Imagine a cleaning operation with two shifts of three to four operators each, cleaning up to 5,000 pounds of parts a day, manually. Operators would dump the small, oily parts into a cylindrical stainless-steel basket. Then the operator would pick up the heavy basket and put it into three to five different cleaning tanks and swish each of the baskets around manually to get the oil off the parts. Once the parts were clean and removed from the baskets, they would be put back into the same baskets that had been cleaned. So after each basket held the dirty parts, they would be cleaned to prepare to hold the next batch of clean product.
This laborious process that required much manpower was the unfortunate reality for Allfast Fastening Systems, part of TriMas Aerospace, located in City of Industry, California. The manual cleaning process was causing a major bottleneck in this shop’s production.
When Allfast implemented a new automated rotary basket washer in 2019, benefits of the machine’s ergonomics were seen immediately at the company that produces solid and blind rivets, blind bolts and installation tooling for the aerospace industry. Its cleaning operation went from two shifts with three to four operators each to one shift with one operator. The other operators were freed up to work in other areas of the business that had bottlenecks as well.
The company also boasts that the automated cleaning system, which has been customized for its application, requires little maintenance, has an excellent oil separation system for the heavily soiled parts Allfast puts into the system, uses environmentally friendly cleaning fluid (even by California’s stringent standards) and comes with responsive customer service. It has also prevented gridlock at the cleaning station.
Cleaning Queue No Longer a Bottleneck
While Allfast was focused on the fasteners it was manufacturing via its heading process, it soon became clear that more attention was needed on the cleaning process. The cleaning department’s queue time began to lengthen and eventually reached to approximately two weeks of throughput, according to Ramon Munoz, director of operations.
Allfast Fastening Systems went from a manual process that required two shifts and up to eight operators to a one-shift, one-operator process by implementing an automated rotary parts washer. Photo credits: Allfast Fastening Systems
Plus, the cleaning department was faced with the labor-intensive nature of the manual process with the constant lifting of baskets weighing up to 46 pounds. Munoz says it became obvious it was time to act.
“Jim Wingate drove the whole project and did an amazing job ensuring that we had the necessary collaboration that we needed,” Munoz explains.
The company’s general manager charged Wingate, operations manager, with researching automation for that department and leading the project, which included eventually deciding on a machine to implement for an efficient and safe cleaning process.
Because the aluminum rivets for the aerospace industry that Allfast manufactures and cleans are heavily contaminated with oil, it was critical that the new machine reach a precise level of cleanliness. Secondary operations on these parts — which vary in size from 0.093-inch diameter by 0.125-inch long to 3/8-inch diameter by 1-inch long — include heat treating that requires a very clean surface.
While exploring cleaning machines and capabilities, Wingate came across Ransohoff, a division of Cleaning Technologies Group, and met several employees who were professional, helpful and easy to work with there. He felt that Ransohoff was serious about satisfying the company’s need for clean parts. Together, they built the design for a custom rotary basket washer that has been a “godsend,” as Wingate describes, and eliminated the cleaning department’s bottleneck and safety issues.
“The running joke at the time was they are going to have to go to the gym now because they aren’t getting their free daily workouts here anymore.” – Jim Wingate
“I’m amazed that the operators were able to do what they did for so long,” says Wingate, speaking of the situation prior to integrating the new machine. “The running joke at the time was they are going to have to go to the gym now because they aren’t getting their free daily workouts here anymore.”
Although the free weight-lifting sessions are gone, the benefits of the new cleaning system have made the trade worth it. Allfast purchased a customized version of the LeanJet RB-8 immersion cleaning system, which has enabled the company to hold bath life for a month to a month and a half, and eliminated the need to add water daily to the overflow system it replaced. This is especially an accomplishment for a company located in California, as environmental regulations regarding disposal of a wastewater system are tight and frequent wastewater disposal is costly.
Not only is the new cleaning system more efficient but the cleaning fluid it uses is nontoxic, composed of citric materials. This fluid is much more user friendly and environmentally safe compared with other manual cleaning processes.
The Washer Wins
The LeanJet RB-8 rotary basket system is simple to run, but complex in its design. The operator loads parts into the carriage — which consists of 30- to 40-pound batch sizes at Allfast — closes the door and presses the cycle start button. The carriage then begins to rotate. The wash pump starts, and the high impact spray cleaning begins. As the solution-holding sump fills, the parts become immersed, the bath becomes turbulated and the solution eventually overflows back to the main holding tank.
Because the aluminum rivets for the aerospace industry that Allfast manufactures and cleans are heavily contaminated with oil, it was critical that the new machine reach a precise level of cleanliness.
The regenerative blow-off fan starts, and the carriage rotates in front of the heated, high-pressure, high-velocity air knife. Once the blow-off fan stops, the carriage stops in its starting position. The operator then opens the door and unloads the parts.
According to Wingate, cycle time varies depending on the diameter of the part, but normally it is anywhere between eight and 15 minutes.
While cleaning parts, Allfast also uses the new machine to clean the extra baskets they purchased. “We load empty baskets to go into the machine afterward,” Wingate explains. “Then, after the parts are clean, they come out on a conveyor, and they go into a clean basket. It is a round-robin, closed-looped system.”
A Customized System No Less
Although the automated parts washer’s basic functionality stayed the same, Allfast worked with CTG to customize its system to more accurately align with its needs.
For instance, the RB-8 washer is named after the eight baskets that come with its design. However, the company chose to reduce the basket number to four in its system to be able to trace its lots. “We would have had to split our lots into two baskets,” Wingate says. “We are hyperfocused on lot traceability. If we lose traceability, we will have to scrap the whole load of parts.”
Allfast is so pleased with the RB-8 washer as well as the customer service and professionalism that the cleaning OEM provides that it is planning to make a second washer purchase for another project.
Management also added several accessories to the machine to ensure the heavy oils can be removed from the parts going into the system. An extra water tank, oil control system, decant oil system, centrifuge oil system and an automatic chemical feed system were all added. After testing this customized system, Allfast enjoyed not only cleaner parts but a longer bath life than what they were experiencing prior to adding these accessories to the washer.
Because the centrifuge is responsible for taking a lot of oil off the top of the bath and providing longer bath life, it also requires monthly cleaning to dispose of the oil it has collected. To take care of this maintenance, Allfast hires a contractor to complete that service. Other than that, there is no other periodic maintenance required.
Because the aerospace industry has been hit hard due to the coronavirus pandemic, Allfast has experienced a slowdown in some of its product lines. Therefore, the rotary parts washer is currently running about six hours a day.
Wingate and Munoz are impressed with how responsive Ransohoff has been when they have requested service from the company. It also helps that the automated washer is supplied with a data cable so the OEM can remotely understand any issues that may occur in the system, eliminating the need for an in-person service call. “CTG has walked us through our problems over the phone,” Wingate explains. “Since they are in Ohio, this is much more convenient.”
Further Automation for the Future
Allfast is so pleased with the RB-8 washer it purchased as well as the customer service and professionalism that the cleaning OEM provides that management is already planning to make a second washer purchase for another project.
“Because of the different types of alloys we must clean, we’re discussing the idea of adding another tank to our machine so we can clean two different types of material at the same time,” Wingate says. He adds they are looking at another machine for lower volume applications as well.
Cleaning Technologies Group | 513-870-0100 | ctgclean.com
Allfast Fastening Systems | 626-968-9388 | trsaero.com/allfastinc/
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