What Can You Clean with an Ultrasonic Cleaner, Part II – The List

In our previous blog we covered why so many things can be cleaned with ultrasonic cleaning.  You learned there are only two “eligibility requirements” for items to be cleaned. First, they must be able to handle immersion, because the cavitation that powers ultrasonic cleaning can only take place in a liquid environment. Second, the item must be able to be dried easily. You also learned that, in general, as long as a contaminant can be removed from the surface it’s on, it can be removed with an ultrasonic cleaner. This covers everything from common dirt to engine sludge, soot and cutting oils.

In short, there’s hardly a plant on Earth that doesn’t have something to use ultrasonic cleaning on, and you can reduce costs while doing so.

Still, you may want to get more specific. We’ve prepared a list of example items. Let’s take a look at it, and look in more detail at some of the categories they fall into.

  • Aerospace components
  • Anything that is honed, lapped, buffed, or polished (ceramic, glass, metals)
  • Automotive parts, from engine blocks to fuel injector nozzles
  • Bearings
  • Carbide cutting tools
  • CRT’s and related components
  • Circuit boards and chips
  • Disk drives
  • Electronic units
  • Fire restoration
  • Firearm cleaning
  • Glass substrates
  • Glassware cleaning—including laboratory and medical glassware
  • Hybrid microelectronic circuits (thin and thick film circuits)
  • Hypodermic needle stock (cannulae)
  • Jewelry (new manufacture)
  • Lenses
  • Maintenance cleaning of mechanical assemblies
  • Maintenance cleaning of food manufacturing filling equipment
  • Manufacturing molds
  • Nuclear decontamination
  • Optical components
  • Orthopedic implants
  • Preparation of metals prior to titanium nitride coating
  • Quartz crystals (radio, television, computer, cellular phones)
  • Semiconductor components, substrates, and sub-assemblies
  • Surgical instruments
  • Thick film furnace belt (during operation)
  • Window blinds
  • Wire dies

Remember, our list is anything but exhaustive, because ultrasonic cleaning is so versatile. Now, on to the categories:

Aerospace components

In a field where quality expectations and manufacturing/repair costs are stratospheric, ultrasonic cleaning excels. Whether cleaning cutting oil off newly machined components, making stainless steel parts spotless before they are passivated or clearing grime from a hydraulic part prior to refurbishment, ultrasonic cleaners will remove contamination more thoroughly and quickly than manual processes. Ultrasonic cleaning is also very well-suited to avionics, as we’ll see in the next section.

Electronics

On our list, you’ll find examples such as circuit boards, chips and entire electronic products. Most of us would recoil in horror at the idea of placing electronics in water, but as long as proper drying techniques are used, an ultrasonic cleaner will not only clean electronic devices, but clean them more quickly and completely than any other method.

In the past, it was common to use trichlorethylene to clean electronic equipment, but ultrasonic cleaning usually requires only water and a mild detergent additive.

Machined components—and any items that need a coating removed

Of course, this covers parts that are formed in a CNC machine, items that are bored out on a press, etc. But we’re including some others here, such as certain ceramics, glass and polished metals. If an item has been machined,  honed, lapped, buffed, or polished, there will be residue on it in the form of chips, dust, polishing compounds or cutting oils, etc.

Here the strength of ultrasonic cleaning is in its versatility—the cavitation in the cleaner will remove oils just as easily as chips or dust—and its thoroughness. Ultrasonic cavitation reaches anywhere that the liquid the part is immersed in reaches, so you won’t have to worry about something being missed and ruining a later step where paint or some other coating is applied.

When you help customers blast contaminants off everything from tiny lenses to nuclear waste cleaning robots, one blog post isn’t enough to cover it all.  We’ll cover some more categories in our next post. But if you’d like more information on how some of our customers used these highly reliable machines in an industrial environment to reduce costs and deliver a cleaner product, click here to learn about Ushers Machine and Tool or here to download Ultrasonics to the Rescue, a case study of the results seen by Componex.

What Can you Clean with an Ultrasonic Cleaner

If you’re considering using ultrasonic cleaning to make your facility more efficient, you need to know if this technology can even do the job you have in mind. So you may be asking, what can an ultrasonic cleaner clean?

The short answer is “just about anything,” but you probably want a bit more detail than that. To answer the question, we’ll need to talk about the items you can clean with ultrasonics and about the substances you can clean off them.

Items—The stuff we can clean

The number of items that can benefit from ultrasonic cleaning is vast. The reason? There are just two basic “eligibility requirements” before something can be cleaned in this manner.

