The advance of the novel coronavirus has had the entire world struggling with how to stay aware of and eliminate possible contamination—while still getting work done as efficiently as possible. The dual challenges have an obvious parallel in the cleaning and degreasing of manufactured parts: The parts need to be cleaned well, but that cleaning needs to happen in a way that integrates with, rather than disrupts, the production flow.
And the challenge is complicated by the ways manufacturing itself is changing. As part makers evolve to remain competitive, the suppliers of part cleaning technologies and systems change with them to meet their needs. (Cleaning products are part of the IMTS Machine Components/Cleaning/Environmental Pavilion.)
“As engineers make radical design changes, manufacturers need to be able to deliver different types of components—some of which are more of a challenge to clean,” noted Sandro Siminovich, director of sales at Ecoclean Group, Southfield, Mich.
“The automotive industry, for example, is shifting from traditional internal-combustion to electric vehicles, with more importance given to sensors and LIDAR technology in the journey to autonomous driving,” Siminovich said. “These use very different components, with different cleaning challenges. One automotive customer had us build a system for cleaning sensor-related parts that are smaller than the tip of a pen—a big change from what they were used to.”
Manufacturers not only need to clean a wider range of parts—they also are adapting to the trend of shorter part runs as well, Siminovich said. As a result, cleaning systems must be flexible and able to adapt to production changes.
Ecoclean Group is revealing a new, all-in-one CNC cleaning, deburring and drying system, the EcoCvelox, which adapts to manufacturers’ changing needs.
“Not only does it save space by combining three functions in a single system, it’s also modular,” Siminovich explained. “Different modules can be combined in different ways, according to the user’s needs.”
If production volume increases, a new module can enable part cleaning in parallel rather than buying an entire new machine, for example. If a single part number requires more stringent cleaning, an appropriate module can be adapted to the task.
System module setups can be changed with minimal engineering effort, Siminovich said. “That’s the beauty of this modular approach. It’s like Lego.”
Parts handling is accomplished with a palletized system. Components are loaded on pallets manually or with automation; an integrated camera recognizes components. Integrated component handling uses linear motor technology for fast loading and unloading, and transport speed of the parts is between 4-5 m/sec, Siminovich said.
The COVID-19 pandemic brings in new safe-distancing requirements for workers, but it’s just the latest impetus in a decades-long trend of automating tasks, including parts cleaning.
“With supply chains strained, manufacturers will learn to do more and better work with fewer workers per shift,” said Frank Pedeflous, CEO at Omegasonics, Simi Valley, Calif. “Cleaning equipment that operates with less staff will take on a more notable role.” Omegasonics, which makes ultrasonic cleaning systems, plans to meet the challenge through providing ease of use as well as automation-ready systems, he said.
At Cleaning Technologies Group, Cincinnati, the automation story is similar. “Along with the ongoing trend for ever-tighter cleanliness specifications, our customers want to automate their cleaning processes more than ever before,” said Chris Whittaker, vice president of business development.
To that end, the company has developed systems that work with robotic tending. These include the Ransohoff multi-stage LeanVeyor conveyor-type spray washer, the Ransohoff Cell-Jet Rotary Table spray washer—a small-footprint cabinet washer for point-of-use batch cleaning—and the Blackstone-NEY Ultrasonics multi-tank Aquarius system.
Aquarius combines ultrasonic cleaning with rinsing, drying and other processing steps in a single system. “The addition of an automated, robotic-transfer enabled, environmental enclosure and DI water systems increases cleanliness levels and provides process consistency while reducing the labor required for parts cleaning,” according to Whittaker.
CTG is also featuring vacuum drying technology as well as methods for retrofitting older cleaning machines with ultrasonics for enhanced cleaning capability, he said. “We are seeing an increase in washer retrofit and upgrade activity as customers strive to do more with less.”
Another more recent expectation of manufacturers for their equipment is Industry 4.0 readiness. CNC programming can instruct equipment to do astoundingly complicated movements, but the communication is only one way—from the operator to the machine. But the use of sensors enable communication of the machine’s status and how that status affects the operation back in the other direction, to be assessed quickly—even in real time. And the information is not only shared with the operator but also—through a secure network—to higher-level decision-makers.
That’s Industry 4.0 in a nutshell, and it’s becoming a major requirement in modern manufacturing. Cleaning equipment—no less than lathes, mills and robots—will need to be Industry 4.0-enabled. Cleaning equipment developers are ready.
For example, Miraclean Ultrasonics, Ashville, N.Y. has developed a new six-station automated precision parts-cleaning line that has been fitted with the necessary technology for that all-important two-way communication.
“This particular line can include ultrasonic monitoring, which triggers an alarm if the ultrasonic performance is outside of the allowable range,” said Cheryl Larkin, marketing manager. “Likewise, filter flow monitoring will also alarm if outside of acceptable parameters. Data logging is also available, which captures critical process parameters, such as time, temperature, chemistry concentration, final rinse quality, and ultrasonic performance. The data output is per customer preference, whether to print or to electronic storage or sharing.”
The new system, as with the company’s other devices, is Industry 4.0-ready in other ways as well, she said.
“We have incorporated the IO link protocol to network remote IO devices along with Ethernet IP-based remote IO, which reduces wiring, enables auto configuration of devices, and simplifies service. Also, many of our systems incorporate track-and-trace via data logging and allow the data to interface with plantwide systems,” she said. “The systems meet FDA 21 CFR Part 11 requirements for electronic record keeping, including multi-level login. And customer-controllable cellular gateways enable remote factory support and upgrades.” Human-machine interfaces—HMIs—can be viewed and controlled from a mobile device, she added.
All of the company’s systems are made to order. For example, one line has a streamlined footprint and features load and unload stations and four high-performance process zones—clean, two rinses, and dry. Ultrasonics in each of the three wet process zones facilitate particulate removal from complex geometries; vertical agitation in two of the wet process zones—clean and first rinse—further enhance the cleaning action by sloughing off the particulate loosened by the ultrasonics, Larkin explained. “The wet process tanks are also equipped with filtration to remove the particulate from the process tanks so that it will not re-deposit on clean parts.”
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