​Ultrasonic Cleaners for Small Businesses

​Ultrasonic Cleaners for Small Businesses

"The right tool for the right job" is a mantra espoused by professionals, whatever their business, and extends across all disciplines. If you don't believe it, Google it. This post focuses on ultrasonic cleaners for small businesses and how these versatile "tools" add efficiencies, improve results and help build customer satisfaction for small business owners running shopping mall kiosks to small engine repair shops.

The operative word is "cleaners" because if cleaning is not part of the service then there is no need for an ultrasonic cleaner. On the other hand, if products being built, repaired or refurbished chances are an ultrasonic cleaner will prove a welcome addition to your toolbox.

Where are Ultrasonic Cleaners Used?

Small businesses that benefit by using ultrasonic cleaners are those that otherwise manually clean with solvents or sprays, or solvent-based parts washers to remove contaminants from parts being assembled, repaired or otherwise cleaned. A sampling of successful applications includes

  • Gasoline and diesel engine parts
  • Cell phones and PDAs
  • Printed circuit boards
  • Firearms (clean and lubricate)
  • Sport fishing gear
  • Scuba diving regulators
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • First responder personal protective equipment
  • Jewelry, watches and clocks
  • Vinyl record cleaning and restorations
  • Antique and decorative hardware
  • Medical, dental, tattoo and manicure instruments
  • Fuel oil and gasoline injector nozzles
  • Lab glass and instruments
  • etc.

Your general takeaway is that an ultrasonic cleaner is a preferred tool for removing contaminants from any part that can be safely immersed in an aqueous cleaning solution. A brief description of these solutions follows in this post.

How Ultrasonic Cleaners Work

Ultrasonic cleaners use the power of what is called "cavitation" to loosen and carry away tenacious contaminants from products being cleaned. Cavitation is described as the implosion of microscopic vacuum bubbles as they contact surfaces immersed in the solution. The bubbles are created by generator-powered ultrasonic transducers bonded to the underside of the unit's cleaning solution tank.

These transducers vibrate at ultrasonic frequencies such as 45,000 cycles per second (45 kHz) that in turn cause the tank bottom to serve as a vibrating membrane causing bubbles to form.

Ultrasonic cleaners are manufactured to operate at specific frequencies such as 45, 37 80 and 130 kHz. Some models such as the Elmasonic P series operate at dual frequencies. For small businesses, however, 45 or 37 kHz frequencies are popular.

What does Frequency Mean?

Good question.

It gets a bit technical but as ultrasonic cleaner frequency increases the size of the microscopic cavitation bubbles decreases. This can be measured but indiscernible to the human eye. The point is, the larger the bubbles (i.e. at 25 or 45 kHz) the more vigorous the cavitation. This means lower-frequency units should be considered when cleaning heavier and highly contaminated cast and fabricated parts whereas frequencies such as 36 kHz, 80 kHz and higher are employed when cleaning sensitive or highly polished surfaces. The smaller higher frequency bubbles are also better able to penetrate cracks, crevices, tubes and blind holes characteristic of complex components.

Which brings up another strong selling point for an ultrasonic cleaner. These units are able to loosen and remove contaminants that are impossible to remove using manual scrubbing or wash tanks. Moreover, they avoid potential dangers to you or your personnel being exposed to aerosol sprays and/or cleaning solvents and their vapors.

How to Specify an Ultrasonic Cleaner for Your Businesses

We already talked about ultrasonic frequency as a specification point. Equally important is the size of the ultrasonic cleaner's tank. Remember the story of the basement boat builder whose creation would not fit through the cellar door?

Cleaning tank dimensions in length, width and depth (LWD) are provided but keep in mind that the cleaning baskets (either furnished or optional) in which you place the products are smaller. You'll want a tank size that allows baskets containing products to be fully immersed in the cleaning solution. That includes what is called the "working depth" of the tank. Working depth is the distance between the bottom of the basket ( not the tank) and the surface of a full cleaning tank. If spec sheets do not indicate working depth ask the supplier.

As an aside here, products being cleaned will displace cleaning solution. Over time you'll be able to calculate the correct amount based on what is being cleaned. Point: Overfilled and under-filled tanks are not a good idea. Most tanks have a "fill line" or other indication of proper solution levels. Follow these indicators.

Ultrasonic Cleaner Bells & Whistles

Bells and whistles may be required or nice depending on your small business ultrasonic cleaning tasks. Here we list a listing of features that deserve consideration or could deserve consideration:

  • Size. You can purchase basic benchtop ultrasonic cleaners in just about any size you need. One of the smaller units available via iUltrasonic is the Crest Ultrasonic Cleaner E050CR
  • Sweep frequency. "Sweep" signifies that the frequency is slightly varied to provide a more uniform distribution of cleaning energy thought out the bath. This as opposed to "normal" helps avoid hot spots and dead zones that can result in uneven cleaning or possible damage to highly polished surfaces.
  • Normal (or fixed) frequency is usually employed to degas, emulsify, mix and disperse lab samples. Cleaners are available that allow selecting sweep or normal.
  • Ultrasonic frequency. We covered this above. Some ultrasonic cleaners operate at dual frequencies. This feature allows you the option of tailoring the frequency to the contaminants being removed or the physical properties of what is being cleaned. An example is the dual frequency Elma PH series .
  • The Pulse feature allows operators to activate a higher ultrasonic frequency pulse into the cleaning solution. This is a useful option when cleaning parts with highly tenacious contaminants or for sample prep.
  • Thermostats allow operators to set the recommended cleaning solution temperature before beginning the cleaning operation. Temperature may or may not be critical but keep in mind that ultrasonic cavitation heats the solution and a higher temperature may not be desirable.
  • Timers allow operators to control the length of the cleaning cycle. Some units will initiate cavitation when the set temperature is reached; all will cease cavitation at the end of the cycle. Advantage: Set the timer and attend to other tasks.

