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One of the most important components of a conveyor carwash is the tunnel controller, which is effectively the “brains” of the carwash, according to Jan van Kessel, the man in charge of the tunnel controller program at PDQ Manufacturing, Inc., and vice president of research and development for Kesseltronics.
Or, as it is defined by Robert Andre of CarWash College, a controller communicates between carwash equipment and the motor control center to measure vehicles and turn equipment on and off in accordance with each wash selection. The controller can also alert operators to luring issues before they result in downtime or operational failure.
“I have been in this business for over 25 years and I have seen more innovation in the last couple of years than ever before,” van Kessel said. “[There is] innovation in activation, information and environmental conscious technologies,” he continued.
“Despite the tough economic climate, it has never been as much fun to develop products for the tunnel controller market when you truly embrace what new technologies are capable of doing.”
Advancements in controllers
Most modern controllers have internet access capability integrated into the controller, allowing the owner and installer to monitor, configure and adjust the system from any place in the world, said van Kessel.
“Owners can retrieve vital statistics and hourly compressed statistics sent right to their phone or computer,” he said. One of the more advanced controllers on the market, he added, even has black box technology. “This allows technicians to replay all the activity of the last couple of days to determine intermittent sensor issues.”
Another emerging technology is the central server and cloud computing phenomena.
“It allows a multi-site operator to view all his vital statistics on one webpage,” van Kessel explained. “It also allows loyalty and gift cards to easily be shared amongst these sites.”
Jennifer Pedrizzetti, president of AutoPilot Carwash Control Systems, said that because new controllers can be accessed from the Internet or via a Smartphone, and used by remote management, the owners have even more control and they allow for more up time.
“New controllers should be able to think and act like the owner,” she said.
“They can see that an open bed pickup truck or a trailer hitch are in the tunnel and can then retract a top brush or close, or slow down a blower or retract the wrap around.”
“Robustness” is what has improved the hardware available today, continued Pedrizzetti. “Operators can back up data to a simple flash memory card for quick recovery,” she explained. “Older systems had PC hard drives that could and did crash or had no provision for backups.”
Common controller blunders
It’s important to be aware of some of the mistakes operators can make with controllers. Pedrizzetti said one big gaffe is forcing a controller to manage too much.
“The more functions you buy, the more control and savings you can appreciate. All too often,” she said, “combining functions together, like motors with solenoid valves and soap applicators, end up overlapping and wasting product.
According to van Kessel, often owners and operators don’t take the time to understand what it is they are buying, and they rely on their equipment provider to just include it.
“The equipment installer often recommends what their technicians are familiar with or what spare parts they carry. Since this is the heart of your system, also buying just on price can come back to haunt you,” van Kessel said. “Consider figuring things out through the internet. For example, find out how to determine what is wrong with sensors — this alone can save you lots of investigative trips to your site and in return save a lot of money in travel, labor and lost revenue.”
Additionally, van Kessel suggested operators make sure panel doors are closed so that humidity and water cannot reach the electronic components, and said some anti-humidity crystals can do miracles to prolong the life of your equipment.
Pedrizzetti also advised to test power supplies and surge protectors and to upgrade backups. She also said to blow or vacuum away dust.
The environmental factor
As the trend toward eco-friendly carwashes rages on, controllers can also help in terms of managing energy, water and chemicals.
“A modern controller will manage your building lights, can control the speed of your dryers based on bay humidity and program purchased,” van Kessel said. “They can also control the doors to preserve the heat and control the temperature and control the glycol systems (in the Northern states).” They can monitor the consumables and can alert when you have leaks or other waste issues, he added.
Pedrizzetti said that most controllers measure the vehicles more accurately, getting down to inches instead of pulses. “A pulse,” she said, “can be anywhere from 8 to 36 inches. Converting and reacting to inches brings so much more control to the system. The waste associated with turning on or off a device four inches too early or four inches too late, when multiplied by tens of thousands of vehicles, can be huge.”