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A talk with Jiří Burda, CEO of NERKON s.r.o.

“Are there any dishwashers that do not use water?”

NERKON s.r.o. is a globally operating company for cleaning and degreasing equipment and provider of technological solutions for the logistics industry. Based in the Czech Republic they offer washing equipment for returnable packaging utilised in the food and non-food industry (e.g. the automotive sector). We took the opportunity and talked to their CEO, Jiří Burda, about their somewhat unique type of business, special solutions for the automotive industry and the countless varieties of crates and boxes that are used in warehouses around the world.

You are a producer of industrial washing machines used, for example, in the logistics industry in warehouses. As an outsider, one might wonder why your machines are needed for cleaning storage containers, such as small load carriers (SLC). After all, a layperson could assume that warehouses are regularly cleaned and kept free of dust as part of normal operations. Why do these containers need to be washed, and why is it insufficient to just wipe them with a damp cloth?

Jiří Burda: As requirements on cleanliness rise in the logistics industry, it is no longer sufficient to simply wipe down the containers with a cloth. Cleaning in a washing system with a standardized process ensures a uniform cleaning and drying performance that people know and can rely on. This can never be achieved by just wiping them off. For containers with a textured surface, for instance, wiping with a damp cloth does not do the job. You just can’t reach the entire surface.

Besides dust, there are other types of soiling that are not so easy to remove. So if you want to ensure a uniform cleaning result here as well, the containers must be cleaned in a washing machine. Of course it also depends on how dirty the containers are.

Is there anything specific to be considered when selecting these plastic containers other than dimensions that fit in the conveyor systems of the machines? Can your machines handle all containers without restrictions or are some containers more suitable than others?

That is an important issue that we have to address again and again. Several years ago, we developed a machine precisely to solve this problem of cleaning of the widest possible range of containers in a single system. The adjustable system can be adapted to all typical container types (with a few exceptions) with only minimal manual intervention or even fully automatically. We are continuously improving this flexible system to meet the latest needs and trends.

To ensure an effective cleaning process, it is best for the containers to have a shape that does not require a great deal of energy to clean. Crates without ribs or complicated folds, and hygienic designs are advantageous, for example. Folding boxes, which still remain quite popular, are more difficult to clean. While they do reduce transport and storage costs, they pose higher requirements on the cleaning and drying process. There are also stacking containers with designs optimized for minimizing transport and storage costs. Their advantage: they do not place increased demands on the washing and drying process. One important reason for this is the smooth surface of the container, which simplifies cleaning.

Boxes with integrated lids or moving handles are usually problematic. However, we have found solutions even for such challenges. Labels and stickers affixed to containers are another factor, and we regularly have to remove them. Labels get attached all over the place on the boxes, which does not make cleaning any easier. We therefore recommend that labels always be placed in a specific location and on the same side of the container.

A wide variety of cleaning and deagreasing equipment:

As an outsider, it is easy to imagine your systems as “large washing machines.” Are there other cleaning methods that use little or no water?

We can answer this with another question: Are there any dishwashers that do not use water? Of course not – it simply does not work. Containers with only a light layer of dust might be the only exception. Such containers could maybe be cleaned without water, but water is needed in most cases. Naturally there are cleaning processes that consume less, but there is no way to do it entirely without water.

Can small residues of water lead to packaging damage or corrosion of sensitive, unpackaged parts?

Yes, that can happen. This is why it is necessary to select an optimal cleaning and drying process that is appropriate to the specific container type and drying requirements. Selecting an appropriate cleaning and rinsing agent is also important.

You offer systems that are explicitly intended for use in the food & beverage and automotive sectors. How do these systems differ, and what do these industries expect of their washing systems? Are there any particular trends?

These two areas differ on a number of points. Hygiene is very important criterion for systems in the food sector, while it matters little, if at all, in the automotive industry. The cleaning of the washing systems themselves is also an important topic. Systems used in the food sector must be cleaned daily to satisfy the hygiene standards. Longer cleaning intervals are typical in the automotive sector.

The requirements on cleaning agents also differ between these industries. Here, the automotive sector poses more challenging requirements. A related topic is the disposal of waste water and other waste. In the automotive sector, one encounters hazardous wastes and waste water that must be disposed of according to strict rules and local requirements. Things are much simpler in this regard in the area of food logistics.

One important trend playing out in both areas is the automation of processes and reduction of personnel, including complete automation of feeding the containers into the system.

Thank you for the interview!

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