Parts cleaning keeps up as manufacturing embraces new technology
Manufacturing is adding technology and seeking more precision, more output and less downtime. One of the most basic parts of manufacturing, parts cleaning machines, is on the same path. The industry is growing in sophistication to match its customers.
“Cleaning systems have changed greatly on the controls side,” said Rosie Hawk, selling process and inside sales with Stoelting Cleaning Equipment (Kiel, WI).
“Technology has allowed us to monitor flow rates of sprays, air and chemistry through sensors,” she said. “Pressure monitoring systems can tell us if nozzles are plugged or filters need changing.”
The Ransohoff division of Cleaning Technologies Group (Cincinnati) tells a similar story.
“The machines have adopted automation, combined technologies and include more sophisticated filtration systems to help address more critical areas,” said Jeff Mills, national sales manager for Ransohoff.
“We are seeing more of a software change moving forward,” he added. “The software of today tracks parts, machine uptime, faults and functions and allows the manufacturer to work on the equipment while being off site. As software progresses into more complex 3D models, the industry may change even more.”
Cleaning systems companies say the greater use of robots and automation has an impact on their businesses.
“We have seen more and more robotics involved in high volume parts cleaning processes,” Bill Downs, research and development manager, and Joseph Briede, associate chemist, of Cimcool Fluid Technology, said in a written statement. Cimcool is part of Milacron (Blue Ash, OH).
With robots, Downs and Briede said, “Not only do you need to provide low foam high detergency cleaning performance, but you have to also be compatible with the elastomers, paint/coatings, polymers and other hardware incorporated into the robot.”
Cimcool works with producers of robots “to ensure our chemistries are compatible with their equipment and to get their approval,” they added.
Technology such as ultrasonic cleaning, which combines sound waves and a cleaning solution, is being used in parts cleaning.
“As parts become smaller and more intricate, precision parts cleaning is more important than ever,” said Frank Pedeflous, CEO of Omegasonics (Simi Valley, CA). “As more industries become aware of ultrasonic cleaning, there are more applications being successfully uncovered every month.”
Another technology is CO2 cleaning, which “provides a solution eliminating water and can be automated for improved efficiency,” said Nelson W. Sorbo, vice president of research and development for Cool Clean Technologies LLC (Eagan, MN).
“In some cases, the ‘drop-in’ feature of CO2 spray technology can utilize existing part fixturing and controls while eliminating the need for an external cleaning station,” Sorbo said.
“Parts cleaning technologies are playing a larger role in most manufacturing technologies,” he continued. “The effectiveness of cleaning operations has a direct impact on the bottom line of manufacturing operations.”
These changes also have had an impact on chemical companies involved in the industry.
“There have been two major trends that are often used in concert,” said Frank Robinson, regional product manager for Quaker Chemical Corp. (Conshohocken, PA).
“First, the ever increasing use of higher and higher fluid pressure to not only remove soils, but often to also deburr internal passages such as oil galleries,” he said. Pressure can run as high as 7000 psi. That requires “cleaning agents that not only avoid foaming in themselves, but also prevent foaming when contaminated with coolant or oils used in the metal removal steps.”
The other, he continued, is “the application of robotics to precisely position spray nozzles, probes, or lances to direct the high pressure stream has become common. From the chemical supplier perspective, this requires formulations” that meet high pressure requirements and are compatible “with the robot seals, paints and hose elastomers.”
What follows is a look at how different companies are operating at a time of change.
At Cleaning Technologies Group’s Ransohoff, the view is that a diversification of customers is occurring.
“The state of the cleaning industry is strong and has shown small incremental growth patterns over the last five years,” Jeff Mills said.
“The switch from an automotive-dominated market seems to be taking place, he continued. “We believe that consumers are starting to recognize that contamination plays a critical role in the life of a product with tighter tolerances and better surface finishes. The cleaning systems are playing more of a critical role in the production of parts.”
Ransohoff uses sprays, sonics and what it calls it triple action cleaning system. The latter combines spray, immersion and “purge action from dump and filling,” Mills said.
The company’s LeanJet RT-18 has a planetary rotary table that allows “a single point load and upload while ensuring 360 degree part coverage for cleaning and drying,” he said.
Environmental issues are also a concern.
