Why You Should Clean Your Production Parts in Line
Michael Alba posted on June 28, 2019 |
The founder of WashTech describes his company’s one-piece flow washing machines.
A WashTech one-piece flow washing machine. (Image courtesy of WashTech.)

A WashTech one-piece flow washing machine. (Image courtesy of WashTech.)

Washing industrial parts has historically been an expensive and inefficient procedure. Parts are either washed in batches, with very large machines that clean unevenly, or on conveyor belts, which are also large and consume copious amounts of energy.

Mathieu Fresco, founder and managing director of WashTech, offers another approach. His company produces one-piece flow washing machines that integrate directly within a manufacturing line, cleaning parts much more efficiently and saving on both water and energy use.

The Problems with Industrial Washers

In high-tolerance industries like automotive and aerospace, it’s crucial to keep parts clean before the manufacturing process begins. Residue, oil films, cutting fluids and other imperfections can all hinder downstream processes like heat treatment or assembly.

One way to clean parts before they’re put into place in manufacturing is to use a batch washing machine. These machines take on a few dozen parts at a time and have wash cycles of about 20 minutes. If you load 40 parts in one batch into these machines, you get an average cleaning time of 30 seconds per part.

There are many downsides to batch washing machines. For one, they’re very expensive (upwards of a million dollars) and very large (up to 100 square meters in size). They also occupy a single position on the manufacturing floor, which can make them a bottleneck in production. Batch washers can also have uneven results. Since the cleaning sprays are applied from the outside in, parts in the middle of the washer will be less clean than those toward the edge.

A conveyor washing machine. (Image courtesy of WashTech.)
A conveyor washing machine. (Image courtesy of WashTech.)

Conveyor belt washers are another option for cleaning parts. These machines take parts loaded onto a conveyor belt through the washing process, like a car wash for parts. These machines, too, are very large—up to 15 meters long. And since they’re open at both ends, the water can’t be heated or vapor will escape—but washing with cold water results in foam. Conveyor belt washers also have a high energy consumption.

WashTech, an industrial washing company, started out manufacturing batch and conveyor washing machines. But founder Mathieu Fresco figured there had to be a better approach, and the company developed its one-piece flow washers.

One-Piece Flow

WashTech’s approach was to build a washer that could integrate directly within an existing manufacturing line. This meant that, unlike batch and conveyor washing machines, WashTech’s washer cleans one part at a time. Its machines can wash and dry a single part in 30 seconds, bringing its cycle time in line with batch washing machines.

“This is really flowing with the rest of the production line,” said Fresco. “You don't have to stack every part together and send it to the other side of the facility to have them washed. It’s all in line.”

The one-piece flow machine also has a much smaller footprint than a batch washer—two square meters, allowing it to integrate with other CNC machines. The one-piece flow machine is also much more efficient, according to Fresco. The machine uses less energy and water than its counterparts, and recycles water with treatments such as oil separation, filtration, and detergent concentration.

“We’ve made a really small, compact machine,” Fresco explained. “And you can integrate it inside your existing production line in between two machines. It can be between a lathe and grinding machine because you don’t want to cross contaminate the oil with the water. Or it can be just before the assembly line because you want to remove all the contaminants.” 

The one-piece flow machine is modular, allowing customers to configure their own systems. The machine has a rotary table that can be robotically or manually loaded, an air condenser to reduce water evaporation, oil separators to extend the lifetime of the bath, and a detergent dosing system to maintain the surfactant concentration over time.

Illustration of the rotary table component of WashTech’s machine. (Image courtesy of WashTech.)
Illustration of the rotary table component of WashTech’s machine. (Image courtesy of WashTech.)

Designing the One-Piece Flow Machine

When he founded WashTech in 2015, one of Fresco’s first moves was to purchase a Basic license of Siemens Solid Edge. He soon converted it to a Premium license, and the next year the company acquired the Solid Edge piping module and Standard Parts Library. Since then, WashTech has invested in several more Solid Edge Premium licenses, as well as the Solid Edge Electrical Design module and FloEFD for Solid Edge for computational fluid dynamics.

Fresco believes the continued investment in Solid Edge has upgraded the company’s design capacity. FloEFD, for instance, has allowed WashTech to spend less time and money on physical prototypes to validate their systems. Before FloEFD, the company had to put together trial systems and evaluate them with what Fresco describes as “a plethora of sensors.” Today, WashTech uses FloEFD to compare and refine their designs without the investment in hardware validation. Similarly, the finite element analysis available in Solid Edge Premium has helped WashTech to reduce materials and save on product cost by eliminating the need to oversize components.

WashTech tried several other CAD options before deciding on Solid Edge. According to Fresco, there were many reasons for the final selection. Solid Edge allowed the company to share 3D models with other software without import issues. Fresco also thought Solid Edge offered great sheet metal tools. This was a crucial factor for WashTech, as nearly 80 percent of its designs are sheet metal. Finally, Fresco was impressed with Solid Edge’s synchronous technology, which he felt offered more flexibility and design freedom than strictly parametric systems.

“Synchronous technology is an incredibly powerful tool,” Fresco commented. “Once I learned it, I would never go back to something different.”

The Solid Edge Electrical Design module. (Image courtesy of WashTech.)
The Solid Edge Electrical Design module. (Image courtesy of WashTech.)

Bringing Washing in Line

WashTech is based in Querétaro City, Mexico, though Fresco himself hails from France, and the majority of WashTech’s customers are based in the U.S. By now, the company has sold hundreds of its one-piece washers. In terms of sales, 80 percent are to Tier 1 and 2 automotive OEMs, with the remaining 20 percent split evenly between aerospace and general industry. Some of the company’s customers have purchased as many as 40 machines, demonstrating just how effective in-line washing can be compared to the alternatives.

That effectiveness has been at the heart of WashTech’s success as a business. Since the company was founded in 2015, it has grown to a total of 16 employees and averages sales of US$1.8M per year. WashTech is also one of the six members of Surface Alliance, a syndicate of global washing technology companies.

Fresco attributes his company’s success to what was, in retrospect, a simple idea: bring the washing process in line with other manufacturing equipment.

“Generally, they [manufacturing companies] have machines that are able to handle one part at a time, not batch,” Fresco said. “So, we did the same for the washer.”

For more information on Solid Edge, or to download a free trial, visit the Siemens website.

Siemens has sponsored this article.  All opinions are mine.  --Michael Alba

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