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Dryers and vacuums and doors, oh my!

October 11, 2010
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Dryers, vacuums and doors may not have a starring role in the carwash show, but they certainly are an important part of the process. Their look, efficiency and quality can keep carwashes running smoothly and if one or the other breaks down, the show cannot go on.

We turned to experts in all three fields to get their take on what’s new, what’s changing and what to expect down the road. Across the board, they all agreed that doors, dryers and vacuums are becoming more efficient and that saving energy, which also saves money, is key now and will be commonplace in the future. But there are other considerations, having to do with materials, speed and horsepower and we’re here to share with you what they had to say.

Doors
Like the front door of a home, carwash doors should look new, clean, and welcoming. After all, they typically are the first piece of equipment your customer will encounter. If they’re dirty or cracked, a customer may wonder what kind of treatment is being given to the washing equipment. Doors also need to close tightly — and they shouldn’t get stuck, either open, closed or halfway down.

Keep it shut
Your carwash door should be sturdy, non-permeable, and able to keep the cold air out when shut completely to keep carwash patrons and vehicles from getting cold. They but also keep the carwash equipment from freezing.

Ted Yamin Jr. of Gallop Brush Company, LLC, a supplier of carwash doors and mitter materials, said a good door can save money and boost volumes by keeping heat in the building where it belongs, thereby reducing energy usage. “As a result,” he shared, “operators are able to prevent freeze ups, have less wear on their equipment, lower maintenance costs, and increased car throughput due to reduced downtimes.”

Yamin also said a warmer building equates to cleaner and dryer cars, requiring less energy from a dryer.

Today’s door trends
Doors with rugged stainless steel frames and hardware are big at Gallop Brush right now. Clear doors are also popular, Yamin said, based on the belief that they can increase the customer’s comfort level by offering increased visibility, light and openness.

For instance, a clear door allows natural light to shine through into the carwash and also reduces the amount of water that could be absorbed into older carwash doors. Yamin said some other trends have to do with roll up and strip doors and ones that are air or electrically operated.

Some of the newest technology has to do with corrosion resistant materials and direct drive operators. In the near future, operators will operate doors through their home computers or cell phone. If a door is stuck open, stuck closed, or opening at odd times at night, the operator will know it and may even be able to send a signal to close it.

Dryers
According to J.R. Klemmer, vice president and general manager of Proto-Vest, Inc., a manufacturer of dryer technology, a buyer must look at the whole picture when it comes to a dryer. “Serious considerations must be given to the overall cost of the unit to include the incidentals such as initial operation costs (motor starters, conduit runs, wiring, controller functions and installation labor cost).”

In many cases, he added, installation along with daily operational costs become inhibitive and do not allow for a realistic return on the investment for many years.

Hot topic, dryer cars
Matt Lee of Oasis Car Wash Systems, a manufacturer of complete in-bay automatic carwash systems, said increased energy efficiency is a hot topic now amongst manufacturers and operators. “We feel,” he disclosed, “it is important to focus on developing quieter dryer systems and ways to draw less power because the ability to ‘go green’ is beginning to have an impact on consumers’ buying decisions.”

Marcus McLaughlin, a member of the marketing team at Belanger, Inc., a manufacturer of carwash systems, agreed, adding that “energy-efficient dryers save operators money every minute they run.”

“Here, a small increase in efficiency can pay huge dividends over the lifetime of the dryer,” McLaughlin explained.

Electrical efficiency, McLaughlin said, is a matter of selecting efficient motors, power-matched to the mechanical load and output requirements. Motor controllers should also stagger-start dryers to reduce the peak electrical demand on which utility bills are based.

Mechanical efficiency, according to McLaughlin, is more complex, and involves the design and construction of:

• Dryer impellers: They should be designed to move air efficiently when rotating at their desired operating speed.
• Manifolds: They should precisely channel air within the dryer housing according to the drying application.
• Housings: They should be “matched” to impellers, with the flow characteristics and air volumes that allow the dryers to meet and exceed their design goals.

McLaughin said a complete dryer offering should include a high-efficiency dryer for general use, as well as targeted drying solutions for different areas of the car. “That’s because different vehicle surfaces present drying needs that are best met with specific dryer designs.

High-efficiency dryers also last longer, said McLaughlin, because they don’t have to work as hard to achieve the desired results, increasing equipment longevity. He said reports have shown that they last about 30 percent longer. He also said that because they dry cars more thoroughly and quickly, more cars are dried every hour, meaning more customers are coming through the line.

Drying in the future
Some trends that are out there include onboard drying systems which Lee said his customers have been requesting. He said operators are looking for systems that are compatible with their existing equipment.

McLaughlin said that today’s cutting-edge dryers are right-sized and smartly optimized for each operator’s unique needs. As for the future, he said systems will keep getting more efficient, compact and affordable. “In the near future, vehicle drying will become part of the ‘price of admission’ for nearly all carwash operators … The fact is, energy is not getting any cheaper and customer expectations are not getting any lower. Equipment manufacturers who understand these facts will continue to innovate, with new drying systems that save operators time and money, while improving wash quality.”

Vacuums
There’s a lot more to a carwash vacuum then whether or not it is sucking up debris. A vacuum can work great for the customer, but can also use up a lot of energy, which isn’t great for the operator or the carwash in the long run.

Suction up, energy down
Sean Dunkle, manufacturing engineer of D&S Car Wash Equipment Co., said more efficient vacuums are on the front burner of their manufacturing plans. They now offer a singular motor with greater suction power than those with two or three-motors.

Also, Dunkle said today’s vacuums “have integrated many features on a single unit using fewer raw materials, requiring less energy, and having a smaller footprint.”

He also said it’s important to look at the amount of filters and bags being used with each vacuum. One vacuum they offer does not use bags or multiple filters. Instead, it uses one filter and a reusable bucket. “The result,” he said, “is a vacuum that is easier to clean, with less waste, and a lower cost of ownership (replacing bags and multiple filters).”

Smart controllers are another way to improve efficiency. Dunkle said they can turn on a compressor only when needed and they use a photo sensor to turn lights on or off. They also adjust according to ambient light and dim and brighten a display panel where necessary.

“A smart controller also monitors the operations of the machine and disables it if a fault is identified,” Dunkle explained. “The information tracked provides for easier maintenance to ensure continued performance. The user interface allows the system to be turned off between different options, thus saving energy.”

New tools, happy customers
Because of the shaky economy, carwash customers today are taking better care of their cars because they figure they’ll be holding onto them a bit longer. Therefore, when they go to clean them, they are making sure they’re clean all over. They’re vacuuming up all the dirt, not just the dirt on the floor of the car, and they need to have tools that get into the crevices, door handles and ashtray. Vacuums are now being offered with both a crevice tool and claws, allowing customers to get at the dirt more directly.

Vacuums are now coming with longer hoses too — which give the customer an easier and less straining experience. They also now have to accept coins, bills, token and credit cards, which also allow for more money to be spent by customers.

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