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How Ultrasonic Energy Reduces Industrial Parts Cleaning & Degreasing Costs, Increases Throughput


Traditional methods employed for industrial parts cleaning and surface prep for subsequent finishing can account for a significant portion of manufacturing costs in the metalworking industry - both in time and in cleaning materials.

The same applies to cleaning and refurbishing industrial parts and equipment as part of regular maintenance schedules.

Traditional methods relied on a mixture of solvents, chemicals, and mechanical scrubbing action to remove all sorts of contaminants including:

  • grease and oil residues
  • cutting and lubricating fluids
  • accumulated rust
  • salt deposits
  • polishing pastes and lapping abrasives
  • loose burrs and fines from machining operations
  • plain old dirt (wash the mud off first!) 

5 Reasons Why Industrial Parts Fabricators & Finishers Prefer Ultrasonic Cleaning

  1. They know that ultrasonic cleaning is an elegant method to ensure their cleaning costs are brought down to manageable levels in these hyper-competitive, margin squeezed days.
  2. They know the ultrasonic cleaning process works on metal, plastics, glass and other materials that can be safely immersed in an aqueous cleaning solution.  
  3. Many have experience with traditional methods involving soaking, solvent sprays, wash tanks and manually scrubbing parts.
  4. And that traditional methods have no guarantee that contaminants have been removed from cracks, crevices, blind holes and similar difficult-to-reach surfaces.
  5. And associated environmental concerns regarding disposal of spent conventional cleaning solvents.

Why Ultrasonic Industrial Parts Cleaning Alternatives Work so Great

Ultrasonic cleaners operate on the principle of agitating a suitable cleaning solution with high frequency ultrasonic waves such as 37,000 cycles per second (37 kHz)zHz that create countless millions of microscopic vacuum bubbles.  

On contact with industrial parts in the cleaning bath these bubbles implode with tremendous force. This in turn dislodges and carries away dirt and contaminants from any surface in contact with the liquid - including contaminants in cracks, crevices and blind holes unreachable by mechanical sprays and scrubbing. 

As to environmental concerns, the vast majority of today's ultrasonic cleaning formulations are marketed as biodegradable concentrates that can be safely disposed of in municipal waste-treatment facilities. (That said, always check with your local authorities to comply with regulations.)

Here’s a Practical Example:

Final Step Cleaning in Metal Fabricating and Machine Shops

Product cleanliness is an important criterion for machine shops and metal fabricating shops producing parts meeting extremely tight tolerances.   Removing all traces of cutting oils, dust, chips, turnings, polishing residues and other contaminants is necessary to ready newly fabricated and machined parts for shipping.  

Depending on the size of your facility an industrial or benchtop ultrasonic cleaner is your best solution to achieve optimum parts cleaning.  

Ultrasonic cleaning is especially effective for fabricated or machined parts with intricate designs because the process acts on all surfaces immersed in specially formulated water-based biodegradable ultrasonic cleaning solutions.

Hand scrubbing with brushes in solvent-filled wash tanks not only is time consuming; it cannot reach small crevices, blind holes and other tight spots or restricted areas. Moreover, solvent baths can be a health hazard and present disposal challenges.

How Ultrasonic Cleaners Work

Cleaning is accomplished by what is called cavitation. This is the implosion of countless microscopic bubbles on the surface of parts immersed in a tank filled with the cleaning solution. Implosion dislodges and carries away surface contaminants.

Cavitation bubbles are created by generator-powered ultrasonic transducers bonded to the tank. Bubble size is governed by the frequency of the ultrasonic transducers, which is measured in thousands of cycles per second or kilohertz (kHz).

Widely used equipment for the majority of metal cleaning applications operates at 35 or 45 kHz. A happy medium for cleaning newly fabricated or machined parts is 37 kHz generated by the Elmasonic E Plus and S series available from Tovatech.  

Higher frequency cavitation bubbles are better able to penetrate small orifices and blind holes. If you manufacture parts with these characteristics a dual-frequency ultrasonic cleaner is the answer.

