The wiper maze

29th of June 2012
The wiper maze
The wiper maze

Non-woven, colour-coded, microfibre, through-air dried - why are there so many different types of wiper on the market? And do customers really understand the difference between them - or do they simply want something to clean up the mess? ECJ finds out.

Choosing an industrial wiper used to be a simple process. In the old days it was traditional to keep an assortment of rags in a factory or workshop to wipe up any unexpected messes and to clean machinery and other equipment.

But many industries today are choosing to buy purpose-designed wipers instead. However over the years the choice has expanded so rapidly that the number of wiper options available is enough to make anyone’s head spin. These days factory managers can choose from various through-air dried, spun-laced, non-woven and paper products or they could opt for microfibre or colour-coded cloths instead.

But most customers simply want a product that takes the pain away – one that will quickly clean up surfaces, hands and spills. So do the vast number of products on offer simply complicate the issue for customers? And how do they choose between wipers?

Metsä Tissue’s UK and Ireland sales director Mark Dewick admits that the 'wiper maze' can be confusing for customers. However he adds that a fairly wide range is needed to cover the vast number of applications for which they are required.

“For example certain environments require low-linting products that will avoid the problem of dust or paper fragments interfering with the process,” he said. “Also some products offer an abrasive function for tough wiping requirements, though this would clearly be inappropriate in a polishing situation. And some bonding agents react with certain chemicals or cleaners which means they cannot be used in certain circumstances.

Sufficient research

“So the key questions for customers looking for wiping products should be ‘what is the product application, and where will it be used?’”

He says inexperienced buyers have a tendency to either buy one type of product for all their wiping tasks, or choose a wiper online without carrying out sufficient research. “If they make the mistake of not buying the best product for the job it could prove to be an expensive one,” said Dewick.

“The wrong type of product in a sensitive environment will quickly come to light - but perhaps not before a paint finish has been damaged. And if a customer does not seek the most cost-effective solution it could lead them to waste budget over a long period of time before being advised by an expert.”

He says products that appear to be cheap on paper should be scrutinised carefully. The buyer should also take into account cost-in-use factors such as sheet size, roll length and the number of rolls per case.

“Absorbency and wet strength are also key,” he said. “High absorbency products will be more efficient and less paper will be used as a result, making them more cost-effective. And dispensing requirements are also important – for example, are the products required to be mobile or fixed, floor-standing or wall-mounted, or even vehicle-mounted?”

Consider the task

He says it is impossible to suggest specific wipers for tasks such as polishing, heavy-duty cleaning or cleanroom use without looking at the specific application.

“Before making a recommendation we would consider the actual processes and equipment involved; the environment in which the product will be used; usage volumes and the dispensing system needed,” he said. “When selling Katrin wiping products we would always offer an on site survey covering environment, usage and corporate expectations.”

However he admits that companies are sometimes guilty of complicating the picture by offering a 'maze' of different products. According to Dewick the fact that each wiper manufacturer has its own technologies and individual naming conventions – and may include historic products in their mix – can cause confusion for the customer. “Market acquisitions can also result in a confusing array of products and these need to be rationalised,” he said.

“Certainly within the Katrin range we attempt to maintain a core set of products and if we introduce a new one, there is usually a market-driven reason for it.”

Kimberly-Clark takes the opposite approach and is actually expanding its range of wiping products rather than streamlining them. “We are seeing an increasing demand for more specialised requirements,” explains senior category manager Sylvia van Oevern. “This means that overall the market is expanding in terms of formats and new technologies.

“For example we have recently launched a range of precision engineering cloths which are particularly strong and ultra low-linting for cleaning in small spaces, and we are also about to launch a range of wiping cloths aimed at the aviation segment to reflect the high standards required in that field.”

She says the company’s Wypall products require different specifications of base material because they are developed with specific tasks in mind. “For example, does the wiper need to be strong because of contact with sharp machine parts?” she said. “Is the wiping task focused on cleaning spillages, or are we talking about contact with solvents?

“Choosing the right wiper from the start will help to reduce waste – both of material and of time.”
She says that before recommending a product the company generally asks about the specific requirements of the application. “However for specific polishing jobs we would recommend our Kimtech Microfibre Cloths while for food processing we suggest a blue wiping cloths. And cleanroom tasks are best serviced by our Scientific range of products.”

She adds that the company’s wipers are developed to satisfy customers’ needs - and this can often lead to highly-tailored solutions. “Customers distinguish between these different wipers because there are many different applications and tasks to cater for,” she said. “Having the wrong type of wiper may result in someone requiring two or three times as much material to clear up the mess.”

She says that although it is occasionally possible to use the same wiper for multiple applications, in most cases customers will choose a different wiper for each wiping task. And she claims there is a growing awareness of the need to tailor the wiper to the task in hand.

Knowledgeable customers

“With a stronger focus on lean processes in the manufacturing environment, customers are becoming more and more knowledgeable in identifying their needs and are able to seek the adequate solution to satisfy them,” said van Oevern.

Greenspeed co-owner Michel de Bruin says that choosing a microfibre wipe is a fairly straightforward process compared with other wiping decisions. “We only have three main microfibre wipes and they are of different qualities – Greenspeed Original is the highest performance product, then Greenspeed Basic and Greenspeed Easy,” he said.

“It is simple for customers to choose – they view the product, they try it out, see how well it cleans and then they make a decision. It all depends on the quality of the wiper they want and what they want to do with it.”

He says the decision as to whether or not to choose microfibre products over other types of wiper often depends on whether the customer has access to a washing machine to launder the cloths. “Also if they need to use chemicals such as disinfectants they would not choose a microfibre product because chemicals are not required with microfibre,“ he said.

Product and segment manager of Tork manufacturer SCA Amelia Baker says: “The reason why there so many different types of wiper on the market is that each wiper has difference performance qualities suited to specific applications for ease of use.

“For example there are times when spills occur and products need to be close at hand, but there are also specialist applications where certain qualities are required.”

She says customers who have fairly general needs will often prefer to reduce the number of products they buy and standardise the wipers they use. “However customers who have to carry out a wide range of tasks will find that buying in an assortment of several different products will prove beneficial,” she adds.

Improve products

According to Baker the customer’s selection will take into account the specific wiping application and whether they chiefly need strength, durability, absorbency, low-linting properties, heat resistance, softness or flexibility. For a heavy industrial task she would recommend the use of a stronger paper product or a durable non-woven wiper. “This should also offer benefits such as protection from sharp edges and heat resistance,” she said.

“In a food processing environment I suggest a quality absorbent paper product for wiping and a durable non-woven for cleaning tasks. These should be used along with colour-coded, food quality-approved products to reduce risk of cross-contamination.”

According to Baker work is constantly under way to improve existing products and develop new ones. “For example, one of our most recent launches is Tork Premium 570 which is our strongest cloth to date.Wiper ranges continue to evolve in line with advancing technologies along with changes in the way people work. Our aim is to offer the right assortment that best meets the needs of the customer.”


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