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October 11, 2010
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As the president of Telco Sensors, Richard Livengood is willing to share the biggest mistake that operators and owners make when it comes to sensors. “The biggest mistake,” he said, “is trying to fix a problem yourself and not hiring an electrician. Be sure to hire an expert.”

Livengood has been in the sensors industry since 1990, having started out at JMT Automation & Controls, which was the master distributor for Telco Sensors, where he served as a national sales manager. He is now president of the company, based in Charlotte, NC, which manufactures photoelectric and ultrasonic sensors, amplifiers and controllers.

A common and dangerous mistake

A person trying to do electrical work without the proper training is a common and dangerous mistake and Livengood wants to make sure people go to a professional.

“I have actually had people have a carwash closed down for three days because they would not call an electrician and wanted to do it themselves,” he said. “If they’re not an electrician, they shouldn’t be messing with electricity. We have seen people ordering AC sensors when they needed DC sensors. We have seen them order the wrong sensor three times. People need to hire someone who knows what they’re doing.”

That is the bottom line, he said, or it could get dangerous. “We have people who want to mess with it themselves and then they end up calling back and spending hours and hours of phone calls and time trying to fix it. The electronics are more complicated than just putting on a bearing or chain and they’re getting fancier.”

That’s the biggest problem after the sensors are purchased, Livengood said, but before that, an owner and operator should make sure the right sensor is being purchased.

Buying sensors 101

When it comes to buying sensors, you have to do some research and consider factors such as the weather conditions of the carwash’s location. “Make sure it is a very powerful sensor that can shoot through ice, especially if you live in the north,” Livengood said. “Also, they need to be able to shoot through fog in places like Wisconsin or Minnesota.”

Also, the amount of sunlight that hits a carwash can play a role in the sensor’s ability. Sunlight can blind or possibly bind a sensor, according to Livengood. For carwashes made with Plexiglas® tunnels the sunlight can be a real problem and that should be discussed when considering sensors. The sunlight can still come through, even through an entrance of a tunnel that is not made of Plexiglas® at certain angles, he said. “Sunlight immunity is very important,” Livengood said.

Then and now

When Livengood first started in the business, the sensors were not as powerful as they are today. Back in 1990, most sensors weren’t able to penetrate contamination, fog and steam, Livengood said. Today, diodes have become much more advanced, allowing sensors to cut through many elements.

Stronger diodes are a big benefit, especially in the carwash industry, Livengood said. “That’s because we have found over the years that older sensors can’t see through the spray because the sprays used today are a lot more powerful.”

Water, more so than sunlight, and water intrusions are the biggest enemies to sensors, according to Livengood. There are several other things to look out for he added, such as alignment and contamination. It’s important and critical to keep them on track and clean.

The future of sensors

Today’s engineers are working on making sensors tinier and more powerful, and also less energy dependent. “Actually, sensors are getting much more energy efficient,” Livengood said. That’s all thanks to the electronics inside.

“As components change and things change, sensors that used to require much more energy and draw a lot of current, can work on much less energy because the internal components are much better. And current consumption has gone down dramatically.”

They don’t draw a lot of current anyway, but Livengood explained that older sensors would get very warm after continued use. Nowadays, they are just at room temperature, Livengood said, because they don’t take as much energy to operate them.

Check the warranty

Livengood stresses that it is important to check the warranties on the sensors. Keep up good communication with the OEMs to make sure there is cohesiveness.

“When you throw away a couple thousand dollars worth of sensors that an owner doesn’t know had a warranty, its a waste of a lot of money due to an oversight,” he explained. Sensors have warranties, too, and it’s important to know and understand them. Miscommunication between a sensor distributor and an OEM can cost a lot as and sometimes all of the sensors can be thrown away at $300 to $400 a pop.

“Check and make sure what kind of warranty each sensor has,” said Livengood. “That’s a big piece of advice from me.”

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