An example is the Elma TI-H series that can be set to operate at 35 kHz for primary cleaning then switched to 130 kHz to penetrate the orifices.   Because it is imperative that the cleaning solution penetrates these spaces you might require an oscillating cleaner exemplified by the Elmasonic X-tra line Flex 1 at 35 and 130 kHz.

The correct ultrasonic cleaning solution formulation is a critical part of metal parts cleanliness. Generally you’ll look at an alkaline aqueous cleaner for removal of oils and coolants. We direct your attention to our posts on selecting cleaning solutions and cleaning solution maintenance.

Other Important Ultrasonic Cleaner Features

Heaters allow you to set the proper temperature for the ultrasonic cleaning solution, a step that is necessary to remove coolant and cutting oils. Timers allow you to operate the units without constant supervision.

Select equipment with a Sweep mode to provide homogenous distribution of cavitation throughout the cleaning bath, a step necessary to achieve thorough cleaning.

High-end oscillating cleaners, mentioned above, are extremely effective to achieve thorough cleaning at high throughput.

Degassing is a convenient feature when preparing fresh cleaning solutions. The process removes cavitation inhibiting entrained air.

These features work best when parts being cleaned receive the full benefit of ultrasonic cavitation. For suggestions on improving cavitation efficiency check our post covering parts positioning.

Rinsing and Drying Metal Parts

Parts rinsing is required if cleaning solution residues are not acceptable. Several rinsing systems are available for residue removal. The simplest is a spray rinse using city water. This too may leave unacceptable residues, in which case RO, DI, or distilled water can be used.

More elaborate systems have one or more rinse tanks adjacent to the ultrasonic cleaning tank. Consider The Elma X-tra Flex-2 line that has a shower rinse and an oscillating ultrasonic rinse tank to remove residues from complex shapes including crevices and blind holes.

If rusting is a concern a rust inhibitor such as elma-KS can be added to the rinsing bath.

When parts emerge from heated cleaning or rinsing baths they may be warm enough to flash dry. Complex parts that hold water require systems that can range from simple hand-held hot air driers to electrically powered top- and front-loading industrial dryers.

Want Some More Examples? Check These Links

Surface Prep

The excellent results delivered by today’s high-tech coating systems are due in part to careful surface preparation. That’s why an ultrasonic cleaner should be included in processing lines prior to applying coatings.   Our post on cleaning stamped metal parts provides an example.

Cleaning Gear Assemblies

Gears and gear components used in automotive, heavy machinery and similar equipment are cast, forged and machined to tight tolerances. The byproducts of these production and finishing operations include metal fines, cutting fluid residues, buffing compounds and other contaminants that must be removed. Here’s where an ultrasonic cleaner soon pays for itself in removing contaminants from gear assemblies.

Removing Buffing Compounds

Buffing compound residues and residues from the parts being cleaned are very difficult to remove because of their high melting temperatures.   An ultrasonic cleaner is an ideal way to safely remove buffing compounds prior to subsequent operations.

In the Metal Fabricating Shop

Removing all traces of cutting oils, dust, chips, turnings and other contaminants is necessary to ready newly fabricated and machined parts for shipping. An industrial or benchtop ultrasonic cleaner is your best solution to achieve optimum parts cleaning in fabricating and machine shops.

Positioning Industrial Parts in Ultrasonic Cleaners  

When cleaning complex parts care must be taken to ensure the cleaning solution reaches all surfaces. Repositioning may be required during the cycle. Our post on parts positioning goes into detail on this topic.

Want to Learn More? Visit the Ultrasonic Cleaning Learning Center

We offer great tutorials on the various aspects of ultrasonic cleaning - ranging from baskets to cleaning solutions and more with videos on the Tovatech ultrasonic cleaning learning center.

Tovatech’s ultrasonic cleaners cover the entire range of ultrasonic cleaning equipment with suitable models to fit every need.  Choosing the right combination of ultrasonic cleaner and cleaning chemistry can be a challenge.  Our vast experience across industries will help in guiding you towards the most cost effective solution that will match your budget without compromising on your cleaning needs.  Call us and we will help you make you the right choice quickly. 

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