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Choosing garage doors for the carwash

June 02, 2011
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All overhead door operators are not created equal, but they all have their place and there is a wide variety for carwash operators to consider. For carwash owners considering a pneumatic operator, the big question is why pay more when you can get by with an electrical operator? The answer is speed.

A smooth, fast operator
If you need to open and close a door fast, the air option is a great way to go. Most air operators move at around one foot per second, depending upon the specific door application and operating pressure. The speed becomes important when trying to keep the cold weather out.

If you live in a city that resembles the setting for the movie Fargo, then you need a quality pneumatic operator. Saving seconds in the opening and/or closing time can make the difference in keeping equipment working in locations where the temperatures dip below freezing. Cold weather wreaks havoc on carwash equipment.

Another advantage of speed is the flow of customers. Continuous door cycling paces customers through the wash earning precious extra seconds per wash. These seconds add up in a big way at the end of the day, and especially at the end of the year.

The power to move you
Another benefit of pneumatic operating doors is power. When you take a heavy polycarbonate panel door and load it with ice and snow, a pneumatic operator may be the most important factor. Even in areas with more mild winters, the changes of temperatures can cause things in carwash buildings to move around and cause doors to bind. A powerful operator can help minimize these difficulties.

The overall answer to the question is dependability. If you are paying more for an operator it needs to open and close the door when others might fail. This is what separates an economical operator from a premium operator.

Things to know
Pneumatic operators are by design, air cylinders. They become an operator when they are specially configured to operate a door instead of any countless industrial actuation uses. The important question to ask here is was the cylinder designed to perform in the harsh, cold, wet, carwash type of environments? If it was not, its performance and service life is in question.

A basic pneumatic operator looks like two rod cylinders connected together with a chain and sprocket. These are lower cost operators and not a bad choice for speed, but require high maintenance relative to the premium operators. If your door does not open, your customers can not come in. If the door does not shut, the winter elements can sing the blues to expensive carwash equipment.

Evaluating payback
When a wash is busy, throughput is money. To optimize your wash’s performance you may need to speed up the doors. Consider the comparison between a 30-second door cycle and entrance and a 20-second cycle. In a one hour example, the wash with a 20-second cycle time and car input can wash 180 cars per hour, while the 30-second cycle is stuck at only 120 washes per hour. That’s a 50 percent increase in potential throughput.

Compare these numbers to the cost of installing a pneumatic operator to learn if it is a good fit for your carwash.

Features to look for
When shopping for a pneumatic operator, consider these factors.

• Reparability. If you spend the money on a premium operator, you do not want it to be a throw away. Ask what it takes to rebuild after regular wear. Some pneumatic operators with a magnetically coupled piston design are repairable. Protecting your initial investment is an added benefit.

• Force. Power is a necessity when winter sets in. Cold weather can cause ice and snow to build up around doors. Serious cold causes contraction that change how things fit, line up and move. Ask about the bore size and port size. Larger bore size of operators produces more force. Larger port size can produce more speed. Be sure to check your available air pressure. If it is a magnetically coupled operator ask about the magnet coupling force in pounds.

• Internal cushions. Internal cushions allow for controllable, smooth acceleration and soft deceleration. This can be a very important performance feature for the life of the door and operator. This feature may allow the door to operate without the need for external springs and cushions. Imagine the cylinder, the door and the operator slamming without cushions. It can cause a lot of unnecessary wear and tear.

• Maintenance. What is required to maintain the operator? Consider the time and effort required to keep your operator in tip-top shape. For instance, some operators have grease zerks for easier routine maintenance.

• Tube wipers. A feature found in tube style magnetically coupled cylinders keeps the cylinder body clean resulting in longer life and improved dependability. The wipers remove grease, detergents, and particulate that can build up on the operator.

• Warranty. A good barometer of any product is how a company stands behind it. Ask for a written warranty and inquire about the amount of months or years covered. Seek referrals. Ask others who have used the products that you are considering and see what their overall experience was like.

• Custom sizes. You may not require a 20 foot pneumatic operator, but more importantly is the option of specific custom strokes available in pneumatic operators? For example you may need a 9-foot 7-inch operator instead of a standard 10 footer. Is it available? Find out about custom strokes as well as long ones for special applications.

There are many configurations for low-rise and high-lift overhead doors. There are also jack-shaft-operators available in high performance pneumatic models. The benefit is one can install a variety of solutions to fit the space where carwash equipment may dictate one option.

If at all possible, the best choice is the trolley or draw bar style installation. It operates high and dry and is less affected by the environment. The important thing is to be aware of is the many options available as well as the flexibility of installation in a variety of locations.

When smooth performance, speed and dependability are required, up time and product life advantages may wildly exceed the additional up front cost. Even being down a day or one hour can make up the cost of using a quality operator that can last many years.

Carwash environments require a premium carwash operator because of the harsh, wet environments. You’ve invested heavily in the carwash system. The operator is the first and last piece of equipment you depend on.


Peter Wold is the sales manager of W.C. Branham, Inc. DoorTec®Pneumatic Opening Systems product segment. Prior to joining W.C. Branham Inc., Wold was sales manager in the automated motion solutions industry for 12 years. Contact Wold with any questions at: pwold@wcbranham.com or 800.428.1974.

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