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Getting down to the nuts and bolts

October 11, 2010
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Similar to the African adage of “It takes a village,” it also takes a lot of parts to make up a conveyor carwash. The mitters, rollers and belts all need to work in sync in order for the carwash to work in top form.

When it comes to these well-abused components, operators want what they’ve always wanted: Reliable performance and maximum longevity, said Patrick Kelsey, vice president of sales and marketing at Belanger, Inc.

“While ‘fad materials’ come and go, operators consistently achieve their best results with quality materials and solidly engineered equipment,” he stated. Simply put, he said, material selection is an integral part of carwash equipment design; not an afterthought.

“When the right materials contribute to an optimal design, equipment naturally washes cars better — and does it longer — before requiring attention.

Upgrades made to order
In terms of the “nuts and bolts” of a conveyor carwash (rollers, belts, wash media), there are some ways to upgrade a tunnel for better washing and customer satisfaction.

One advancement is in terms of conveyor rollers, according to Daniel Smock, a welding and metallurgical engineering manager at Swanson Industries.

“Owners,” he said, “are looking at the use of higher performing alloys in place of the OEM supplied materials, such as rollers made using high-grade stainless steel and plastic; and chains and carrier links that are heat treated or flashed chromed to prevent wear and rusting which help make for a longer running conveyor system.”

Serko Kirikian is a partner in Kirikian Industries, the company that manufactures NEOGLIDE, a foam material, and said another good upgrade involves the new wash media that are out on the market.

“These new materials improve surface cleaning of the vehicle, producing a better wash for the paying customer. This in turn ultimately leads to improved customer satisfaction,” Kirikian explained. Operators should consider materials which have longer surface strands and can reach and clean the vehicle and the tough-to-get-to areas like the “eyebrow” of the car.

“Another positive aspect of the new materials, especially for exterior carwashes, is the reduction of noise against the vehicle,” he noted.

Retrofitting your existing equipment
In terms of retrofitting older equipment, Kelsey reminded operators to be careful. “In general, carwash equipment is designed to work best using its original material configuration. Retrofitting equipment with non-standard materials often involves some compromise in performance or longevity — which may or may not be acceptable to the operator.”

A more effective way to upgrade, according to Kelsey, is to replace select equipment pieces with better-performing models. “Equipment pieces can be replaced based on age or wear, to gain a better expense position, or to improve revenue potential (as in the case of automatic tire shiners).”

Keep the rollers rolling
Finding ways to make the rollers, belts, and mitters last longer and run more efficiently is key. Robert Andre, president of Tamarac, FL-based CarWash College, has warned time and time again to check the rollers, chains and mitters often and with a keen eye.

Andre cautioned operators to make sure the pit is clean, because an unclean one can lead to premature wear on the rollers, chain, and sprockets. Make sure sprockets are in proper alignment, chains are kept at the right tension and checked for and any signs of wear. He also said to make sure wash materials are kept clean and replaced when they have excessive wear, are damaged or are missing sections.

Kelsey cautioned that one part affects the other, as a sort of domino effect. “Carwashes are a system,” he said, “and need to be maintained and operated as such. Inevitably, adjustments made in one part of a wash will affect other parts — for better or worse. Operators seeking to improve the performance and lifespan of their washes would do well to understand the natural interplay between components, and the effects of variables such as line speeds, water quality, and chemistry, to name a few.”

One way to make mitters last longer and operate more efficiently is to carefully monitor your chemical applications, Kerikian said. “A good lubricating soap reduces friction between the vehicle’s surface and mitter material resulting in less drag and wear and tear,” he said, adding that another benefit is it helps clean the vehicle and keeps the mitters clean as well.

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