Four ways ultrasonic cleaning optimizes plant maintenance

Aug. 4, 2015

Vibrating molecules in a non-toxic solution beats other methods, including the well-known elbow grease.

Dirt, debris and abrasive contaminants all cause equipment reliability issues. In process manufacturing, especially foods and pharmaceuticals, contamination is unacceptable. Regular cleaning and removal of dirt, oil, chemicals and other residues must be part of the maintenance process. It can make the difference between keeping a plant online or shutting it down.

As you would expect, several different cleaning methods find use in process manufacturing, and all are effective to some degree, depending on the intricacy of the machine parts involved. For example, almost any method employed will clean a smooth, highly polished surface, whereas complex parts require greater sophistication. If a part has blind or drilled holes, internal passageways, sharp inside corners, or rough surfaces, removing contaminants is difficult.

Ultrasonic cleaning uses vibrating molecules within a non-toxic solution to clean equipment. While many different cleaning methods are applied in process manufacturing, ultrasonic cleaning has benefits that include the four following:

Precision cleaning provided

Compared to other methods, ultrasonic cleaning is a more thorough and effective way to remove dirt and contaminants from crevices and complex equipment parts not reachable by brushes, picks or rags.

Spray-wash cabinets do a good job using a jet spray to remove surface dirt. But they only clean what the spray reaches. Hot tank parts washers essentially melt grease off of a part, but without any uniform precision. Recirculating agitation washers and hand scrubbing often fail to be consistent, thorough or uniform. These processes also can be harsh, and damaging to intricate parts.
As mentioned above, ultrasonic systems use vibrating molecules within a non-toxic solution to clean equipment thoroughly and without damage, no matter the part shape, size or complexity and regardless of its material composition or possible contaminants.

The ultrasound waves generated by the machine produce cavitation bubbles that "reach" into corners and crevices to remove dirt, grimes and greases from brass, stainless steel, aluminum or plastic.

Ultrasonic cleaning sterilizes, to remove bacteria, mold and any other contaminant. For equipment that requires routine maintenance, ultrasonic cleaning meets many standards.

Some ultrasonic systems generate ultrasound at several different frequencies within the same tank, for "multi-frequency cleaning," enabling them to quickly clean down to a specific micron size. The latest generator technology delivers uniform power distribution to eliminate hot or cold spots, resulting in more consistent results, within a given tank.

Reduced maintenance time

Ultrasonic cleaning is not only precise; it is fast and efficient. An operator need only choose the right cleaning solution, appropriate temperature and part dwell time. The parts are submerged into the bath tank, the machine activated and personnel are free to tend to other tasks until the cleaning is done. There is no requirement to pre-clean parts before they go into the tank, as the machine can clean any amount of dirt and grime on its own.

Compared to manual cleaning, the ultrasonic process is more consistent. Ultrasonic waves course equally through the cleaning solution at a consistent frequency, allowing the cavitation bubbles to evenly clean an entire surface and eliminating additional time spent to re-clean or hand-clean heavily soiled areas. The variety of tank sizes, multi-stage systems, customizable configurations, and automated capabilities available — when combined with environmentally friendly, cleaning solutions — make ultrasonic cleaning very efficient.

Depending on the equipment being cleaned, typically less disassembly is required with ultrasonic cleaning because it easily permeates small parts and intricate areas. Reducing parts disassembly saves time and avoids problems associated with incorrect re-assembly or tightening, misalignment or other errors.

Ultrasonic cleaning can extend scheduled maintenance intervals, allowing equipment to run longer and minimize down time.

Reduced maintenance costs

By removing all contaminants, ultrasonic cleaning reduces maintenance costs. When a piece of equipment is cleaned thoroughly, it generally needs cleaning less often, and extending the time between cleanings increases runtime and productivity.

Clean, regularly maintained equipment is more efficient while drawing fewer resources. Over time, dirt, grease and other contaminants build up and increase friction, which generates additional heat that can lead to premature equipment failure. Any bits of dirt or grime remaining after a cleaning will quickly attract more dirt and grime and require more frequent cleaning.

Ultrasonic cleaners rely on ultrasound waves and safe, water-based detergents rather than potentially volatile organic solvents. As a result, there are significantly reduced costs for safety equipment, protection systems, hazardous materials disposal and increased liability insurance, as is necessary when using toxic, flammable or explosive cleaning agents associated with other washers/cleaners. All that is necessary with an ultrasonic cleaner is to filter the bath and periodically change the tank’s water and soap to remove excess contaminants.

Protects equipment investment

Using ultrasonic technology to clean manufacturing equipment protects an investment. It increases the reliability of systems that piece of equipment is tied to. Ultrasonic cleaning excels at completely removing insoluble substances and organic compounds to prevent cross contamination, and it can be used as often as needed without damaging equipment.

Regular ultrasonic cleaning can extend the life of process equipment and ensure that it stays efficient for its entire service life.

Regular maintenance can prevent equipment damage and avoid replacement costs earlier than necessary. If equipment is not properly cleaned on a regular basis, it quickly becomes unreliable. That is why it is vital to use the best cleaning process available to reduce equipment repair costs and downtime — your business depends on it!

Frank Pedeflous is the president of Omegasonics, a Simi Valley, California-based manufacturer of ultrasonic cleaning systems.

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