Cleaning factories, generating plants and other industrial job sites is perhaps one of the most difficult jobs to define, because there is tremendous variety in the facilities a building service contractor is likely to encounter.

Industrial cleaning is dirty work; even maintaining offices in an industrial facility is demanding because dirt gets tracked in from factory floors. There are the challenges and safety risks of cleaning around heavy machinery, lubricants, paint, fiberglass and metal shavings.

“Because industrial environments get dirty quickly, you have to clean up quickly,” says Paul Greenland, executive vice president of Aetna Building Maintenance, Springfield, Ohio. “Unlike dusting, you can’t wait till the next day to clean up industrial dirt. The demand is immediate, and the margin of error is very small.”

Many manufacturing facilities are open around-the-clock, so there is no downtime in which to clean. Also, some machinery is quite sensitive to dust and dirt, so prompt and accurate cleaning is essential.

As in other areas, staffing is a big concern in industrial cleaning. For instance, industrial cleaning employees have to be physically able to perform the work.

When he hires new employees, Leroy Likely, a Johnson Controls environmental-services contractor at a Lucent Technologies facility in Orlando, Fla., makes sure they have the endurance to keep up with the demands of the facility.

“When I take them on a walk through the facility, and if they keep up with me, I know they’ll be able to handle the job. If not, they’ll probably tire too easily,” he says.

Likely also adopted a staff recommendation to work in teams as a way to boost morale and staff efficiency. And those who don’t like or won’t work in a team?

“If there’s a lazy one in the bunch, he gets put in a building by himself,” Likely explains. That employee, usually after a couple of days of solo cleaning, comes back to Likely and says he’s ready to work hard again.

Effective communication is another area in which industrial cleaners should be concerned.

“The needs of the customer change, sometimes daily, and we want to be responsive,” says Dan Draper, president and owner of Nationwide Janitorial Services, South Bend, Ind. “Our customers communicate their concerns to us via e-mail. We do the same. We even mention things not in our area of responsibility, such as plumbing and lighting problems.” Also, if Draper’s staff misses something, they inform the client and tell their contact how Nationwide will solve the problem, often before the customer is even aware of it.”

Since, in most industrial settings, production lines can’t stop for problems, Draper’s staff treat concerns or questions with urgency. Draper or a manager responds to all calls within 30 minutes, even at night.

Picking your products
Many of the products and procedures used for industrial cleaning, such as backpack vacuums and solvent-free degreasers, are similar to those used in other markets. However, a new, but influential, cleaning method slowly is coming into use, says Greenland.

“Cryogenic cleaning is similar to pressure washing, in that it shoots out dry ice pellets at a high velocity,” Greenland explains. “When the dirt is attacked by the dry ice, it drops down dry, so you just vacuum it up and throw it away. It eliminates the problem of having to capture and dispose of the liquid, which is often environmentally unfriendly.

Cryogenic cleaning works well for project cleaning in dirty industrial settings, but not a lot of companies do it because the equipment is very expensive. Greenland estimates a cryogenic machine can cost $25,000 to $30,000, depending on features.

Gretchen Roufs, a 14-year janitorial-supply industry veteran, owns Auxiliary Marketing Services of San Antonio, Texas. Contact her at (210) 601-4572.