Ultrasonic Cleaning Solutions for Small Businesses

The correct cleaning solution is the solution to satisfactory cleaning, regardless of what is being cleaned (remember the right tool for the right job). Today's biodegradable cleaning solution concentrates differ widely from earlier formulations requiring special handing. That said, disposal practices for biodegradable solutions should conform to local regulations.

While most solutions are in the form of biodegradable concentrates some are used full strength. Manufacturers provide detailed instructions on their use, including dilution, recommended cleaning temperatures, and also what are called material safety data sheets (MSDS) that detail chemistry, handling and disposal procedures.

Common classifications are by pH or as emulsifying or demulsifying formulations.

  • pH classifies the formula as acidic, alkaline or neutral with high pH values associated with alkaline and lower as acidic.
  • emulsifying or demulsifying designation deals with what happens to contaminants removed during the cleaning process. It applies when products are heavily contaminated with oils and greases. Emulsifying formulations keep contaminants in suspension where they accumulate and begin to lower cleaning effectiveness and may stick to products when removed from the cleaning tank. This may require a rinsing operation.
  • With demulsifying cleaners contaminants float to the surface to be skimmed off and set aside for later disposal. As with emulsifying formulas cleaning efficiency will drop off with continued use, necessitating solution replacement.

Whatever chemistry is used , tank damage can be avoid by removing contaminants that fall to the bottom each time the solution is changed. Tank cleaning procedures are important; instructions are provided by equipment manufacturers.

Selecting Acidic, Neutral or Alkaline Cleaning Solutions

Here’s a general overview on where these formulations find application. The examples given are but a few of the many choices available. We suggest that you thoroughly familiarize yourself with the products you plan to clean and the contaminants to remove before making a selection.

  • For removing light oil, grease, fluxing agents, dust and fingerprints from electronics and fine optics, mildly alkaline elma tec clean A1 in dilutions to 3 to 10% with water is a good choice. PCB manufacturers and operators of PDA repair services use this product when either producing PCBs or removing soils and contaminants that accumulate during use.
  • Grinding and polishing media, greases and oils used by jewelers and repair shops can be are removed from nonferrous and precious metals with mildly alkaline elma tec clean A2. This formula contains ammonia, making it popular when brightening brass and copper products. Normal dilutions are to 5 to 10% with water.
  • For general purpose cleaning by shops working on engine and similar parts a widely used formulation is elma tec clean A4 to remove oil, grease, residues an similar contaminants from a broad range of surfaces. Examples include stainless steel, steel, iron and gray iron, aluminum, light metals, brass, glass, quartz and rubber. It is diluted to 1 to 5% in an ultrasonic cleaner or to 10% for cleaning without ultrasound.
  • An example of a neutral formula is elma tec clean N1 to clean all metals, plastics, ceramics, glass and rubber in dilutions to 2 to 5% for ultrasound or to 10% for cleaning without ultrasound.
  • Mildly acidic cleaner elma tec clean S1 takes rust, lime, oxide films, grease and oil from nonferrous heavy metals, stainless steel, aluminum, brass and plastics among other surfaces. Typical dilutions are to 1 to 5% with water.

Because most cleaning solutions are water based there may be a concern about rusting. Ask us about elma KS, a mildly alkaline concentrate, to provide temporary corrosion protection on a molecular level.

In Conclusion:

We hope this post is helpful in selecting the best ultrasonic cleaner for your small business. For additional details or help in selecting the right cleaner, cleaning solution and procedures for your operations please  contact our ultrasonic experts.

More About the Author

Dr. Rachel Kohn has extensive experience in developing technology-based business opportunities. Prior to founding Tovatech, she successfully built international sales of novel analytical instrumentation for Smiths Detection as a Global Account Manager in the Life Sciences division. Dr. Kohn’s prior positions include Director of Business Development at Photon-X, a telecom component start-up, Project Manager at Cardinal Health, and Business Director at the Medical Device Concept Laboratory, a nonprofit research institution focused on development of biomaterials and implantable medical devices. In addition, Dr. Kohn held various positions at Hoechst Celanese Corporation, including Marketing Manager, Project Team Leader, Business Analyst, and Senior Research Scientist. She has authored 37 patents and publications based on laboratory research in diverse fields such as advanced drug delivery systems, polymer films and membranes, optical disks, and polysaccharides. Dr. Kohn has a B.A. in Chemistry from Barnard College and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from M.I.T.