Parts Cleaning

Factors to Consider When Replacing Legacy Parts Washers


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In manufacturing operations, parts washers have been an important step in the production process for many years. In order to accept surface treatment and finishing, parts require cleaning of grease and fabrication residue. In production process operations, cleanliness of parts and components is directly related to quality and reliability of the final product. However, parts washers, just like most industrial equipment, can outlive their efficient usefulness. At this point, the equipment can be designated as either “outmoded” or “legacy” in its status. This article explores the benefits of replacing legacy parts washers, new innovations in parts washer systems and how to find the best parts washer for an application.

A common misconception carried over from the days when solvents were the main option, that is, prior to the early 1990s, is that solvent-free aqueous cleaning was not up to the task. Numerous parts washer manufacturers in North America demonstrate that the technology is a now standard solution and a clear alternative to solvent-based providers. In cabinet-based aqueous parts washers, solvent-free detergents undergo high heat and pressure to deliver superior cleaning efficiency. Aqueous parts washers also developed as a result of more regulations on the use of harsh chemicals and waste disposal and alleviate concerns associated with spent solvents. Furthermore, technological innovations combined with solvent-free cleaning mean more types of parts washers have evolved to provide an effective solution for a range of industrial applications.

Benefits of Replacement

There are a host of factors that drive operation managers to consider the challenge of either replacing or updating outdated and legacy parts cleaning equipment to a more efficient and robust solution. Low direct labor, improved reliability, improved component quality, environmental effectiveness and safety are factors that have an impact on the cost of operation. Deciding to make a new equipment purchase when funds are allocated requires an analysis of the factors that justify the expenditure. Legacy parts washer equipment can cause inefficiency due to interrupted workflow and bottlenecks as well as quality and reliability issues in parts and components cleanliness and can require increased maintenance costs.

To achieve the results that benefit operational efficiency, and therefore maximize return on investment in the parts washer purchase, consider these advantages/specifications available on the market today:

  • combining wash, rinse or dry cycles into one process
  • durability for extended production life cycle
  • eliminating hazardous chemicals and petroleum-based solvents from the cleaning process for improved compliance
  • eliminating maintenance/replacement costs of outdated components
  • enhanced Integration and Interface to robotic loading and unloading
  • bigger variety of model types now available from single manufacturer (front load, top load, pass-through, agitation dip tank, carousel)
  • larger variety of size and load capacities to deal with increasing parts variations across industrial applications
  • high efficiency pumps
  • increased automation and ease of operation with human machine interface/programmable logic controllers (HMI/PLC)
  • labor reduction by replacing hand washing or manual pressure washing
  • new innovations and capabilities: closed loop wash/rinse cycle; gear-driven turntable operation; sump sweep spray manifolds
  • ongoing quality improvement goals such at total quality management (TQM)
  • reduction in production delays
  • reduction in waste stream
  • meeting safety requirements
  • smaller footprint
  • updated production processes

Application Types

Because of the range of industrial applications for aqueous parts washers, the purchasing team often requires a custom option that is unique to their cleaning requirement. An engineering consultation can assist in deciding cleaning stage configuration, throughput or batch process, cabinet type, or interface with automated loading and unloading of parts. Cabinet parts washers in either top load or front load design allows the operator full easy access to the wash zone.

One way to simplify identifying appropriate model choice is to determine whether an application is in either a general repair or production process cleaning operation. General repair parts washers typically are available in standard models with little variation, while production process parts washers are highly automated and require custom design configurations to address bigger cleaning challenges. Adding components increases automation complexity and typically requires larger cabinets to house more circuitry.

A standard general repair parts washer can be operated throughout the day as required, while high volume operations require a system that may operate around the clock.

Production process parts washers are highly automated and typically customized with options for applications that require meeting clean specifications and challenging or intricate parts configurations.

Recent Parts Washer Improvements

Recent innovations in part washer functionality include cabinet-based rotating fixture systems, pass-through or flow-through conveyor parts washers, and front load return-to-operator carousel parts washers that can accommodate robotic loading and unloading of parts and components.

The goal of a clean specification requirement is to achieve the determined quality level and eliminate any contamination. By their nature, complex parts and intricate components contain blind spots and hard-to-reach areas that may need special fixtures and a custom array of nozzles aligned to challenge areas to thoroughly remove contaminants.

The automatic top load rotary fixture parts washers operate like a rotisserie: as the part rotates from its balanced centerline, the spray manifold thoroughly flushes fine particulates from blind holes and other hard to clean cavities. Because every surface of the part is targeted with heated and pressurized water and solvent-free detergent, there’s no chance of the part remaining contaminated. During the dry cycle, rotation action dumps water from blind holes and hard to reach areas.

Cabinet and Pass-Through Conveyor Parts Washers

When considering a parts washer for an application or production cell, it is important to compare functions that impact workflow. Cabinet parts washers are excellent choices for batch cleaning large size parts and components, whereas passthrough parts washers are well suited to parts of uniform size and production cells with continuous product flow.

Cabinet parts washers loaded with parts, the door is closed, the wash cycle is initiated, and when completed, the parts are removed. For cleanroom situations, the closed-process nature of cabinet parts washers is well suited for environmental control. The turntable in front load cabinet parts washers can be designed with special fixtures and parts trees to accommodate multiple parts with odd shapes and sizes.

Cabinet parts washers tend to be of standard design, and therefore are less expensive to manufacture than pass-through conveyor parts washers. However, pass-through conveyor parts washers typically accommodate automated loading and unloading for lower labor costs, while cabinet parts washers require manual loading and unloading.

Tips for Researching the Best Option

A best practice for ensuring a reliable and quality-driven manufacturer is to research the breadth of their product models to include experience in the industry, number of machines in the field and recent installations that demonstrate experience cleaning a variety of challenging parts and components. It is important that the parts washer manufacturer offer engineering consultation and a variety of value-added configurations that consider the operating costs of the entire cleaning production cycle, including advanced automation, product handling, worker safety and environmental impact in order to be the appropriate solution for industrial applications.

Define the key requirements of the parts cleaning application by noting these basic parameters:

  • Type of part
  • Size of part or batch
  • Weight of part or batch
  • Part complexity
  • Environmental and waste disposal concerns
  • Type of operation (top load, front load, pass-through or agitation dip tank)
  • Standard base model with limited options or custom designed for specific parts cleaning challenges
  • Location in facility

Researching parts washer manufacturers evolves into issuing request for quotes (RFQs), then settling on final manufacturers. In addition to key requirements, here are some additional questions to help make the most informed decision:

  • Does the manufacturer provide technical support, service and supplies?
  • Does the manufacturer have experience in making its own detergents and additives?
  • Can the manufacturer address issues such as excessive foaming or rust prevention?
  • Can the manufacturer provide documentation in the form of printable product data specifications and can the manufacturer provide documentation in the form of wastewater approval letters by state?
  • Does the manufacture provide turnkey installation and setup services that address labor for installation, general contracting of plumbers and electricians, facility modifications, and conveyors or robotics?
  • Does the manufacturer provide product demonstration videos?

Increased quality begins with clean specification analysis and improvement of work processes. For clean specification requirements and special challenges, confirm that there is willingness and engineering ability to address special needs. Providing sample parts for testing and evaluation is also important.

It is now clear that one size no longer fits every industrial application. A variety of parts washer models has evolved to address the full spectrum of parts cleaning applications and functionality. However, not all industrial parts washers are constructed the same.

For more information on parts cleaning, visit Production Machining’s Parts Cleaning Zone.



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