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Tunnel tips beyond the norm

March 08, 2011
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It’s pretty obvious that a conveyor’s equipment, and all of its sub-parts and nuts and bolts, need to be running in tip-top shape in order for a carwash to run smoothly and efficiently. A preventative maintenance schedule is integral to the success of your carwash, but there are other tricks to the tunnel trade.

From the water, the beds and the chemicals, experts from throughout the conveyor industry are here to share with us what they believe needs to be checked, maintained and studied besides the usual equipment.

H2 — oh yea
Along with the equipment, water is a major star in a carwash’s performance, but its quality and clarity can often be overlooked, and, according to Tom Frietsche, a tunnel product manager for Mark VII Equipment, Inc., this is a common source of problems for conveyor carwashes.

“Test your water hardness, TDS and chlorine. Check your spot-free reject water percentage and assess your RO (reverse osmosis) membranes,” Frietsche suggested. “Ensure your softener is functioning properly without salt bridging and with the correct media.”

Along those same lines, Brad Laurier, vice president of Canadian sales for MacNeil Wash Systems Limited said that if you have a water softener system, it needs to be monitored. “Make sure it’s full of salt and operating properly,” he cautioned.

If you’re using more water than usual, there might be a leak. Frietsche said to consult all water and electric bills regularly and to compare your usage to that of previous years.

Above, below and around the belt
Routine inspections of what is going on below grade with your conveyor are paramount, warned Laurier. “You want to make sure there are no foreign objects that could derail the chain or cause the call up mechanisms to fail.”

Laurier also said that if a conveyor has a magnetic “encoder” it is important to clean it periodically as it attracts metal fillings.

“Here is something that can creep up on you: conveyor bed wear,” said Laurier. “Because these washes are such a wet/dry/wet/dry environment they will wear gradually. Left undetected you could have a conveyor failure.”

And, even though he knows it sounds cliché in that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, Laurier said it’s important to inspect the chain regularly and rotate or replace parts when needed.

A different perspective
Sometimes, it’s best to look at your business from a different view — either from the viewpoint of a customer or an employee — as it can allow you to see things from a different perspective, or sometimes for the first time.

“Complacency is the greatest trap for the successful tunnel owner,” according to Frietsche, who said to approach your wash as you did on the first day with a fresh pair of eyes. “We are continually innovating. The fresh perspectives may be illuminating. Often maintenance is performed with the exclusive goal of only ensuring th integrity of basic cleaning functions and not really addressing customer desires.”

Frietsche suggested you go through the tunnel and look at what the customer will see. “Are your instruction signs adequate? Is customer base multilingual? If it is, then your signs should be, too.”

Laurier said the single most importance maintenance task has to do with housekeeping and with making sure the tunnel is clean. “We are in the cleaning business,” he said, “And it starts with having a clean wash.”

However, there is a proper way to clean the tunnel and Laurier warned that it’s imperative to follow manufacturer suggestions. Mistakes, such as using a wand and spraying high pressure water onto an open bearing, can do more harm than good. “Doing this will displace the grease and cause premature bearing failure,” he explained.

Chemistry’s role in the tunnel
The chemicals used inside of a tunnel also need to be considered with every maintenance schedule. Ron Holub has been in the carwashing industry for over 30 years and currently works for Transchem, a private label carwash chemical company, and he said wasting or misusing chemicals may not only cost more but lose customers.

“Good chemistry involves coordination of the products with the proper application,” Holub said and warned that changing conveyor speeds without adjusting chemical usage or slowing down a conveyor without adjusting chemicals may increase the cost. “Speeding it up without adjusting chemicals may cause poor wash performance,” he said.

Also, cutting corners or changing chemicals to save money is a big mistake. “There is nothing wrong with making sure chemical costs are in line, but do not sacrifice quality. If you make changes in suppliers or products do so for equal or better performance at equal or better cost. Not just to save money.”

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