“The environmental side of cleaning will always progress into using more green and neutral based cleaner for the safety of operators,” Mills said. “We have seen less of an environmental regulations push as of late but more push back from the end users to ensure they are using something that not only is safe for the operators but also green for the environment.”
‘Focused on Automation’
At Stoelting Cleaning Equipment, the company is encountering more discerning customers.
“Manufacturers are demanding tighter and tighter cleanliness specifications as products become more efficient, powerful and autonomous,” Rosie Hawk said.
“Repeatability, quality and consistency are required,” she added. “Many manufacturers require their suppliers to provide the parts cleaned to these requirements as opposed to cleaning before assembly.”
Stoelting has a line of spray, immersion and sonic cleaning machines. “Some customer specifications may require combining these technologies in order to achieve their cleanliness specifications, she said.
The company also has been affected by environmental regulations.
Regulations “have forced a transition from solvent cleaning to the more environmentally safe aqueous cleaning method,” Hawk said. “Aqueous chemistry has made huge advances and in most critical cleaning applications, water-based cleaning achieves a cleaner end result than solvents.”
Stoelting has also upgraded its offerings, she said.
“Stoelting’s focus has been on making our machines smarter,” Hawk said. “We have focused on automation, energy conservation, and equipping/enabling machines to be connected via the Internet of Things.”
Cimcool provides “anywhere from high pressure spray cleaners to maintenance cleaners and everything in between, with the main focus on spray and immersion technologies,” Downs and Briede said in their written statement.
“Companies that machine a wide variety of metals and alloys and employ several cleaning systems (spray, immersion, ultrasonic, tumbling, etc.) are looking for one clearer to do all jobs,” they said. “As such, multi-purpose, low foam, high detergency and excellent rust protections are in high demand. We stress providing multi-functional cleaners capable of handling a wide variety of applications and metals.”
Also, they said, “formaldehyde free formulary to control microbiological grow is important as there is more and more industry scrutiny.”
Omegasonics has also benefited from the shift to more water-based cleaners.
Such cleaners “don’t usually possess” the cleaning power of “solvents and require and require more mechanical action to achieve the same cleaning results,” Pedeflous, the CEO, said. “Ultrasonic cavitation provides this mechanical scrubbing action that makes the combination as good as, and in cases better, than solvent soaking.”
The company added its Powerlift product line, “which is a tank volume efficient pneumatic lifting platform for large parts,” he said. “You get the gross cleaning action of agitation with the precision cleaning aspects of ultrasound.” Powerlift, he said, “is wrapped around our basic ultrasonic cavitation technology.”
Also, he said, “We have also added multi-frequency cleaning within a single tank to broaden the variety of applications we can address.”
Cool Clean’s business is CO2 cleaning.
“The impact of environmental regulations has played a large factor on where parts cleaning has shifted,” said Sorbo, the R&D vice president. “Specifically, water shortages and water quality challenges have forced automotive makers to push for new pre-treatment methods. Automated dry cleaning represents a reproducible process and eliminates the necessary drying step required with power wash technologies.”
Cool Clean products are in two categories: CO2 spray cleaning, where particles and residue are removed with a dry spray, in its Omega cleaning modules; and CO2 dense phase cleaning, housed in its Enertia liquid CO2 cleaning systems.
CO2 spray cleaning is intended to remove residues such as particulate, finger prints and thin films from products in industries such as aerospace, automotive and machine tools.
“More recently, CO2 spray technology is being widely used in the automotive manufacturing industry for plastics cleaning prior to painting and soot removal after laser welding,” Sorbo said.
CO2 dense phase cleaning systems “are being used to clean medical devices, machined parts, and aerospace components, and to remove extra silicones from medical and aerospace products,” he said.
What’s more, he continued, CO2 cleaning modules “can be equipped with diagnostics to monitor process parameters and cleaning metrics that can be interfaced with factory data collection operations.”
Quaker Chemical has developed cleaners for metalworking industries. Its Quakerclean 680 VDA was made to dry quickly. It cleans light to moderate soil loads and protects ferrous surfaces while drying uniformly, according to a company case study.
According to the company, Quakerclean 680 VDA leaves “an imperceptible thin film of corrosion protection” on metal surfaces.