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In-bay Automatic

The word is out, friction is in

October 11, 2010
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In pursuit of the cleanest car for the best value, carwash consumers in America have a choice between touchless and friction. Many washes across the U. S. offer both technologies, in bays right next to each other.

While touchless washing has been the preference over the past two decades, the improvement in soft-touch technology has operators rethinking the whole scenario. By providing both a high-pressure touchless and friction wash in the form of a soft touch automatic, the professional operator can satisfy both consumer desires and attract more business to their location.

This gives them a broader customer base to draw upon and allows them to appeal to both types of consumers.

The selling price of the washes offered may be similar between technologies, but the choice is clearly friction, resulting in a healthier bottom line for carwash operators.

Soft-touch systems utilize less water and chemical and usually produce the lowest cost of ownership between technologies.

This because the soft foam brushes are doing the cleaning instead of the chemical reaction that must take place with a touchless system, and the volume of high pressure water needed to clean with touchless technology. A soft-touch system will use as much as 50 percent less water and chemical in some cases, to provide the same level of cleaning as a touchless wash.

Out with the old
Many of the earlier friction systems did not utilize treated water so operating costs were even less, however it is essential to soften the water with either system now, if you want to offer the highest quality wash.

What we have learned over the past 30 years is that you can’t starve the system of water and chemical and expect to provide a high quality wash or even an acceptable wash quality. Consequently, brush technology declined because wash quality suffered, reliability failed and the brushes were harmful to the vehicle.

The reason for friction’s resurgence today is due to the brush material manufacturer’s softer side. Brush material is made from composite foam that is not harmful to the vehicle. The possibility of damage is reduced and wash quality is increased.

All foam used within the carwash industry today is classified as closed-cell, meaning the material does not absorb water. This non-absorbent feature actually creates a vacuum between the foam and the vehicle’s surface which generates a great deal of friction. The greatest amount of friction results in an enhancement or polishing effect seen on the vehicle’s surface.

The foam material is also lighter in weight which results in less wear and tear on the equipment. Its elongation/tensile strength characteristics are such that a finger or strand of the foam material will tear away before damaging the vehicle.

Another key benefit of foam is that the brushes can withstand more wash cycles than their cloth counterparts. Lighter weight systems can be mounted on overhead rails, which make for more efficient installation and operation.

Soft-touch systems are designed to work hydraulically or electrically, so power consumption is not too different between the two technologies. It is really the preference of the operator to choose between hydraulic or electric driven systems.

According to Steve Schweighardt of S3 Technologies, foam brushes will generally last between 300,000 and 500,000 washes in a full-service wash.

“In rollover in-bay automatics, the material spends more time on the surface of the vehicle,” Schweighardt explained. “So the life of the brushes will be less than in tunnel applications.”

Generally, when you replace foam it is not because of a direct wear issue as with polypropylene cloth. The breakdown of foam consists from the eventual soiling of the brush color and the amount of lost fingers which will have tendency to make the brushes look thinner.

“To see fingers or strands of the brush on the ground, is actually a good thing because you have avoided damage to the vehicle,” Schweighardt said.

Top brushes are back
Rollover units that include a top brush made of composite material maintains a constant weight so it can be easily adjusted by pressure settings allowing total control of the system. Soft touch advancements allow for more precise cleaning and contouring of the vehicle from top to bottom, side to side.

The top brush rotation and speed is also adjustable to suit various cleaning conditions. Top brush technology allows for safe cleaning of vehicles with spoilers and roof racks. The rotation and direction of the top brush is also adjustable allowing for cleaning in both directions of the path the top brush travels.

Regardless of size, shape and length of vehicle being washed, today’s friction systems gently rollover the vehicle to provide higher quality and safer washes than brush systems of the past.

Consumer acceptance is greater because quality and value outweigh the possibility of damage. Not only do the new friction systems provide a safe, high quality soft-touch wash, but some incorporate touchless technology to provide a hybrid, combination wash.

High pressure technology can be incorporated which works concurrent to the brushes to further advance the cleaning process and extend the cleaning effectiveness of the brushes. Some manufactures design systems that offer the consumer a choice of selecting either a touchless or soft-touch wash from the same system.

Others incorporate high pressure features like 1,000 psi rinse, wheel blasting and low pressure application of multi-colored foam detergent and conditioners to help the operator drive repeat sales. Carwash operators are discovering that there is less negative perception of brushes and that when given a choice, just as many consumers will choose a soft-touch system as a touchless system.

Mike Schlichtan of Bay Wash Carwashes in Cassville, MO added high pressure features to his soft-touch to differentiate his wash from the competition. Schlichtan now prices his top level wash higher than his touchless system by one dollar. “We actually had a customer thank us for putting in a carwash that works,” Schlichtan said.

The recent popularity and advancement of soft-touch technology has in-bay carwash equipment manufacturers prioritizing the development of soft-touch brands and has tunnel equipment providers incorporating rollover technology again in their full-service systems. According to Schweighardt, foam brush technology is prevalent in carwashing today because “it reduces damage to practically zero.”


Drew Dressler (ddressler@dscarwash.com) is a 15 year veteran of the carwash industry. He is currently the Director of Marketing for D & S Carwash Equipment Co. in High Ridge, MO.