Wolfgang Kuhn sees any fluff or lint as a natural enemy. His business is cleaning with zero tolerance. He founded CONTek IBC-Service GmbH 20 years ago to produce and deliver intermediate bulk containers (reusable containers used for hazardous goods), as well as cleaning them after use and returning them to the customers. It's a fairly simple business model, actually. But in 1995, when Kuhn and his partner set up the company, there was nothing comparable on the market. In those days, he worked for a company that produced printing inks. "I realised there wasn't a single company on the market that offered a one-stop concept for IBC production, cleaning and logistics." Kuhn saw the gap in the market and positioned CONTek accordingly as a full-service provider. With success.
Today, around 150 voluminous steel containers are brought to the factory in Ellrich, Thuringia, every day where they are cleaned ready for the next transport order. Each container can take between 300 and 1200 litres of liquid, paste or pourable bulk materials. Returns from the automotive industry frequently contain paints, and printers leave kilos of residual ink in the containers. But no matter what the contents, it is CONTek's job to remove all the residues completely and on time. "If one of our customers keeps the production line going at night, he expects to have the right containers on his yard by the next morning," explains Wolfgang Kuhn. The facility in Ellrich therefore cleans round the clock, six days a week.
After going through an initial inspection for possible mechanical damage, the used containers are cleaned by machine in a complex process. Subsequently, they undergo a finishing process that consists of manual end cleaning with special cleaning cloths. All staff involved here know just how important this job is. "Say for example that ink or oil residues in the container contaminate a subsequent load of paint. A car manufacturer may then have to stop the whole production line," says Kuhn in order to describe the problem. "Every second in which the line is at a standstill creates huge downtime costs. This is why we guarantee our customers that the cleaned containers are 100% free of fluff or lint, smears, silicone, grease, oil or paint residues." Altogether it takes between one and seven hours to clean an IBC, depending on the contents and degree of soiling.
To optimise the manual cleaning process, in 2011 the company looked for an alternative to replace the cotton cloths used hitherto for end cleaning, as these were not able to produce 100% lint-free results. CONTek tested cleaning cloths of various makes; following extensive trials, the company opted for the Tork Heavy-Duty Cleaning Cloth. "The Tork cleaning cloths have helped us to enhance the quality of our work without costing a single cent more," says Wolfgang Kuhn. CONTek has an annual consumption rate of around 100,000 cloths. 100,000 opportunities not to worry about pieces of fluff.