Industrial Parts Cleaning 101: Understanding Methods, Costs, Pros and Cons

Industrial Parts Cleaning 101 |Ultrasonic cleaning

In any industrial setting, for any industrial process, it is essential to keep industrial parts clean. Clean parts help keep machinery running smoothly; they help to mitigate any process flaws or errors; they protects sensitive industrial parts and components from damage, corrosion or contamination; and they help to promote quality in nearly every facet of an industrial operation.

When it comes to industrial parts cleaning, there are several cleaning methods to consider. In this post, we’ll briefly outline each method, discuss some general operational costs for each method, and outline some basic pros and cons of each method. We’ll also take an in-depth look at ultrasonic cleaning and its application for industrial parts.

Hand Washing

Hand washing doesn’t need much explanation; the name says it all. An argument can be made that hand washing industrial parts could be beneficial from the standpoint of focusing an employee’s attention on an individual cleaning task (in other words, someone in your shop is physically cleaning the part with their own hands; they’re accountable for the results).

That said, the costs of hand washing are substantial on several fronts:

  • Hand washing is labor intensive; it physically taxes shop workers who are charged with manually cleaning parts
  • It is time intensive; it takes time that could be spent on other process tasks
  • It is expensive; equipment costs may be minimal, but labor costs associated with manual cleaning add up quickly
  • It’s not a consistent solution; some parts may end up very clean, while other parts may be extremely dirty, and hand washing alone simply isn’t enough to adequately clean them
Solvent degreasing

With solvent degreasing, a cleaning agent is applied directly to the surface of a part by spraying, brushing or wiping. This process removes oil, grease, dirt, loose particles, and any other contaminants that may exist on the surface.

Solvent degreasing is used to clean most electronic assemblies, electrical components and metals. Parts are usually dried at an elevated temperature. Almost any size or shape of a part can be cleaned.

Benefits of solvent degreasing:

  • Minimal venting is needed
  • Fairly easy to set up a small degreasing operation
  • Compared to vapor degreasing, emissions are lower, and liquid solvents are safer to handle

Costs of solvent degreasing:

  • Fire remains a high danger when using petroleum and mineral solvents
  • Solvents are difficult and expensive to dispose of
  • Emissions are still fairly high, and it has an adverse environmental impact.
Vapor degreasing

With vapor degreasing, solvents are used to dissolve contaminants on a part, and subsequently remove them by dripping off the part. Vapor degreasing can be used with many types of industrial parts, including electronic parts, to remove excess oil, grease, wax and other non-water soluble particles. Vapor degreasing is also a viable option to clean and prepare part surfaces for finishing processes such as painting, welding, soldering and bonding.

The process involves a basin of solvent with a heating coil that is used to bring the solvent to a boil. As that solvent evaporates in the process, it rises to the fill line in the chamber. This space contains the vaporized solvent, and that solvent then condenses on the more frigid industrial part. At this point, the solvent, which is now a liquid, dissolves the grease on the industrial part. The liquid solvent beads, and the impurities that are in them, then run off the part.

Benefits of vapor degreasing:

  • Some vapor degreasing systems can capture and reclaim the solvent, which makes the process relatively economical
  • N-propyl bromide (nPB)-based solvents are environmentally friendly compared to some other solvents. Additionally, nPB-based solvents are non-flammable, non-chlorinated, U.S. EPA SNAP approved, non-hazardous waste and non-ozone depleting.
  • Vapor degreasing is a viable option in cases where water-based systems are impractical.

Costs of vapor degreasing:

  • While there is no solvent emitted, vapor degreasing is costly, and it is not highly efficient compared to other cleaning methods.
Acoustic cleaning

Acoustic cleaning is primarily used in material handling systems, storage systems and large equipment pieces. The process itself removes the buildup of material on surfaces by generating powerful sound waves that shake particulates loose from surfaces.

Besides the application itself, the particle size range generally governs whether or not acoustic cleaning will be effective. Specifically, the density and moisture content of the particles are the key variables, as well as how those values will change with temperature and time. Generally speaking, particles between 20 micrometres and 5 mm having moisture content below 8.5% are ideal for acoustic cleaning.

Benefits of acoustic cleaning:

  • Repetitive use during operations usually translates into fewer unscheduled shutdowns
  • Minimizes cross contamination by ensuring that the environment being cleaned is completely emptied
  • Reducing buildup on heat exchange surfaces nets lower energy usage
  • Ease of operation

Costs of acoustic cleaning:

  • This type of cleaning method is really geared for large material handling systems, storage systems, boilers and spaces that would otherwise need extensive cleaning through alternative methods such as air cannons, vibrators, low-friction linings, and inflatable pads and liners. For smaller industrial parts, acoustic cleaning may not be the best option.
Parts washer cleaning

A parts washer is a machine – usually an enclosed cabinet type design – that removes contaminants or debris, such as dirt, grime, carbon, oil, grease, metal chips, fluids, mold release agents, ink, paint and corrosion from industrial parts. They are designed to clean, degrease and dry bulk loads of small or large parts in preparation for assembly, inspection, surface treatment, packaging and distribution.

