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June 24, 2009 7:42 AM CDT

Case Study: Masonry Cleaning in Action

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Swanson Masonry, Inc.'s challenge was to improve efficiency and quality in masonry cleaning.
Swanson Masonry, Inc.'s challenge was to improve efficiency and quality in masonry cleaning.

Challenge: Improving Efficiency and Quality in Masonry Cleaning
Company: Swanson Masonry Inc. in St. Louis, Mo.; Rick Swanson, President
Equipment: Kem-O-Kleen K-3003/12 Masonry Cleaning System

Swanson Masonry Inc. is a well-established, award-winning masonry company in St. Louis, Mo. Six years ago, the company faced a tough decision when issues with a particular cleaning subcontractor they were using arose. A customer and personal friend of Rick Swanson wondered why the cleaning took so long. When the customer observed the cleaning of a job, he noticed the methods used were time consuming, the cleaner caused some disruption on the jobsite, and he showed little respect for the customer. Perhaps worst of all, there were burns on concrete, etched windows, and a variety of other damages caused by the cleaning.

Swanson’s customer commented that everything else in his the operation was excellent, with the exception of the cleaning. From Swanson’s perspective, “We had invested so much time and forethought into every process that we had almost zero flaws and felt we were at the top of our game. I told my customer that I thought our cleaner was the norm, and I did not know of anything or anyone else to turn to. He wasn’t impressed with that answer.”

Swanson searched for alternatives and found the Kem-O-Kleen Masonry Cleaning System. “No one was currently using anything like this in my area,” Swanson says. “It seemed to be what we needed, but there was no way I was spending that kind of money when I could buy brushes for $6 each. I grew up in this business and washed every weekend for my dad, which is one of the reasons I decided to sub out our cleaning. My call to the manufacturer, Unique Industries, was enlightening. They told me things about cleaning masonry that I hadn’t thought of. We ended up driving several hours to rent a machine, so we could try one out before making this major decision.

“We started washing our first job the following morning,” he continues. “This job had about 20,000 to 22,000 bricks. My laborers, who had never washed brick before, had the entire job done in less than a day and wanted to know where they should go the next day. They told me that the cleaning had been easy, and they were proud of how much better this job looked than previous jobs.

Kem-O-Kleen machines can be used for a variety of tasks.
Kem-O-Kleen machines can be used for a variety of tasks.
“I sent them to a colored, split-faced job the very next day,” says Swanson. “It had two light bands, and the rest was a deep red. This was where I felt we would lose it. The job was cleaned and looked better than any block job in town. We had just saved half our cleaning cost on one block job. That one week of use saved us half of the machine’s cost. We also had several great-looking projects.

“My customer called me because one of those jobs was his,” he says. “His newest project looked better than any we had done in the past. This job was a blond clay brick with a slightly darker banding. The only product used was muriatic acid. We did not burn or etch any pre-installed windows. The mortar joints were still as nicely tooled as to prior to washing. We had no sand falling out of the joints. It all blended together better than any brick job I had seen before. He liked the way my in-house laborers had jumped right on the washing as soon as we were done.”

Swanson Masonry Inc. now owns two Kem-O-Kleen machines. One is set up to handle the clay brick and smooth faced colored CMU. The other is for split-faced CMU and “glassy” clay brick. Rick says, “We clean about 3,500 to 4,000 square feet of masonry on any given day. Our laborers love the way the machine operates and how efficient we have become.”

In addition to cleaning masonry, Swanson Masonry Inc. uses their Kem-O-Kleen machines for a variety of other tasks. “We have acid etched newly poured exposed aggregate concrete slabs,” Swanson says. “We have waterproofed several buildings with huge success. The materials are added into the holding tank and then pressurized. We use the machine as a low-pressure sprayer capable of spraying faster and more evenly than any machine we have ever used. The constant flow of material really makes for good coverage and a quality project. We even use the machine to clean our equipment.”

The change six years ago led to a dramatic increase in productivity and quality. The result was lower cost, higher employee satisfaction and higher customer satisfaction.

About the Authors

Randy Weil is the President of Unique Industries.

Richard Swanson is the president of Swanson Masonry, Inc. He has served as Region E Vice President for the Mason Contractors Association of America.


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