Every manufacturer knows that the risk of product contamination is present at every stage of the production process. From improper removal of cleaning agents to dirty production lines, product contamination can not only cause costly production delays, but also more serious consequences such as expensive product recalls and bad PR if the contaminant isn’t found before distribution.
Truth be told, there are many ways for contamination to occur during the manufacturing process, with some of the most common causes of product contamination being contaminated water sources, residual solvents and human error.
So what do you do if you have or suspect product contamination? What steps should you take to identify and solve the problem? Below we offer a few steps you can take to troubleshoot and identify the source of contamination.
1. Inspect your product.
Quite obviously, the first step in identifying contamination is to physically inspect the product or component itself. Did the product fail outright or to function as intended? Is there a visible sign of contamination such as a film or residue? Is your product giving off an odd smell?
Contamination can present itself in a variety of ways. So, as you inspect your product, look for stains, discoloration and residue in crevices, and pay attention to odor as well.
2. Check your water sources.
Water plays a huge part in manufacturing, from fabricating a product to sanitation needs within your manufacturing facility. If you’ve inspected your product and notice the presence of stains or thin films, we recommend examining your water sources at each stage of the production process.
Why? In our experience, hard water is one of the most common culprits of contamination during the manufacturing process. Specifically, it can leave behind microcontaminants on medical devices, hard drives or electronics that can impact function or cause safety issues.
3. Check your equipment for visible signs of cleanliness issues.
Cleanliness at every step of the manufacturing process is crucial in maintaining product quality. But one of the most common sources of contamination is your physical equipment, which is why it’s important to inspect them regularly for cleanliness issues.
When you’re checking your equipment for visible signs of cleanliness issues, pay attention to the following:
- Are the surfaces clean and dry?
- Is there any residue leftover from prior processes?
- Is there any dust or debris in crevices of the equipment?
- Have cleaning tools such as buckets and sponges been properly cleaned and sanitized?
- Do you know if the correct cleaning substance was used according to type of surface?
4. Review recent cleaning or maintenance logs.
As part of your company’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), you’ve likely created a protocol for documenting cleaning and maintenance work to ensure compliance with your company’s standards, as well as local and federal guidelines.
Take a look at those cleaning and maintenance logs to understand when your equipment was last serviced, as well who took part in the work. This can help you identify when contamination could have been triggered and who may have played a role. Possible causes for contamination can include a shift change, a new employee or a missed day in the cleaning process.
5. Meet with employees that may have played a role.
After you’ve reviewed maintenance the logs, identify which employees you need to have a conversation with. It’s possible that the cause of contamination was human error, so it’s important to meet with every employee who may have played a role to understand how the error occurred.
Make sure to approach employees in a non-threatening way. After all, accidents happen, and if you want to get to the bottom of it, you’ll need employees to be open and honest about their role or observations.
6. Reach out to an analytical testing lab.
At the end of the day, you may not be able to confidently confirm the potential source of contamination. Or you may not have time to do a thorough inspection, but want fast answers.
The good news is that working with an analytical testing lab partner like Innovatech Labs can help get you to the finish line. Analytical scientists have the expertise and the tools to run an array of materials tests such as FTIR analysis, GC/MS analysis or ion chromatography analysis to uncover the chemical composition of materials present on a sample, arming manufacturers with results that help identify the source of contamination.
For example, not long ago we received a sample of a molded plastic part with a white residue in its crevices. Our analysts used FTIR analysis, which measures infrared light absorption to identify materials, and determined that the sample was a cleaning surfactant.
As it turns out, the part was inadequately rinsed after being cleaned with the surfactant. With this information, the manufacturer added additional rinse steps to the process to mitigate the issue.
We Can Be Your Product Contamination Troubleshooting Partner
With nearly three decades of analytical materials testing experience, Innovatech Labs has worked with leading manufacturers across a variety of industries to troubleshoot contamination issues. In addition, we often work with manufacturers to help prevent contamination or product quality issues, and create better products.If you have a product contamination issue or want to learn more about our services, contact us today.
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