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Engine Shops Are Cleaning Up

We’re engine builders and we live to get a little grease on our hands, right? While this is true, there is no harm in keeping your shop clean. In fact, there are numerous benefits to keeping your shop organized and clean. It makes a direct impact on efficiency, morale, the environment and most importantly, the customer.

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227455We all know the shop can be a dirty place. Parts and tools scattered throughout, and dirt, grease, oil and sludge threatening to make things even dirtier. But we’re engine builders and we live to get a little grease on our hands, right? While this is true, there is no harm in keeping your shop clean. In fact, there are numerous benefits to keeping your shop organized and cleaning up fluids and spills in the proper ways.

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Some of you might be questioning why keeping a clean and organized shop is helpful, but it makes a direct impact on efficiency, morale, the environment and most importantly, the customer.

“If a customer walks into your shop and it’s a mess, that reflects poorly on you,” says Robert McGraw, vice president and COO of AER Manufacturing, Inc. “You might be the best guy in the world, but we use our shop as a sales tool. When I have people in my shop it is marketing. If I could just get you here and you saw my place, you’d want me to build your engine.”

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Keeping the shop clean goes hand-in-hand with guys taking ownership of their area and where they work.

“I think a lot of guys would say that the area they work in and the way they keep their stations is a reflection of them,” McGraw says. “Guys here at AER take pride and ownership in their area and making sure their machines are wiped down. I think that would filter down at any shop. Nobody takes care of stuff that they don’t have some ownership in.”

Ownership is the key here. Your employees, and you, must take ownership of keeping the shop clean and in order.

“Organization is going to come through with being efficient,” McGraw says. “Walking all over your shop looking for a tool is not efficient. If you have everything where it needs to be at the right time, you’re going to get that job turned around a lot faster and be able to move on to your next job, and that’s important. You also need to make sure you have the right stuff on hand, the right equipment and that it’s maintained properly, and make sure you’re not running out of something you need. That organization is going to come back in your tack times.”

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Being organized is just half of what it ultimately takes to run a cleaner shop. The other half is properly cleaning up spills and disposing of hazardous materials. If your shop is tuned up and running smoothly, you will help protect the area’s water resources by keeping pollutants such as heavy metals, antifreeze, oil and gas wastes out of storm drains and sanitary sewers.

“Proper cleaning techniques have to do with each material and what the regulations are for disposing of it,” McGraw says. “That’s the law. Just because you didn’t know how to properly dispose of a material doesn’t help you. If you dump stuff down your drains that you shouldn’t, ignorance is not a defense. It’s not like the old days that I hear of where you might put oil in a ditch, cover it up and drive away.”

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The old days and ways are certainly in the rearview mirror. Shop owners these days need to follow the regulations in place to dispose of hazardous materials and clean up spills. One way to comply is by running a dry shop.

According to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, minimizing the liquids you discharge will help you comply with the requirements. Cut down on the liquids you create by cleaning up spills immediately and by using dry clean up practices instead of a mop or hose. To discourage washing down floors and outside paved areas consider removing unnecessary hoses.

Dry clean up methods could involve using a shop vacuum, dedicated mops, sweeping, and/or using rags or dry absorbents. Once the dry clean up is complete, floor and paved areas may be mopped.

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If mopping is used to clean shop floors you should spot clean any spilled oil or fluids using absorbents or rags. Spills are not cleaned up until the absorbent is picked up and disposed of properly. According to the Napa County Department of Environmental Management, mop water should not be poured into the paved areas, street, gutter, or storm drain.

Similar practices should be also used for non-fluid materials from grinding, shaving and sanding. Never discharge these wastes to the storm drain or sanitary sewer. The Department of Public Works in Santa Cruz County, CA says to first sweep the floor, then collect all metal filings, dust and paint chips and dispose of properly. Do not wet mop the floor in machining areas until all metal particles have been removed. Mop the floor using a bucket of non-corrosive cleaner and water diluted as specified on the label. If possible, only spot mop the area that requires cleaning.

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If an oil spill can be cleaned up with three or fewer shop rags, use the shop rags to clean up the oil and launder the rags off-site. If it is a larger spill, use a hydrophobic mop and designated oil mop bucket to soak up the oil and ultimately place it into a “used oil only” waste container for recycling. This will save the costs of disposing of absorbent pads or kitty litter as hazardous waste.

The same goes for cleaning solutions used for engines or parts. These should never go into the sanitary sewer system without adequate treatment. Most facilities have these solutions hauled off-site as hazardous waste because of the permits necessary for on-site treatment.

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Ultimately, the best spill control is prevention. Napa County says you should minimize the distance between waste collection points and storage areas. Contain and cover all solid and liquid wastes – especially during transfer.

Also be sure to purchase and maintain absorbent materials in accordance with local regulations and procedures for containment and cleanup of different spills, and make sure they are easily accessible anywhere in the shop. Saturated absorbents generally must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

When changing vehicle fluids indoors make sure you do it only on floors constructed of non-porous materials. Avoid working over asphalt and dirt floors – surfaces that absorb vehicle fluids. If vehicle fluids must be removed outdoors, always use a drip pan. Prevent spills from reaching the street or storm drain by working over an absorbent mat and covering nearby storm drains.

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Transfer fluids drained from vehicles to a designated waste storage area as soon as possible. Drain pans and other open containers of fluids should not be left unattended unless they are covered and within secondary containment.

Store waste containers of antifreeze and oil within secondary containment as well. Antifreeze and waste oil should be stored separately and recycled, or disposed of as hazardous waste. Never pour vehicle fluids or other hazardous wastes into sinks, toilets, floor drains, outside storm drains, or in the garbage. These substances should be kept in designated storage areas until recycled or safely disposed of. Use a licensed service to haul and recycle or dispose of wastes.

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One of the best things you can do for continued success keeping a clean shop is to train all employees upon hiring and annually thereafter, on personal safety, chemical management and proper methods for handling and disposing of waste.

Make sure that all employees understand storm water discharge prohibitions, wastewater discharge requirements, and best management practices. Labeling drains by paint/stencil to indicate whether they flow to an on-site treatment device or to a storm drain is also helpful. Labels are not necessary for plumbing fixtures directly connected to the sanitary sewer.

If you’d like to become more efficient, raise employee morale, help make the environment better, and even gain customers, be sure to practice these organization and cleaning tips in your shop.

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