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In-bay Automatic

The friction IBA

October 11, 2010
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If you have attended a trade show this year or had a visit from your equipment distributor, then you know: friction is making resurgence. Thirty years ago, most in-bay friction machines (rollovers) used some sort of brush or bristle to clean a vehicle. Today, new and more sophisticated friction washing materials have emerged, giving operators and customers a new and improved wash experience.

Today’s machines come equipped with better washing materials, more advanced control and monitoring systems, improved equipment construction, and less overall required maintenance. With this new technology comes additional wash options and configurations to help operators increase revenues and build customer loyalty. Some of the benefits of friction washing include, but are not limited to:
  • Lower water and chemical usage;
  • Reduced power consumption; and in most cases,
  • Little or no equipment room needed.
Equipment styles
While friction rollover styles are still mostly floor track based, a few newly designed models are using the overhead rail design made popular by some touch-free manufacturers.

There are severalconfigurations of rotating wheels. Some designs utilize two tall wheels at the entrance and two on the exit side of the machine’s corners. Other machines have two tall wheels on the exit side rather than four.

A cloth or foam mitter curtain that moves front-to-back, side-to-side, or a top rotating wheel usually accomplishes top cleaning. This contacts the top of the vehicle, and follows the surface contour.

Most machines have an inner skeleton constructed of steel, stainless steel, or aluminum, with an outer shell of either fiberglass or stainless steel. Most can be customized with your carwash’s unique colors and logos to highlight your brand or color scheme. Some machines are driven with hydraulic motors while the majority uses electric motors with speed reducers.

All of the previous designs have their strengths and weaknesses and it is important to discuss with your distributor which machine is right for you.

Washing materials
Washing materials have changed dramatically in the last few years, from bristle and cloth to closed-cell foam and soft cloth.
Closed-cell foam products have become popular in the marketplace. Foam tends to be quieter on the car and comes in a range of colors. It is lighter and conforms to the contours of the car better than cloth. Foam does have drawbacks, though. It requires more water and chemical for proper lubrication and needs to be spun faster than other materials.

New cloth styles resemble shammee material and are much softer and quieter than any other products available. These new materials will continue to improve and most machines could be retrofitted to take advantage of the enhanced cleaning these materials provide.

Options vary widely, but popular options like on-board dryers and wheel cleaners are available on most equipment. Other options available include virtual treadle systems, premium wax or protectant application systems, in-bay customer informational signage, spot-free rinse, and triple foam wax. These options are important for maximizing return on investment.

Additionally, monitoring systems are available to provide feedback via text message or email if a problem occurs, or to provide revenue and car count information. Some machines — called hybrids — have the option of providing high pressure cleaning as an upgrade to the basic friction wash. While this option will add value to the wash experience, the additional cost may not justify the small amount of additional cleaning provided.

One choice that has become popular is the wide-machine option. This improvement allows you to wash dual wheel pickup trucks or wide SUVs. If you are in an area where freezing temperatures occur, ask your distributor if the machine offers a freeze protection system. Most machines have the capability to use reclaim water, but additional options may be needed when the order is placed.

Control and monitoring systems
With new advances in programmable logic controllers (PLC) and various sensing devices, most carwashes now have many different ways to control and monitor equipment. Technology has caught the industry in a big way and some sites present a difficult learning curve for distributors and site owners alike.

While troubleshooting has become more technical, it has also become easier as the machine provides more feedback when it has a problem. This feedback comes from interface screens that give information such as error codes or text error messages. More manufacturers are providing extensive testing of the machine’s input and output functions, which allows for easier problem solving. In some cases, this interface also allows the field service technician or site owner to custom tailor many features of the machine.

Sensing devices that measure current allow the foam or cloth to provide pressure required for cleaning and prevent any chance of damage. Other sensors map the car and provide the PLC a virtual picture of the vehicles’ size and shape. This mapping allows the machine to determine the type of vehicle that is being washed. For each type of vehicle, the machine has a different wash sequence. For example, if a truck is washed, the machine senses its shape and does not allow the top wheel to enter the bed of the truck.

An important part of equipment selection should be determining what preventative maintenance is required to keep the machine running properly. Discuss with the distributor if you or your employees can perform the required maintenance. If so, does the manufacturer or distributor provide training? Most manufacturers can arrange to send a factory-trained technician to your site to train you or your employees.

There may also be opportunities to travel to the manufacturer’s facility for training and to watch the manufacturing process.

If the distributor must perform the maintenance, be sure to ask how often it is recommended and what the fee to perform those services. Many distributors offer preventative maintenance contracts that offer various levels of support. Some provide parts, chemicals, and labor for a flat fee or per wash price. This works well for operators that are not mechanically inclined or may be absentee owners. Other plans simply provide a maintenance call based on a predetermined schedule for a fee.

Whichever choice for preventative maintenance, stick to it and the machine will provide you a better ownership experience with less downtime. The more you know about your equipment, the better service you provide to your customers.

Jimmy Sisk is vice president of Carwash Concepts, Inc. in Thomasville, NC. Carwash Concepts, Inc. has been a manufacturer and distributor of carwash equipment since 1969, specializing in turn key projects in the Southeastern US. To contact Sisk, email: or call 800-733-9760.

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