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International Chemical Company, often referred to as "Interchem" does make some formulations that are designed for cast iron and steel parts only. They’re relatively heavy in the caustic soda department, where the recommended ratio of water to chemicals is eight to 12 ounces per gallon. But Interchem’s dual-purpose formulations for use on aluminum parts are more popular, and most shops clean their iron and steel parts with the same solutions. They contain no caustics and they have additional surfactants that lower the surface tension of water and allow it to penetrate burned on carbon and soils on aluminum when used in concentrations of four to eight ounces per gallon.
One change in the way aluminum must be cleaned is believed to be a result of the design changes in automotive components as much as anything else. "The old cast iron parts didn’t have as many complex cavities," pointed out Jay Miller, a member of the industrial sales staff at A.R.E. Manufacturing Co., one of several cleaning equipment manufacturers in Wichita, KS. "There’s a lot more remote areas, such as the oil galley ways that run down the length of a lot of aluminum heads," he said. "Areas like that are excluded from contact with the hot water solution."
The technology of spray washers is pretty basic, and many of them operate pretty much the same way. There has long been disagreement about whether water pressure is more important than water volume. Most cabinet type spray washers have nozzles of some kind, and shoot the water at the parts at a pressure at the nozzles of between 50 and 75 psi. But any rule of thumb having to do with pressure is hard to establish. "The more nozzles you have and the closer they are to the part, the more efficient cleaning you’ll achieve," pointed out Chris Winslow, sales manager for spray equipment manufacturer Viking Corporation.
The heat of the water/additive solution is usually between 160° and 180° F; the idea being that it needs to be kept under 200° F to prevent any possibility that it starts to boil and bring about pump cavitation. Another concern associated with the use of elevated temperatures has to do with the evaporation rate. Doug Winnefield, a product manager with Hotsy Corporation of Englewood, CO, a parts cleaning manufacturer, pointed out that evaporation rates for most spray washers runs between five and 20% a day, and the hotter the water is, the faster it will evaporate.
Of course, there is a correlation between temperature of the spray liquid and its effectiveness. "We used to design our washers for 180° F tops, but we’ve jumped our machines to operate at 193° F because you really have to have higher temperatures to cut that grease," said A.R.E. Manufacturing’s Miller.
One well-known spray washer manufacturer, G & F Disa/Goff of Seminole, OK, favors high volume. "We don’t use high pressure pumps; we use high volume pumps. Plus, we have a patented process of ‘throwing’ the water at the parts," said David Zehren, a Goff product manager. "This way we maintain a larger droplet size. A droplet transfers a lot more energy to knock off the deposit than water that’s been forced through a nozzle," he pointed out.
Another selling point of his machines, explained Zehren, is that the Goff machines are designed to be used with water alone. "We do add some rust inhibitor when cleaning cast iron, but the strength of our systems is that by not using detergents, the water doesn’t get saturated with the grease and oils in the detergents. We can skim the water to remove the oils and other wastes, and re-use the water continuously," he said.
There are several new technologies being tried. Many rebuilding shops use ultrasonic cleaning. It’s not a new technology the aerospace, medical and optical industries have used it to clean parts for decades. Over the past few years, however, some companies that make ultrasonic cleaning machines have become more and more interested in serving the heavier industries, such as automotive.
One such company is CAE Ultrasonics of Jamestown, NY. This is a 50-year-old firm that launched its "Grease Monkey Division" in April, 1999 to expand the use of its products by the automotive industry.
"I love aluminum," said CAE Ultrasonics Grease Monkey Division product manager Dick Davis. "They’re the easiest parts for me to clean."
Davis explains that an ultrasonic cleaning machine works in conjunction with water in a 90/10 ratio with a rust inhibitor that’s added before the solution is heated to 130° to 150° F. "So we’re applying heat, ultrasound and liquid, plus in some cases, agitation, too," Davis said. When asked to explain how ultrasonics works to clean parts, Davis said, "the ultrasound transducers create very small cavitation bubbles which implode inward on themselves rather than exploding outward," he explained. "This creates a very fierce explosive force of 10 to 20-thousand psi, but it’s highly localized."
Speed is the real attraction of ultrasonics. "We can clean 95% of your transmission parts in seven to 10 minutes, and most other automotive parts can be cleaned in about 10 minutes," Davis said, adding that in order to achieve maximum effectiveness, parts must be positioned so that they’re exposed to the liquid. "If liquid can surround it, ultrasonics will clean it." Besides speed, Davis pointed out that CAE Grease Monkey ultrasonic machines are highly automated. "People can drop the parts into the machine and go do something else, so it increases productivity, too," he added.
One of the most appealing cleaning technologies, from an environmental standpoint, is what’s known as bio-remediation. This involves adding microbes or enzymes to the spray or soak tank, which actually eat the oil and grease off of the parts. Think of it no heat, no chemicals, and hardly any waste just mother nature at work. "Some companies in Europe use it a lot, and they said that after many years of running the bio-remediation machines, instead of gallons and drums of waste to dispose of, they’re down to baggies," commented Wigert of LS Industries.
We spoke to one production rebuilder who has experimented with several of the new cleaning technologies. Dick Gentry, production manager of A.E.R. Manufacturing in Carrolton, TX, said he tried bio-remediation. "It works extremely well, but it’s slow, and it’s not cheap," he said. "When you balance the cost and time, the only place where we had any success with bio-remediation was on rack-and-pinion valve bodies," he said, adding that, "I’m not using it now."
Gentry also tried a new technique involving the use of baking soda to clean aluminum parts. "It worked ok," he said, "but we had problems with its being a ‘one-pass’ material. Ever open to considering a better way, Gentry has also looked at ultrasonic cleaning equipment. "It’s very expensive and we experienced problems with using it to clean auto parts because any oil in the water serves as a damper to the ultrasonic activity," he pointed out. Gentry admitted, however, that "the cleaning action is terrific."
Gentry, along with at least one other rebuilder we talked to, is excited about the possibilities of a new spray wash system that flies in the face of conventional wisdom about the practicality of high pressure spray washing. Those who have seen the results of the CBT-150 spray washer from Jet Pro, a Pierce City, MO, manufacturer, expressed the opinion that the machine represents something really different in terms of speed, quality and low-cost operation.
Jet-Pro engineer and designer Ray Butler, said that his machine, which has been under development for three-and-a half years, is an aqueous washer that’s different from others in that it uses a combination of high pressure and highly engineered nozzles, electronic controls and fixturing. He wouldn’t say much more than that, except to add that it also has an advanced oil separation system and oil skimmer that extracts the waste out of the water so well that the water never needs to be changed. "The oil that pours out of the back of the machine is literally black oil," he said.
Dick Gentry of A.E.R. is very interested. "The high pressure wash system at Jet Pro is a 3000 psi machine, and I’m hoping it will replace the current cleaning system that we use now," he said.
Rebuilders and equipment manufacturers alike expressed the thought that the cosmetic appearance of aluminum parts is critical. "As A.R.E.’s Miller put it, "If you have two entities that are performing the same task, and one is brighter and shiner than the other, and there’s no cost difference, which one will somebody buy?"
There’s an old saying that the packaging of some products is more important than how they function, and perhaps that’s true to some extent in the clean up of aluminum parts. "It’s always perceived that the inside looks like the outside, so the appearance is very important to people," concluded Chris Winslow of Viking Corporation.
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