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Evaluating equipment

October 05, 2011
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Choosing the proper equipment is a big step for an owner or operator when investing in a carwash. Especially since wash equipment can be thought of as the heart of an operation — the equipment brings life to the carwash, and almost any wash would flat line without it.

And, as automation has swept through the carwash industry, equipment has become more important than ever. Tasks that were once handled by employee labor are now completed by the moving arms and spinning brushes of modern carwash equipment.

Follow the model

A carwash's business model ultimately decides what equipment is needed, according to Robert Andre, president of CarWash College. If a wash is going to be an express exterior, and an owner doesn't want employees to touch the car at all, there would be more equipment and more automated touches to the car than in a full-service wash.

One example Andre offered was drying. At a full-service carwash, there would be employees towel drying the car at the end of the tunnel. There is no need for additional drying equipment because the wash will use employee labor to complete the work.

In an express wash, an owner may choose to have more dryers to further automate the drying process. There may be additional pieces of equipment that help dry the vehicle at the end of the carwash as well, such as machines that use friction for drying.

Pick a package

After a carwash owner decides on a business model, there is typically a standard package that an equipment distributor would recommend, Andre said. These equipment packages start with the most typical pieces, and then selections can be added and subtracted from the package based on the needs of the carwash investor.

The potential wash count of a site can also affect the package selection. The larger the potential wash numbers are, the larger the equipment package, Andre explained. Equipment suppliers generally recommend that a wash be built around the site's largest volume of possible business. An operator will want to make sure the wash can capture maximum volume at any given time.

"A general rule of thumb that we usually use … is one car per hour per foot of conveyor," Andre said. "So let's say, for instance, if your site has the potential to … wash 100 cars an hour, it would be recommended that you have a minimum of a 100-foot conveyor."

Andre said the best advice he could offer to someone selecting equipment would be to talk to current carwash owners to find out what they like and why. "I would recommend traveling around to several different sites that have something similar to what you're looking to do," he said. "I think that's one of the most important things is to talk to people. But not only talk, go see with your own eyes as well." When operators see the equipment in action, they can gauge if the equipment will meet their expectations.

Completing the plans

Once the package is decided upon, the equipment company can create site drawings for construction. These drawings include the equipment, and they will show where the building goes and how long the pit needs to be. They also include the size of the building and the equipment room. "Not so much the design of the building, what it should look like, but more the general footprint of the building," Andre said.

Typically, the equipment supplier will communicate with the architect and the contractor, and the company will actually do some of the site layout work for the planning process. Each wash completed by the company Andre works for has its own set of drawings. The carwashes are not built off of a set of standard drawings; instead drawings are made based on each unique property layout.

Chuck Persekian, tunnel division manager with NS Wash Systems, said some suppliers work on a plan with architects from the beginning. "We give them our spec … let's say the width of our equipment is 11 feet. The widest will be 13 feet. We ask them to accommodate a 20-foot tunnel width; the length obviously depends on the property. The architect comes up with a plan, with a design, and then we look at it and if it fits our equipment then we've got a carwash."

Persekian said the equipment supplier will help the customer and can even put them in contact with the architect. Then, once the architect completes the design, the supplier can look and offer their opinion, even though they aren't involved in construction.

Trendy topics

Andre said he has noticed some new trends in the equipment market today, and one is the increasing ease of installation. Suppliers have set up the equipment so that it is easier to install on-site. One example is a controller that is delivered with most of the electrical work completed at the factory. This can save owners and suppliers money and time.

Another trend has been carwashes using more automation. "I think you'll start seeing more people incorporating drying and buffing machines into the conveyor process," Andre predicted.

One trend started in Europe is slowly starting to appear in the United States, Andre said. In Europe, they have developed waxing conveyors. These are completely separate conveyors that are designed so a vehicle can be waxed on line. "It's been very big over in Europe, and it's getting ready, I would say … within this next year, you're going to see a major explosion of that in the U.S. market."

The conveyor would be capable of waxing 60 plus cars an hour, according to Andre. The wax is applied with a spray-gun type apparatus, and then the vehicle goes through a series of polishing cloths that polish the wax into the surface of the vehicle. At the end of the conveyor, there are one or two employees to remove wax from the areas that the machine couldn't reach.

"Today's technology allows for some pretty cool things," Andre said.

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