The plastics industry is one of the biggest in the world and depends heavily on machinery and equipment for it’s production. It is critical that this equipment is kept running smoothly, and one of the most effective solutions for a well-running machine is to keep its industrial parts & components clean. Cleaning these industrial parts & components takes precision and expertise, and with the right techniques, you can improve productivity, reduce downtime, and eliminate excess costs for replacement parts.
Our team at Sonic Solutions are experts in industrial parts cleaning for the plastics industry, so we’ve put together this guide on everything you need to know.
The manufacturing process of plastics depends on many industrial parts, and each poses its own issues if not properly cleaned;
Here is a summary of some of the parts used in the production of plastics, that rely on thorough cleaning:
- Sintered Filters: Sintered filters are used in the production of blown moulding to keep contaminants out of the end product by purifying air before the moulding process. Over time these become trapped with particulate and must be cleaned or replaced. The slow build-up of particulate raises pressures in the system and can lead to major problems.
- Heat Exchangers (Polybloc): The air heat exchangers keep the blow moulding air at a constant temperature, meaning products such as plastic bottles are manufactured in an identical and repeatable way. Over time these air heat exchangers gather up deposits from the heating of plastic that leave a sticky layer on the surface, reducing the effectiveness of the equipment.
- Condensers: Condensers used in the production of blown moulded products are designed to catch and remove the volatile vapours released in the heating of plastics in the extrusion stage. Over time this sticky “wax” builds up reducing the effectiveness of the “cooler”.
- Dust Filters: Dust filters are found in a number of different areas of the plastics industry. In recycling they are commonly used in the grinding process to catch airborne particulate that could affect the health and safety of the workforce and also contaminate products further down the line. For the production of blown film, it is imperative that no airborne particulate is present on the shop floor and so extraction is a very important part of the process.
- Condensers & Filters: Extraction system filters and condensers can become contaminated with wax and oil deposits when the use of heat is implemented in the drying of material after the washing and separation processes. This by-product if left unchecked can create major issues throughout the process and so effective cleaning of condensers and filters is extremely important.
- Pelletising Heads: Pelletising heads are usually cleaned when switching products or if there has been a failure in the filtration process allowing contaminants to block the fine holes. Being that this equipment is almost the last stage of production the tolerances are extremely important and must be kept clean for best results.
- Laser Filters: There are various types of laser filters used by the plastic recycling industry, including Erema laser filters, MAS laser filters, FIMIC laser filters, and Ettlinger laser filters. These are used to remove contaminants from plastic recycling processes. Unlike the disposable wire mesh filters that need constantly changing, “continuous melt” filtration uses blades to skim off the majority of contaminants that hit the filter. Over time tiny particles of aluminium, copper, wood and even paper will block the tiny holes, leading to increased pressure and a totally ineffective filter system. Thanks to the robust nature of the screens they can be cleaned and restored numerous times. A multistage cleaning system of burn, jet wash and 2-stage ultrasonics can often result in 95%+ laser screen cleanliness.
These are all industrial parts which are essential for the manufacture of plastics and plastic products. Over time, it is inevitable that these parts will collect residue which builds up on the surface. The build-up of contaminating residue can lead to many problems in both quality and production, which can have an extremely negative impact on a business.
In addition to these issues, vapours of oil or resin (sometimes known as WAX), which are released from the heating of plastics can be very difficult to clean properly and replacement parts are costly. A common scenario for industrial parts in the the plastics industry is:
- Extraction system filters and condensers can become contaminated with wax and oil deposits when the use of heat is implemented in the drying of material after the washing and separation processes. These filters and condensers can be extremely expensive to replace and are also very challenging to clean thoroughly.
- To compensate for the restricted air flow, pressures and flow rates are increased. This raises further issues of safety as pressures rise to potentially dangerous levels, and process control reduces as the flow rate increases.
- Quality suffers as control reduces and solid particulate risks being introduced into the end product.
- Shutdown is an inevitable consequence if the accumulation of residual contaminant is not properly addressed.
- Cleaning or replacement of these dirty parts is inevitable at some stage. However not only can these parts be extremely expensive, but they are often bespoke, manufactured abroad and on extremely long lead times, making their replacement a financial, logistical and production nightmare.
- To add to the problems, the price of replacement parts is increasing at an exponential rate in many cases.
