AKRON (Jan. 19, 2004) - Cleaning parts is a necessary evil in the automotive repair business.
Unfortunately, many technicians cause a mess when they clean parts, but the collateral damage they often create is not a necessary evil. Here's why.
From the time I entered the repair business more than 30 years ago at the local service station, I quickly learned that cleaning parts with a parts washer or wire wheel can make quite a mess. However, some on-the-job training and experience quickly showed me that it only gets as messy as workers allow it to get. Or for that matter, it's only as messy as the boss or manager allows.
That said, I couldn't count the number of times I've visited tire dealerships and service shops where technicians turned cleaning areas into absolute pig pens. It's funny how a business may have the latest equipment for controlling brake dust, but the boss totally ignores these traditional cleaning areas.
First of all, most auto repair facilities favor the traditional, open-basin parts washers because the equipment is relatively inexpensive and very effective. But you can't avoid the fact that a hurried technician, and show me a tech who isn't in a hurry, can splash the cleaning fluid onto adjacent areas.
When they return to their bay or work station, some techs also will trail parts cleaner behind them. If it's flammable, spilled cleaning fluid is an additional fire hazard in your service department.
But flammable or not, it may also be a safety hazard because someone can slip on it and hurt him or herself. Plus, you haven't lived until you've had a tech track filthy cleaning chemicals onto the light-colored carpeting of a customer's vehicle—not to mention trying to clean it up before the customer returns for the car.
One easy way to cope is to keep a mop next to each parts washer and require all techs to immediately mop up after themselves. Some guys just sprinkle oil-drying compound on the spills, but eventually that has to be swept up, too.
So techs gripe that they don't have time to sprinkle oil-dry or else mop up? Come on, it usually takes seconds—considerably less time than they spend smoking by the back door or flirting with the young woman at the parts counter.
A little mop-up time will always be much cheaper than the cost of having someone's carpets professionally cleaned or losing the productivity of a good worker who's slipped on a wet spot and cracked his tailbone.
In some shops, techs will wheel freshly washed parts back to their bays on old tool carts lined with newspaper. Some guys tell me that, ultimately, these “drip carts” also reduce the number of parts lost in transit between the vehicle and the parts washer and vice-versa.
See what makes sense for your bays, but be mindful of splashing and spillage.
Second, the debris flying off a bench grinder often gets tracked around the shop or into a vehicle just because workers are too lazy and/or careless to sweep or vacuum it up before returning to their bays.
Third, there's some unexplained propensity for auto repair people to turn the area immediately surrounding a parts washer or bench grinder into mini-junkyards. The parts I find accumulating there always belong in the core bin, the recycle barrel or the trash can.
Plus, the cleaner workers keep these areas, the easier it is for them to find the small bits and pieces of hardware they inevitably drop during a cleaning procedure. It's considerably tougher tracking down a one-of-a-kind fastener when you're knee-deep in old parts.
Fourth, the vicinity of a bench grinder or parts washer is the last place anyone should park or store any piece of shop equipment or diagnostic test gear.
Don't ask how many times I've seen stuff damaged or ruined this way. Plus, how much time are you spending cleaning the soiled face of a piece of equipment just so you can read its meters or displays?
Shop space is often at a premium. If so, protect testers or equipment with a suitable cover before storing them near a parts washer or bench grinder.
Finally, don't allow workers to leave shop manuals, operator's guides or other important literature in a “cleaning” area. When they do that, the material usually ends up soaked, soiled or totally ruined.
Remember that these forms of collateral damage occur only when you allow them to occur. Stop them now and you'll be glad you did.