View of high-pressure engine block.
View of high-pressure engine block.
Figure 1. Capital vs. variable costs
Figure 1. Capital vs. variable costs

There are few persons more single-minded and anxious to convert others to their point of view than those positively engaged in a diet (trust me, I know). So beware of advice from someone who has seen something for the first time, and is impressed by it.

Trade Shows

Trade shows are essentially commercials. While they cannot represent an entire industry or market, they can be a lens through which one can examine differences between markets. I was impressed by Parts-2-Clean, and I learned from it.



We all have it. It’s a belief that the way we have always done things is both the right way and only way to do them. I believe this characteristic is found as much in my industry (parts cleaning) as any other.

The opposite of provincialism is an attitude based on an international experience, a broadening of one’s point of view.1

A considerable number of my provincial views were changed through attendance at this trade show held during a global recession, in a major industrialized country (and region), and where operating regulations don’t mirror those of any state in the U.S.

Author Tom Friedman2 would have predicted that change of mind. He teaches that infrastructure available for global communication allows all regions to learn from one another. That learning enables regional decisions to be made based on local needs and global experience. I don’t believe this often happens in my industry, and that’s what I mean by the world—the world of cleaning—not being flat.

In this and two subsequent columns I would like to share some of my learnings, beginning with some overall impressions.

Featured Here

I have been quoted as having a saying about U.S. operations that “cleaning is valuable, but not valued.” Such is not the case in Germany if the metrics of thousands of attendees and very high equipment prices can be construed as measurements of perceived value.

Three major themes are described below where management of U.S. cleaning technology is quite different than that in Germany and other countries in Europe. The three themes are differences of: (1) cost structure for cleaning operations (2) availability of education about cleaning, and (3) the level of interest in and the value of cleaning technology. The next two columns will spell out specific details.

Capital vs Variable Costs

This balance of expenses is a major difference between the U.S. and German/European markets for cleaning technology:

  • In the U.S., parts cleaning has traditionally been based on the use of chemicals and labor in relatively low-priced equipment.
  • It’s the opposite in Germany, and so, I believe, also in India, China, and Japan.

This balance is illustrated in Figure 1 3, using hypothetical data. Manufacturers of finished parts in Germany/Europe clearly favor:

  • Spending capital on automation to reduce the need for operating labor.4 Certainly this preference is driven by a national proclivity for—perhaps even fascination with— technology.
  • Containment and reuse of all cleaning chemicals. Vacuum-based solvent machines abound, includ ing those using perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene! Certainly, this preference is driven by the need to comply with state and federal safety, health, and environmental regulations.

It’s the strong belief in Germany that the total economic burden of operation (capital plus variable cost components5 of operating cost) is reduced when capital expense is made to reduce labor and ingredient use.

This preference is reflected in the attention by show attendees to automated cleaning equipment despite quoted prices that would be considered outrageous in the U.S.

Education Abounds!

Sixty years ago, on March 26, 1949, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft was founded. At the time, the idea was to develop new infrastructures for research after the war’s destruction, and to spur reconstruction of the German economy.

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft undertakes applied research believed to be of direct utility to private and public enterprise and of wide benefit to society. Fraunhofer operates more than 80 research units, including 60 Fraunhofer Institutes, at different locations in Germany. The majority of the 17,000-member staff are degreed scientists and engineers who spend a annual budget of more than $2 billion.6

Industrial training is a key core competency for Fraunhofer. A senior manager7 told me they have conducted training courses in parts cleaning for more than 24,000 professional and operating personnel.

Imagine that! Do we have 240 such persons in the U.S?8 Does that suggest cleaning work is both valuable and valued in Germany?

It’s the Quality of the Leads

Nearly every supplier that exhibits at a trade show speaks the words that headline this section. I have no way of knowing, and no interest in, the commercial outcome for exhibitors at P2C.9

But even in a recession, the attendees of this show were both numerous and interested in cleaning technology. For all three days, the aisles were generally well-packed. Post-show reports indicate there were 4,305 visitors and 231 exhibitors—in a recession!!

Without capability in the German language, I spoke with at least 40 attendees. Specifically, I asked about the reasons for their attendance, using a voice recorder for my notes. I learned several things from talking with these attendees:

  • They spent money to travel on a day-trip Stuttgart10 for the show because they wanted cheaper, more capacious, more automated, or just better than what they had.
  • Their interest in parts cleaning is enthusiastic and sincere, even though their purchase decisions may be delayed because of the recession.
  • Environmental issues or political correctness will not play a significant role in their purchase decisions. Decisions regarding matters of safety, health, and environment had been previously made by the federal government; purchase decisions would be chiefly made based on cost-justified performance improvements.

At least 25 of the attendees overall were from the trade press, and there were two press conferences for them to ask questions of selected speakers.

Preview of Coming Attractions

In forthcoming columns, I will report on specific technologies I found that are commonly practiced in Europe/Germany and less so in the U.S. Whether those differences are good or bad, only users can say. But I see them as topics for communication that can make the parts cleaning world more “flat.”


John Durkee is the author of the book Management of Industrial Cleaning Technology and Processes, published by Elsevier (ISBN 0-0804-48887). He is an independent consultant specializing in metal and critical cleaning. You can contact him at PO Box 847, Hunt, TX 78024 or 122 Ridge Road West, Hunt, TX 78024; 830-238-7610; Fax 612-677-3170; or

  1. One can broaden one’s view of metal finishing work, and parts cleaning in particular, by being aware of these international English-language publications: International Surface Technology, published in Germany (; Metal Finishing News in Switzerland (; and ReMaTec News or Remanufacturing international, published in the Netherlands ( In addition to the several U.S.-based metal finishing trade associations, there is also the UK-based Institute of Metal Finishing (
  2. Author of the controversial book “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.” Friedman’s thesis is that we are in a global economy/society, and regional provincialism limits, not protects, economic and social opportunity.
  3. All images except Figure 1 are courtesy of the show press management, chiefly Doris Schultz.
  4. In the U.S., we know that automation can increase the purchase price of a cleaning machine by 100 to 250%. I don’t know that relationship for German-supplied equipment.
  5. Variable cost generally represents at least the costs of labor and cleaning chemicals, including disposal. Capital cost is the amortization of the purchase price of equipment over the same time period that the labor and chemical costs are accumulated.
  6. Of this sum, $1.7 billion is generated through contract research. Two -thirds of the research revenue is derived from contracts with industry and from publicly financed research projects. Only one-third is contributed by the German federal and Länder governments in the form of institutional funding. There is a U.S. organization (
  7. Dr. Mark Krieg, personal communication. Oct. 22, 2009.
  8. Certainly, the U.S. government has a substantial research budget and maintains many research laboratories. However, there are no training programs supporting those who conduct or manage cleaning operations.
  9. Firms exhibiting at the Parts-2-Clean show numbered about 225, which represents about the largest participation in the 1990s in cleaning-only trade shows operated in the U.S. by the now defunct Precision Cleaning Magazine. Only a few firms said they were not then contracting for exhibit space at the 2010 show.
  10. I also learned that German technologists are very fond of attending trade shows. Germany is reputed to have more than any other country.