A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, carwashing was something of a primitive affair. When it came to carwash equipment, some early owners held grand openings with nothing more than a building and some buckets. Sure, soap suds flew and the employees worked their hardest, but the extreme manpower required was prohibitive to the carwash’s bottom line. Thankfully for all involved, the past few decades have seen carwash technology flash forward at the speed of light.
The cleaning technology used now in advanced washes is almost as complicated as the technology needed to build the actual vehicles. Chemistry, mechanical engineering and computers all have a place in an up-to-date carwash tunnel. Even in-bay automatics have robotic arms to move wash jets, photo eyes to measure each vehicle and specifically-formulated cleaners that leave paint, rims and tires perfectly shiny.
Today, doors play a more important role than ever when it comes to carwash operation. Doors not only provide security, act as a wind break and retain heat, but they also control traffic, set operating speeds and suppress excess sound. While everyone knows that doors have long acted as a gateway to the typical carwash, what radical advances have been made in the door market? After speaking with numerous door industry sources, it was easy to compile a long list of recent advancements.
Luckily for carwash owners, doors have become more resistant to damage from customer collisions. With roll-up vinyl doors, door panels are designed to be knocked out of an opening without damaging the door, according to Josh Hart, president of Airlift Doors Inc. When the flexible vinyl door panels pop out after an impact, the biggest advancement is that no repair is necessary. “The door will simply reset itself on the next cycle and will not affect the traffic flow of your wash,” Hart explained.
Polycarbonate doors have been popular with carwashes for decades because they offer a high level of security, Hart stated. Even so, modern polycarbonate doors are now even more secure due to their five-wall design that boasts 200 times the impact strength of glass. The door panels will not dent, crack or corrode, and they were designed to hold up extremely well in the carwash environment. Even though they offer the same security as a steel door, customers can see through the material and natural light can still be utilized inside a wash.
Finally, if a door panel does become dirty or damaged, new door systems will allow for a quick panel replacement. Marcus Mohwinkel, vice president of sales and marketing with Goff’s Enterprises Inc., said, “Even though the doors have automatic reset, the ability to exchange or replace a panel if becomes dirty or damaged is both a time and money saver for carwash owners.”
Connecting doors and heaters
One company’s new monitoring system is designed to provide alerts if a carwash’s doors ever fail. Sandy Bass, president of BayWatch Enterprises, LLC, noted that the system constantly monitors door operations. For instance, if a photo eye were to fail, this system guarantees that the door will fail in the up mode. Basically, the system decides that the door cannot close because it is unsure if a car is in the opening.
Now that almost every manufacturer in the industry has developed their version of a direct-discharge nozzle, Johnson said more nozzle advances have followed including oscillating nozzles and a "flip" nozzle used to dry the back of vehicles.
Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) are another advance that created substantial savings for carwash owners. VFDs reduce energy consumption significantly by bringing motors up to operating speed slowly, reducing peak in-rush current. Also, between vehicles, VFDs keep dryer motors running at lower speeds so the motors require less in-rush current to reach their full speed.
"There is no question that VFDs can save power. However, each carwash facility has different parameters to consider like volume and chain speed before installing a VFD," Johnson said. "Operators considering installing a VFD should do the math to make sure the power savings justify its cost."
A recently developed alternative to VFDs is a remotely controlled air gate that blocks the intake of air producers. With motors running, air gates are opened and closed on command. As a vehicle's front end approaches each nozzle, the air gate opens allowing air to flow over the vehicle, Johnson explained. When the vehicle clears the nozzle, the air gate closes stopping the air flow and reducing full-load amps by over 50 percent. These gates also offer a reduction in electrical consumption.
J. R. Klemmer, vice president and general manager of Proto-Vest Inc., noted that new drying systems purchased will generally include at least one year of warranty coverage. This warranty is meant to ensure that the dryers are free of defects in material and workmanship.
There are separate warranties that will most likely apply to motors, Klemmer stated. In the event that a motor fails, manufacturers will require the motor to be sent to an Electrical Apparatus Service Association certified motor shop for inspection to determine the cause of failure. These shops can offer an unbiased opinion of what caused the motor failure.
If a failure occurs in the winter and no one notices, the open door could put the carwash and ancillary equipment at risk of freezing. In this instance, Bass said his company’s premium system provides a monitor that will actually send an alarm that the photo eye has failed, and the carwash personnel and operator would know instantly.
Other key features of this door monitoring system include:
- The ability to tie a site’s doors, heaters and heat mats to one thermostat. This ensures that doors, heaters and heat mats are all in sync, and it eliminates wasted energy when the doors are open and the heater is still running.
- Controls can operate using either time or temperature. Temperature settings will automatically override the time mode if the bay drops below a set temperature to protect the equipment. Each door can also be set individually to either mode.
- A carwash interface is included that eliminates the need for the carwash manufacturer interface kit. This can save an owner up to $4,000, according to Bass.
The ability to tie the doors, heaters and heat mats together with a single thermostat has proven popular with owners because it eliminates employee tampering with heating systems, Bass stated. In the worst case scenario, a forgotten heater setting can result in heated air pouring into a wide-open bay wasting both energy and money. Here, the automated system and can save an owner money and contribute to a wash being “green.”
