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Software gets strong

March 16, 2011
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It’s no secret that many operators have a love/hate relationship with software. On the one hand, it makes things easier — you’re able to monitor and program an operation from the push of a button, to helping in managing overhead. But on the other hand, it can be riddled with confusing jargon, procedures and can come across as perplexing, to say the least.

According to Scott Fausneaucht of Custom Control Specialists, “Technology is always changing and advancing. Fortunately for the carwash operator, what might be new to the carwash industry has probably already been tried and tested in the industrial automation world.”

Fauscneaucht continued, “Costs have come down, and ‘bugs’ have been worked out. The benefits are there for every carwash operator who should consider some of these proven systems.”

What’s new
Some of the newest innovations in carwash tunnel control software involve using networks to connect the various pieces of installed control equipment, according to Fausneaucht.

“All input/output stations, operator interfaces, keypads, variable speed drives and motor starters can be brought together, controlled, and monitored using simple network cables,” he said. “There are even some systems available that will include all the sensors in the carwash tunnel and equipment room.”

And, while the cost of some of these options may yet be too steep, cautioned Fausneaucht, network connections between control and controlled devices is very cost effective, and are being used more and more.

Blake Genth of eGenuity LLC, said that operators want a software solution robust enough to meet all their needs and especially one that can handle, manage and control various operations or profit centers. He also said the software needs to attend to the customer service side of the business. As a way to bring in more revenue, his company recently partnered with a business that creates a gift card, loyalty card and a email campaign application.

“All of these products,” he said, “are designed to bring customers back to the shop and get the customers to spend more money once they arrive. Even though these features have only been available for a short time they have already become the most popular add-on feature in our line of products.”

How to increase efficiency
There is so much more information and control that is available for the operator when going beyond simple on/off control, said Fausneaucht.

“The monitoring value, or feedback, that is available from the controlled device confirms the action that it was commanded to complete. So we have the ability to tell a motor to work only as hard as the load demands through a variable speed drive, and we confirm and monitor the power supplied to complete that work,” he said.

With networked chemical injection pumps, you can accurately apply solutions because you are monitoring water flow, pressure, and TDS, and we can confirm that the chemical was applied as it was commanded. Even more, added Fausneaucht, you can create a visual chart or graph of the usage. The same technology can be utilized for fresh and conditioned water, even monitoring waste water.

“If an operator must make these changes manually, often they will over-compensate ‘just to be sure.’ In another example, water pressure can change throughout the day, possibly changing critical chemical balances that will affect the wash quality,” he said.

According to Fausneaucht, major cost savings can be obtainedusing networked control systems, due the reduction of control wiring that must be installed.

“I believe,” he said, “that a higher level of automation can be achieved using networks. The nature of networked systems involves a monitoring value; in other words there is a feedback that is available from the controlled device that confirms the command for action, and the action itself.”

How to monitor labor
According to Aaron Schmick, marketing manager for Integrated Services, Inc., auto-teller technology has obviously played a significant part in reducing labor costs as you’ll find more and more owners/operators utilize the ability to have their carwash open 24 hours/day without having to pay an employee to be on site.

However, he advised, there are other ways that software systems are improving efficiency without having to make a huge investment.

“Most software systems and tunnel controllers utilize wireless technology, allowing operators to manage real-time performance remotely,” Schmick said.

“Knowing when your carwash is the busiest as well as the slowest and how to properly staff your site during those times can drastically improve labor costs. Whether it’s a single carwash or multi-site operation, wireless technology with real-time reporting allows operators to appropriately staff their sites throughout the day resulting in efficient and reduced labor costs.”

What does the future hold?
As for the future, Gaudreau believes there will be gradual and incremental growth of new conveyors because some markets have been over-built and financing is still difficult to obtain. “Although there was a short term loosening on communities restricting the building of carwashes, that scenario has already started to change,” he stated.

Beaupied predicts various belt configurations and plastic chain and roller components will be seen more in the coming year.

As for McLaughlin, he said that 2011 is poised to be the best year in recent memory for many businesses and said operators will remain focused on adding revenue-producing equipment which offers a rapid return on investment. He said to look for more items like automatic tire shiners, wheel cleaners, arches and other chemical application equipment, automated vehicle prep systems (which can also reduce labor expenses), improved drying systems that allow for tiered “menu” drying options, and much more.

Operators, he added, “will also have an opportunity to move toward lower maintenance designs, and/or make the transition to electric drive if it supports their business model and management style.”

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