For industrial parts, parts washers can be solvent-based (in which chemical solvents are used to remove contaminants and/or debris), or aqueous-based (in which water and detergent combine with heat and mechanical energy to clean). Aqueous-based parts washers are essentially like large dishwashers. With regard to solvent-based parts washers, non-chemically based detergents are also available to do the job.

Benefits of parts washer cleaning:

  • Used for a wide range of workpiece shapes, sizes and materials
  • May not require the part to be disassembled prior to cleaning. Lower labor costs equal increased profits.
  • For aqueous cleaners, water, soap and green-friendly solvents are environmentally safe. Depending on the machine, generally short cycle times save time, money and increase plant efficiency

Costs of parts washer cleaning:

  • Some electronic components such as MEMS devices like gyroscopes, accelerometers and microphones can become damaged or destroyed by the high-intensity vibrations they are subjected to during some cleaning methods—notably, ultrasonic (see below).
Ultrasonic cleaning

A basic ultrasonic cleaner is a cleaning device that uses ultrasound (usually from 20–400 KHZ) and an appropriate cleaning solution to clean items. The ultrasound can be used with just water, but use of an ultrasonic soap appropriate for the item to be cleaned and the soiling enhances the effect. Cleaning normally lasts between three and six minutes.

Ultrasonic cleaners can be used for a wide variety of applications, including plastic parts, bearings, bolts, rubber parts, internal parts, plastic injection molds, transmission parts and final cleaning all engine parts prior to assembly.

Ultrasonic cleaning can clean contaminants that include dust, dirt, oil, pigments, rust, grease, algae, fungus, bacteria, lime scale, polishing compounds, flux agents, fingerprints, soot wax and mold release agents and biological soil.

The versatility of ultrasonic cleaning machines make them an ideal choice for the automotive, medical, pharmaceutical, aerospace and engineering industries, as well as many other industrial industries.

How ultrasonic cleaning works
Ultrasonic cleaning uses cavitation bubbles induced by high-frequency pressure (sound) waves to agitate a liquid. The agitation produces high forces on contaminants adhering to substrates like metals, plastics, glass, rubber and ceramics. This action also penetrates blind holes, cracks and recesses. The intention is to thoroughly remove all traces of contamination tightly adhering or embedded onto solid surfaces. Water or solvents can be used, depending on the type of contamination and the part.

Types of Ultrasonic Cleaners

Table-Top Ultrasonic Cleaners
Table-top units are small and can sit on a table, on a shelf or on a workbench. Given their size, they are portable, and their single tanks generally range in size from a half-gallon to eight gallons. Table-top units are ideal for small and light-duty applications.

Bench-Top Ultrasonic Cleaners
Bench-top units offer larger capacity options and more cleaning power than table-top units. Tanks on bench-top units run as large as 20 gallons, and they are ideal for industrial, automotive, aerospace and engineering industries.

Large-Capacity Industrial Ultrasonic Cleaners
Large-capacity ultrasonic industrial cleaning units are designed to handle large and heavy duty equipment and parts, including a variety of industrial parts, automotive and aerospace parts. These units typically feature rinse and dry stations and other features.

Benefits of ultrasonic cleaning:

  • Used for a wide range of workpiece shapes, sizes and materials
  • The ultrasonic cleaning process gently moves parts to assist with cleaning; this mitigates the risk of damage to industrial parts during cleaning
  • May not require the part to be disassembled prior to cleaning. Lower labor costs equal increased profits.
  • Water, soap and green-friendly solvents are environmentally safe. Ultrasonic cleaning reduces/replaces hazardous cleaning solvents
  • Short cycle times save time, money and increase plant efficiency

Costs of ultrasonic cleaning:

  • Some electronic components such as MEMS devices like gyroscopes, accelerometers and microphones can become damaged or destroyed by the high-intensity vibrations they are subjected to during ultrasonic cleaning.

We hope you found this primer on industrial parts cleaning methods helpful. If you have questions about industrial parts cleaning methods or industrial parts cleaners – or if you would like information about ultrasonic cleaning for industrial applications and UltraSonic LLC industrial cleaning machines, fill out our contact form, and an UltraSonic LLC representative will be in touch shortly to discuss your requirement.