In addition, remote monitoring allows operators to access all the features that the in-store monitor provides while away from the site. An owner can access their door and heater information — internal bay temperature as well as external temperatures — from any tablet or smartphone and make changes to their system without being on-site, Bass said. It also provides email alerts of any door or heater failures for reduced downtime and reduced risk of equipment freeze-ups. A service technician can also dial into the system to see what the issue is and can possibly instruct the owner how to fix the problem. This can save a carwash time and costly service calls.
William Stokes, sales manager with Ultimate Products Inc., described a new door motor that can be used for both polycarbonate and vinyl doors. This motor is sealed and completely waterproof. The sealed unit includes high-quality bearings so, once it is installed, no maintenance is required. Also, this motor can receive input from carwash controllers, entrance eyes and other devices, and an obstruction sensor is built in so no extra hardware is required.
This new type of motor has variable speeds for opening closing, and it helps doors last longer with soft start operation. Stokes explained that the soft start prevents doors from being heavily abused or banged up as they sometimes are with electric motors. The smooth operation creates less wear and provides longer life for the door itself.
According to Stokes, this sealed-motor system is the only offering in the industry that includes a battery backup. The door will have the ability to run for 250 cycles on batteries alone, and that includes running with photo eyes.
Finally, the motor is simple to install, program and operate, Stokes said. Initial installation of the motor and control box will take one person less than an hour. “To set the limits on the door system itself, to actually calibrate the door, takes about two minutes,” Stokes noted.
Sensors and eyes
Mohwinkel said his company released a new photo eye sensor at The Car Wash Show this year, and it was specially designed to help reduce unneeded door openings. Carwashes have seen false door trips due to elements such as water spray, mist and localized fogging when using opposed, high power emitter-receiver pairs. This improvement should be is especially helpful for wider style carwash doors.
Bass explained how photo eyes can help with heavy volume and wind blocking in the tunnel market. He said operators frequently want to put vinyl doors in the middle of the tunnel application to block the wind. This allows chemicals to be applied more consistently and to not be blown down the tunnel. In this instance, photo eyes are used to determine the height of the vehicle, and the doors will only rise to just above the height of the car.
“We can run the conveyor at a higher speed and keep the wind down at the same time,” Bass stated. “A faster door can also process cars quicker in the automatic market, especially in a high-speed wash market like rental cars. Every minute counts in the c-store market as well, especially in the winter months when stores can increase their volume to 3,000 plus washes per month.”
Avoiding freeze ups
As cold-weather operations can confirm, carwash doors are extremely important in colder climates because they help prevent equipment freeze-ups inside tunnels and bays. The insulation offered by polycarbonate doors and the high-speed operation of vinyl doors can help save energy and foil freeze-ups by trapping heat inside the wash tunnel or bays.
But, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep the doors and their hardware from freezing. Mohwinkel said door hardware is continually improving to help avoid freezing, and he described a unique door track that was specifically designed to hold heat strips, if needed.
Hart noted that the main improvement to prevent ice buildup was the introduction of plastic hardware. Plastic does not conduct cold temperatures like steel does, so it reduces the amount of ice buildup on components such as hinges and tracks. Plastic hardware offers the same corrosion resistance properties with better cold weather properties, and it is available at a lower price than stainless steel.
Vinyl doors have definitely helped with freezing, especially those that are built with fiberglass tracks. These tracks make it more difficult for snow to attach to the door. Plastic hinges and stainless steel anchors offer a smooth and quiet motion, and they help reduce freezing as well, Bass said.
The introduction of plastic hardware also helped with noise problems. Stokes recalled testing on plastic hinges that found they reduced noise by about 65 percent versus metal hardware. The rust-proof, polyethylene hinges eliminated corrosion and reduced noise because the rollers were not banging against a metal hinge. Still, Stokes said plastic hinges will offer the same wear life as metal hinges.
Banners and appearance
Another new option in the door market is banner advertising. These banner advertising systems attach to carwash doors and provide advertising for items such as special pricing, wash club promotions and customer specials. Bass noted that the banners can also be used to advertise c-store items or other additional profit products. “We have one large customer who sells this space to the other category managers at his company to increase his budget dollars to spend on his washes.”
The banner hardware is a one-time purchase, and the sign can simply be changed out when an operator wants to refresh the message. The banner rolls up into a dry, protected environment when a bay door is up, and it does not go into the wash bay. This keeps the banner clean and extends the life of the sign, according to Bass.
Minus the banners, doors also allow owners to create a professional look for their buildings. Clear doors will make a carwash inviting and, once the customers are inside, they will appreciate the amount of natural light that the clear doors allow into the bay, Stokes said. This will eliminate any claustrophobic feelings a customer may get in a carwash bay.
Not only do translucent panels let in more light during the daytime, they also allow a wash bay to appear more open at night. With solid doors, it can appear that the carwash is closed after sundown. The clear doors are more inviting to customers, and this will result in customers visiting the bays more often, Stokes stated. Also, if there are lights on inside the bays, clear polycarbonates will allow customers and owners see into and out of bays better than curtain doors.
Another way carwash doors can improve the curb appeal of a business is by tying into and matching the overall building appearance. With polycarbonate doors, an owner can choose anodized rails that match a building’s color scheme or choose a colored polycarbonate. Door designs can even be customized to match an existing door or window scheme on a building so that all the pieces look the same, Hart said. With roll up doors, there are a number of colored vinyl options available to match existing colors and give a building a uniform look.