaning with many of the smallest machines using standard household electrical connections. When compared with aqueous systems where power consumption is measured in hundreds and thousands of amps, often requiring 440V circuits and large power panels to manage the electrical load, vapor degreaser energy savings are extensive.

Vapor degreasing with next-generation cleaning fluids provide energy efficient parts cleaning.

Modern cleaning fluids

Modern, non-flammable, and environmentally progressive vapor degreasing fluids can make a substantial enhancement to cleaning efficiency. They’re lab-tested and certified to ensure results are reliable and consistent. The fluids reduce the risk of bioburden on the manufacturing floor and on the finished product. They feature low surface tension so cleaning fluid can get into and out of small spaces and tiny crevices within medical devices without leaving residue. This is a vital requirement when validating medical devices and the manufacturing process.

Many modern vapor degreasing cleaning fluids also have a low boiling point and heat of vaporization. This means the vapor degreaser starts quickly and requires little heat input to run, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat the cleaner inside the vapor degreaser.

Since vapor degreasing also cleans and dries parts in one step, there’s no need for blowers, air knives, or any other drying method using power. This results in less fossil fuel consumption, overall cost savings, and a lower total carbon emission.

Modern cleaning fluids and processes such as vapor degreasing deliver consistent cleaning, meeting the high standards required within medical manufacturing, and they comply with strict regulations on toxicity, air quality, and worker safety. They also lower energy consumption and help conserve natural resources.

Cost savings are always important when manufacturing medical devices, but they can’t come at the expense of meeting consistent and reliable parts cleaning benchmarks. Vapor degreasing and progressive next-generation cleaning fluids are the answer to successful critical cleaning that’s energy efficient, more cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable.

About the author: Elizabeth Norwood is a senior chemist at MicroCare LLC, which offers precision cleaning solutions.

MicroCare LLC

December 2022
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