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The Nitty Gritty On Small Parts Cleaning: Many Ways To Clean Small Engine Parts
Ask any rebuilder or remanufacturer and they'll tell you there are as many ways to clean engine small parts as there are engine small parts. And cleaning methods used for small parts not only depend on the component being cleaned, but on the type of equipment being used.
By Ed Sunkin
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Tom Nichols, CEO and president of Automotive
Machine & Supply, Inc., Fort Worth, TX, said availability
is most often the key to why his shop cleans and reuses small
parts. Nichols said each day his shop cleans and reuses many small
parts, including valve locks, shims, springs, retainers, rocker
arm assemblies, cam bore caps, nuts, bolts, etc. "Because
we only rebuild import engines, many times we must reuse parts
that are just not available," he said.
However, not all small parts are cleaned for an engine rebuild.
Nichols said there are some small engine parts that Automotive
Machine & Supply will replace with new during an engine rebuild,
such as exhaust valves, timing chains, tensioners, lock tabs and
some head bolts.
Bruce Chapman, president of Ontario Reman, a PER in Etobicoke,
Ontario, Canada, said his facility, which remans about 10 engines
a day, also installs some new small parts while cleaning others.
"It all depends on the wear factor," Chapman said. "But
because every block from Ontario Reman is rebored and comes with
new oversized pistons, piston cleaning is eliminated and the pistons
Lifters at Ontario Reman are either cleaned or installed new.
Those that pass a preliminary inspection are contracted out for
cleaning. "It also depends on the price, whether it's more
economical to reuse or to buy new," said Chapman. "You
have to factor in time and labor. For certain engine blocks, it
may be necessary to have the lifters cleaned due to a shortage
of available replacements."
Jonathan Smith, president of Motor Replacement Co., Inc., Phoenix,
AZ, said his company's Roadrunner Engines are remanufactured with
all new small parts, which result in a higher cost for the finished
product. "Most engine remanufacturers use reground valves,
refaced rockers, used valve springs and used pushrods," Smith
said. "We use only new parts in our heads which assures a
long and dependable service period. Of course this means our pricing
in some cases is higher."
Ontario Reman's Chapman said the type of engine also will dictate
differences in cleaning times and requirements. "Whereas
the Chrysler 318 has very few small parts, Chrysler's 3.0L overhead
cam engines contain many more, so you'll have more money and time
wrapped up cleaning these engines," he said.
Chapman said cleaned small parts can provide a better method to
inspect components for reuse. "Only after parts are thoroughly
and properly cleaned can an effective inspection be made,"
he said. "Therefore, all contaminants such as grease, oil,
scale, grime and rust must be removed."
Chapman said Ontario Reman has one teardown employee who handles
the cleaning process. And because Ontario Reman only remanufactures
Chrysler engines, cleaning processes can be simplified. Most often,
all small parts (of the same material) are just combined and cleaned
together. After cleaning, the parts are sorted and inspected.
"Sure you may clean some garbage and unusable parts, but
it's far better to thoroughly inspect parts after they're cleaned
than to spend a lot of time trying to inspect them when they're
dirty," said Chapman. "Even if you inspected the parts
prior to cleaning, you would still have to inspect them again
after they were cleaned."
Nichols said Automotive Machine & Supply, which rebuilds about
200 heads and 20 engines each month, views cleaning and inspection
as the number one step to performing quality work - not as a necessary
evil. Nichols said his shop also combines small parts of the same
material when cleaning.
"Most of these small engine parts are put in a gallon paint
bucket with 1/8" holes drilled all over it and left to soak
in either a hot caustic vat (for steel components) or a hot detergent
vat (for aluminum parts)," Nichols said. "Other items
such as hydraulic lash compensators are washed by hand using spray
carb cleaner. Other parts may be vatted, then wire buffed by hand
or bead blasted. We do very little hand washing or hand scrubbing
in a parts washer because it is not cost or time efficient."
Nichols said cleaning times vary by the component. "Any hand
cleaning of small parts will take the longest amount of time,
such as hydraulic lifters," he said. "But anything we
can just drop in the vat and let soak is least time consuming."
Ontario Reman's Chapman said to save time at his facility, most
small parts are batch cleaned where a couple hundred similar pieces
are loaded into a tank where they soak overnight. "Although
the parts don't need to clean for that length of time, overnight
cleaning is an efficient process for a PER like us," Chapman
R. Anthony Harper, manager of J & H
Diesel Service, Inc., Greenville, MS, a diesel fuel injection
rebuilding facility, said no matter what component is being cleaned,
an improper cleaning method can be more harmful than not cleaning
at all. "It's important to know your product," Harper
said. "For example, when cleaning a diesel fuel injector,
the nozzle tips are NEVER buffed," he said.
Harper said J & H, a 23,000-sq. ft. facility
with 20 employees that specializes in diesel fuel injection and
turbocharger systems for farm applications, industrial equipment,
automotive, marine (including EMD), and heavy duty diesel engines,
rebuilds hundreds of diesel fuel injectors each month. Harper
said processes used to clean specialty components, such as fuel
injectors, are similar to small engine components. "We disassemble
all the injectors, soak the parts in an aqueous parts cleaner,
wash them out with mineral spirits and polish the nozzle tip with
an industrial cleaner that cuts carbon and cleans to a shine,"
he explained. "After that, the injector body is buffed."
Automotive Machine & Supply's Nichols said parts cleaning
equipment manufacturers have also improved machinery to make the
cleaning of small parts easier. "Today's ovens have better
features and oil skimmers, filters and pumps have improved sludge
containment," he explained. "Even spray nozzle designs
and basket drives for jet washers have been greatly improved for
Some shops are also experimenting with nontraditional cleaning
methods in an effort to improve the process. Marty Ehman, president
of Global Sonics, Bountiful, UT, which manufactures The Grease
Monkey ultrasonic parts cleaner, sees ultrasonic cleaning as a
logical step toward improved parts cleaning technology. "Ultrasonic
cleaning is based on a phenomenon called cavitation," Ehman
said. "This occurs when high-frequency, high-intensity sound
waves are introduced into a liquid producing countless micro-bubbles
or cavities in the solution."
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