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They may seem like a simple component of the wash process, but foam wash and mitter materials have improved beyond the carwasher’s wildest imaginings in the past few years. New advancements in washing materials and new conveyor technologies are making tunnels more energy efficient and economical; a win-win for your customers, your bottom line and Mother Earth.
There’s no thing like foam
According to Jeff Sturges, director of North American sales for the tunnel division at Mark VII Equipment Inc., there has been a proliferation of closed cell foam type materials used extensively over the past decade.
“Most recently, there have been advancements made in the formulation of these materials to make them less brittle, more quiet on the vehicle, and more efficient from a cleaning perspective.” The closed cell foam materials also offer longer wash life, which, in the end, translates to savings for the operator, he said.
Richard Castellow, Western regional sales manager for MacNeil Wash Systems, said that while there isn’t a significant difference between cloth and foam in terms of cleaning performance, foam has become a logical choice because it does not absorb water or grit.
“It is much lighter weight than cloth — with minimal change as it gets wet — resulting in greater brush consistency throughout the day and less wear on the motor,” Castellow explained.
This also translates into a quieter wash experience for customers and fewer vehicle damages, he added, pointing out that closed cell foam is now used on almost all wash components.
Better, faster, more reliable
Sturges said today’s operators are concerned about energy efficiency and water use, although the demand for environmentally-friendly materials is not yet mainstream, but still highly desirable. Instead, carwash owners are more concerned about having equipment that washes cars faster and is more reliable in the long term.
“From better wash material to better built equipment, to more detailed and specific training programs, to increased technology in chemistry have all led to increasing the speed of service,” Sturges said. However, he noted, nothing compares to a properly trained and motivated staff. “Carwash managers know that without a well-trained, highly motivated crew, even the best equipment can't increase operational efficiency alone.”
Sturges said that there have also been advancements in the shape, design, and attachment methods of washing materials which have made it more convenient to use. “Color,” he also said, “has come into play as carwashes are demanding color coordinated wash material to compliment their marketing program. Darker colors seem to be more popular for obvious reasons.”
He also added that cloth technology is offering more options to the operator. “The additions of ‘pimpled’ or rougher surfaces that are still gentle on the vehicle surface have been somewhat popular. In tougher cleaning areas of the country, these new textile materials offer the operator a choice that can be used during heavy winter cleaning or bug season,” he stated.
Make your tunnel faster
According to Sturges, if an operator wants to speed up service in a wash, any wash, there are a few things one can do besides changing the line speed:
1. Ensure that the line speed and chemistry is set correctly for wash performance, safety, and customer satisfaction.
2. Try to properly load vehicles onto the conveyor without large gaps between cars (a 100-cars-per-hour line speed will only wash a small percentage of that despite the number of cars in the line-up area if there are gaps between vehicles).
3. Staff properly at the exit end to avoid having to constantly shut off the conveyor.
4. Properly train the employees in running production volume.
5. If you do increase line speed, adjustments to the chemistry and equipment may be necessary.
6. Let the customers know (through marketing and merchandising) that safety, quality and value are of the utmost important although you strive to complete the requested service in a timely manner, as well.
But remember, with increased speed, comes increased responsibility. Three areas suffer when speeds are increased, according to Castellow, and those areas are:
1. Front and rear cleaning;
2. Wheel cleaning; and
If the operator wants to increase his line speed while maintaining the same quality of wash he was previously providing, he is going to have to make some changes to improve the performance in those key areas, Castellow said.
The changes could include:
• Adding labor to make up for the shortcomings;
• Increasing chemical usage;
• Adding hot water to the cleaning solutions;
• Upgrading or adding equipment.
Each operator is going to have to assess his wash and determine what areas are exhibiting a loss of performance associated with this line speed increase, and determine just what course of action is best to bring the wash back up to the desired level.