Adoption of 3M™ Novec™ Engineered Fluid brings both environmental benefits and improved cleaning quality to BAE Systems.
Defense contractor BAE Systems' production facilities, located in Wolverhampton, UK, are responsible for manufacturing a
variety of highly advanced and sensitive electronic equipment used in the defense and aerospace sectors. These parts
are typically manufactured at relatively low volumes, but they can be extremely valuable and very time consuming to
produce, with testing only possible at a late stage in assembly. As a result, manufacturing quality requirements are
critical, and contamination of components from handling or contact with grease and debris must be avoided.
BAE Systems has traditionally operated an ultrasonic cleaning process using trichloroethylene (TCE) to eliminate contamination
before final assembly in the production of its sonar transducer systems. Management at the BAE System's Wolverhampton site
wanted to find a replacement for TCE. The replacement needed to ensure worker safety and deliver excellent cleaning
performance and, at the same time, offer a long-term solution.
Mark Seccombe of BAE Systems explains, "As a manufacturing engineer in charge of the solvent cleaning processes,
I was well aware of the requirements of the Solvent Emissions Directive. Our site solvent consumption was actually well
under the limits set out in the Directive, but we were keen to adopt environmental best practices and protect our process
against any future tightening of environmental regulations."
The Solvent Emissions Directive (EC Directive 1999/13/EC) places strict limits on the emissions of volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) from industrial processes. To comply with the directive, users have the option of installing expensive
abatement equipment or replacing hazardous cleaning solvents such as TCE and n-Propyl-Bromide (nPB) with alternative
Seccombe set out to find an alternative solution to TCE. Acota, a UK-based supplier of industrial fluorochemicals,
suggested that Seccombe consider 3M™ Novec™ 72DE Engineered Fluid. As a result of his research, Seccombe realized
that by converting the equipment to the Novec fluid he could significantly improve the safety of the cleaning process
and deliver quality improvements at the same time.
"The Novec fluid cleans as quickly and effectively as our previous solution and it works in the same equipment without
modification," he explains. "But as it has a much lower boiling temperature, 40 degrees as opposed to 80,
we reduce the risk of thermal damage to components."
The much reduced solvent emissions also meant that there was no need to install an expensive and elaborate fume extraction
system in the cleaning area, saving significant capital investment.
"The fluid itself may be more expensive than our previous solution, but the new process means that we use less of it, get
better results and avoid buying expensive and disruptive equipment," concludes Seccombe.