The first port of call for many businesses in the plastics industry is to clean the parts themselves, particularly when options for part replacement is time consuming and expensive. In-house industrial parts cleaning is not always an easy solution, however, and it can actually lead to further problems down the line. Some of the biggest issues with in-house cleaning of industrial parts include:
- Industrial parts are often complex and require a multi-stage cleaning process to get the best results. This involves using expert cleaning equipment, chemistry, and methodologies, which often aren’t accessible from an in-house team. For the same level of cleaning in house as you could get from professionals, you would need to invest heavily in trained personnel and specialist equipment.
- The demand for parts cleaning varies greatly, and each bit of kit will require a different cleaning option. This makes it even more challenging to invest in dedicated cleaning facilities within your business.
- The majority of personnel in the plastics industry are going to be experts in production and running a cleaning facility is often outside their scope. Inexperienced teams will often lead to disappointing results when it comes to industrial parts cleaning.
The Sonic Solution
There are various cleaning methods available for equipment in the plastics industry, including ultrasonic cleaning, jet washing, pyrolysis (also known as burn-off), and media blasting. Sub-contracting these cleaning requirements to a team of specialists can be a critical part of your maintenance programme. With the right industrial parts cleaning solutions in place, your business can save both time and money compared with in-house cleaning or replacing parts.
At Sonic Solutions, our recommended cleaning options for the plastics industry include;
- Jet Washing: High-pressure water jets, heated and with some cleaning chemical additives, can be extremely effective at removing loose contaminants from external surfaces. It is often a first resort in cleaning parts. However, it is less effective where contaminants are bonding to the part and the part has complex geometry, so the jets don’t access all areas to be cleaned.
- Ultrasonic Cleaning: Using high-frequency sound waves through a solution, this cleaning method provides the highest levels of precision required by some of the intricately engineered parts used in plastics processing and recycling. It works through submersion of the part in an ultrasonic bath with the appropriate cleaning chemical to assist removal of the contaminant. It cleans to the micron level using imploding vacuum bubbles to remove particulate contaminants from all surfaces of the part, including internal chambers and channels.
- Pyrolysis / Burn Off: Pyrolysis works by gradually heating the part to roughly 430 degrees. This is done in an environment deprived from oxygen which causes the plastics or polymer to turn to an inert ash. The intense heat causes the hydrocarbon elements to evaporate and then they are exposed to even higher temperatures of 800 degrees at the afterburner, which reduces the substances to water vapour and carbon dioxide.
Steel, copper, and other hard metals are able to withstand this intense cleaning method and there are no adverse effects on the parts. Some metals will become discoloured with exposure to high temperatures, but the chemical and physical properties are rarely compromised. All organic contaminants can be completely removed using pyrolysis, and just a residual ash will be left behind which can be easily removed with ultrasonic cleaning or jet washing.
At Sonic Solutions, we are specialists in industrial parts cleaning for the plastic industry and can offer all of these cleaning solutions. Our preferred method for handling plastics is always pyrolysis because of the unbeatable results. Parts are left with all contaminants safely removed without any damage to the metal. In some situations, there may be specific reasons why pyrolysis is not suitable, in which case we would recommend one of our other solutions.
It is important to understand that pyrolysis is generally just the first stage in the process for cleaning industrial parts, and should be followed by ultrasonic cleaning, jet washing or a media blast. Using these cleaning methods together means the parts are left with a completely clean surface.
Our methods of combining cleaning processes to reach the perfect results every time is what makes Sonic Solutions stand out from alternative options. The same results cannot be achieved from in-house cleaning or many other cleaning operations with a single cleaning method. We combine our experience and knowledge with flexibility and passion to deliver the best results for every one of our clients. Not only that, but we include parts collection and drop-off in all of our cleaning services.
Sonic Solutions are trusted by some of the biggest and most demanding plastic recycling and processing companies, including Berry BPI, Luxus and Jayplas to clean their critical working parts. The majority of these already had their own in-house cleaning operation but found that they could not achieve the same levels of cleanliness that Sonic Solutions could deliver.
For one satisfied client, our team were able to clean industrial parts to a much higher standard than they had seen before. The result was a saving of more than £73,000 per year on replacement parts – See the case study here.
At Sonic Solutions, we are experts in industrial parts cleaning and we are here to help! We are more than happy to explore, advise and assist with whichever option works best for you and can offer hire or finance options. Contact our expert team today to discuss your requirements in more detail.