Every mechanic and engine builder knows how essential it is for engine components to be free of any contaminates. Traditionally, shops have used labor intensive and/or crude methods to get parts as clean as possible.
Every machine shop will wash your parts in a hot VAT cleaner. It spins your parts around and sprays them with a hot and caustic solution to remove contaminates. This machine does a pretty good job but it has many downfalls. Parts cannot be left unattended because the solution can actually eat away at the material. And the solution rarely gets down into all the holes and passageways leaving many areas unclean.
Within the shop, technicians use copious amounts of brake cleaner and countless hours hunched over the mineral spirits parts washer. Brake cleaner is very expensive on a per-bottle basis and is extremely toxic to your skin. And we know that everybody has accidentally sprayed it in your eyes at least once in their lifetime!
A typical mineral spirits parts washer. A staple in almost every automotive shop.
While the traditional parts washer is great for getting dirt and grime off parts, is very labor intensive and not 100% effective. If you do not change the mineral spirits often enough, you end up trying to wash parts with dirty fluid.
Well, a new series of machines have started to become available for the automotive industry - the Ultrasonic Cleaner. The idea of using ultrasonic waves to clean parts has been around for many decades in the jewelry cleaning business. But the availability to shops is just starting to take shape.
Manufacturers are designing ultrasonic cleaners with performance shops in mind. They are large enough to handle engines but small enough to be financially within reach. They also come with features such as pneumatic rising tables and oil skimmers.
Here is an entire engine block submerged in the tank. Every single passageway and surface gets treated to remove harmful contaminates.
After seeing many of these machines popping up at the SEMA and PRI trade shows, we at Evolution Dynamics decided to investigate the feasibility of owning one.
First, we set out to determine how much time we spent hand washing “clean” parts from the machine shops and how much time was spent cleaning everything else we put on cars. The numbers amazed us!
Using My Shop Assist to track time, we discovered we spent about 4 hours PER ENGINE BUILD just cleaning parts. This includes hand washing the blocks, head(s), pistons, rods, and rings. It also included washing all the brackets, bolts, pulleys, throttle bodies, intakes, oil pans, and anything else going back on the car in the mineral spirits washer.
When you consider that we build approximately 1 engine per week, this equates to 208 hours every year just washing parts. To put that in a dollar figure at $100/hour shop rate, that is over $20,000 of labor!
This figure alone convinced us that we needed to invest in one of these machines. Our decision on which manufacturer to choose was based on talking with salespeople at trade shows, features of each machine, and availability for support. The machine we ended up with met our needs, but that doesn't mean it is any better or worse than another option.
Here is a breakdown of how we made the final decision to purchase an ultrasonic cleaner:
|Additional Equipment (RO filter, sink, and trays)||1000|
|Loan Period (years)||2|
|Additional Charges (cleaning fluid/month)||150|
|Charge per Service||150|
|Minimum Services to make Payment||4.8|
The machine we decided on cost $12,000 and there was an additional $1000 for the RO filtering system, stainless steel sink, and various stainless trays/bowls. The loan was for 2 years at a 5% interest rate. This brings the monthly payment to $570. We also figured we would change cleaning fluid once per month, adding $150 per month. Since cleaning parts in the ultrasonic cleaner is a premium service, we will add an additional $150 each time we clean the engine components. With these numbers, we found we needed to clean 4.8 engines worth of parts every month.
To make up for the remaining operating cost, we can clean parts for other services (head gasket replacement), offer the service to surrounding shops, and clean parts for walk-in customers.
This machine also frees up a valuable resource; manpower. As mentioned above, it originally took about 4 man hours to hand wash all of the parts for an engine assembly. With the ultrasonic cleaner, it now only takes 1 man hour (this includes time to load, unload, rinse, and dry all the parts). Multiply that 3 hours of savings times 4 engines per month, and you just freed up 144 man hours per year.
This creation of 144 more man hours can equate to as much as $14,400 (at $100/hour shop rate) of revenue with no additional expense. So this money goes straight to your bottom line and into your pocket!
One last benefit of this machine is that it allows us to advertise to customers that we provide the cleanest possible engine assemblies. And this is why we can charge an additional fee for the service.
To complement the machine, we installed a RO water filtration system to fill a 50 gallon trash can with clean water to aid in the effectiveness of the chemicals. We also installed a 3-portion stainless steel sink to be used as a rinsing station for the cleaned parts. Finally, we purchased a 120V fluid pump to move the waste fluid from the machine and sinks to be disposed. This pumps also transfers the RO water from the trash can into the machine and sinks.
Here you can see the divided sink used for rinsing parts after they are cleaned in the US machine.
Literally everything for the engine gets thrown in there to be cleaned. Makes the reassembly process much less messy.
In addition to cleaning all the components during engine assembly, we have also rolled this service into head gasket replacements. For this, we clean the head, valve train, intake manifold, valve cover, fuel rail, throttle body, thermostat, and hardware. Not only does the customer get shiny, nice parts, but the mechanic doing the reassembly is working with clean parts.
Here is an intake manifold that was cleaned. Before is on the left and shows all of the road grime and carbon deposits. The right shows a perfectly clean part! Notice that all of the carbon buildup has been removed from within the intake manifold.
Shown is a full load of control arms being cleaned. Normally, this would have taken hours in the sandblasting cabinet.
A turbo failure on this particular car meant that all the charge pipes, couplers, and sensors were drenched in oil. The ultrasonic cleaner removed all of that in no time.
To greater utilize this machine, the cleaning service can also be provided to surrounding shops and walk-in customers. This will help speed up the payback period.
In conclusion, the savings from this machine are as follows:
- Gets parts as clean as possible - a premium service not many can offer
- Frees up time normally spent manually cleaning parts - more profit
- Allows for cleaner re-installation of parts - a visible improvement to workmanship
- Can be provided to other shops and walk-ins - additional source of revenue
Given all of the benefits mentioned above, purchasing this machine made sense to us. Even if you cannot justify purchasing the machine yourself, we strongly recommend finding a shop in your area that has an ultrasonic cleaner and test it out for yourself! You will find that the time savings coupled with the cost rolled into the service makes it a good choice.