The cavitation that powers ultrasonic cleaning and scrubs contaminants off parts will only occur in a liquid environment. Ergo, the item must be one that won’t be damaged by immersion. Some of the things on that list might surprise you. For instance, most of us would react with horror at the idea of combining electronics and water, but as long as proper drying techniques are used, an ultrasonic cleaner will not only clean electronic devices, but clean them more quickly and completely than any other method.

The second requirement is that the part can be dried relatively easily. This eliminates items that are absorbent, but most others can simply be air dried with a blower.

For this reason, ultrasonic cleaning is used to remove unwanted materials from everything from jewelry to long rifles, from super-delicate lenses to massive engine parts, from surgical instruments to motherboards.

You may be wondering if ultrasonic waves will damage relatively brittle materials, such as glass or ceramics. Ultrasonic cleaning is perfectly safe for these materials.

Enemies—the grime we can eliminate

In general, as long as a contaminant can be removed from the surface it’s on, it can be removed with an ultrasonic cleaner. Contaminants that might require time-consuming applications of elbow grease can be lifted free in a few minutes. That’s why, to cite one application, disaster restoration firms will use ultrasonic cleaning to remove soot from smoke-damaged items.

For an example of the dramatic results users can see, watch this short video of filth being blasted off the surface of a copper part.

Ultrasonic cleaning will remove anything from common dirt and engine sludge to the sort of oily chemicals that can prevent paints and other coatings from adhering to finished products. This includes lubricants, grease, buffing and polishing compounds, cutting oils, etc.

One of the few things ultrasonic cleaning won’t remove is spores and viruses. If you’re cleaning medical instruments, they will need sterilization after other contaminants are removed in your ultrasonic cleaner.

How to be sure

In the cases where there’s doubt about whether ultrasonic cleaning is the right fit, we offer free testing. You can arrange to submit a typical item from your facility and our staff will test clean it, providing you with detailed results.

In short, our customers have blasted grime off everything from golf clubs to oil refinery equipment, from Venetian blinds to nuclear waste cleaning robots. But if you’d like more information on how some of our customers used these highly reliable machines in an industrial environment to reduce costs and deliver a cleaner product, click here to learn about Ushers Machine and Tool or here to download Ultrasonics to the Rescue, a case study of the results seen by Componex.

4 Things to Look for in a Replacement Ultrasonic Cleaner

All good things must end, and no matter how good your ultrasonic cleaner is, you’ll eventually have to replace it. The good news? If you’re careful about your choices, you can end up with a unit that’s a vast improvement. Here are four things to look for when you’re choosing a replacement ultrasonic cleaner:

A WARRANTY THAT INSPIRES CONFIDENCE

Nothing tells you a product is dependable and well-made like a strong warranty. Your new cleaner should have a warranty that’s lengthy, but length shouldn’t be your only consideration. Be sure to check what components are included or excluded and whether some have shorter coverage than the main warranty. Be sure your warranty begins on the date the cleaner is shipped or delivered, not the date it’s manufactured. A warranty agreement that goes into effect months before you even order your ultrasonic cleaner is not much use.

If you’d like more detail on this subject, we’ve prepared a handy list of questions and concerns to consider in regard to these warranties.

A “MADE IN THE USA” LABEL THAT MEANS WHAT IT SAYS

Many US-based ultrasonic manufacturers source their components and materials from outside the US. Since you may be reading this on a phone made in South Korea or running a facility that assembles foreign-sourced parts into new products, that may not seem like a very big deal. But red tape, language differences, increased transit times, differing standards and time zones can affect everything from the quality of your cleaner to the quality of service the manufacturer provides after the sale. Make sure the company making your cleaner has control over every aspect of the process and can ensure a consistent and high level of quality.

A CLEANER WITH MULTI-FREQUENCY CAPABILITY

Different ultrasonic frequencies can deliver a diverse range of capabilities, but a transducer that produces a single frequency at a time can carry with it a number of problems and inefficiencies. For example, a single-frequency setup can produce standing wave patterns that lead to incomplete cleaning on some areas of a part, and the transducer diaphragms tend to erode much more quickly.

Transducers such as our Vibra-Bar® units transmit across a spectrum of frequencies above and below the main frequency—typically 40 kHz—all at the same time. This Simultaneous Multi-Frequency® technology improves cleaning, increases durability and provides a number of other benefits.

A CONTROL SYSTEM THAT WORKS THE WAY YOU DO

If the mobile and digital revolution is changing the way your team works and the way you interact with customers and suppliers, why shouldn’t it make your ultrasonic cleaner easier to use and more effective? An ultrasonic cleaner should include controls that work with mobile technologies to provide information and receive instructions.

We’ve introduced the Sonic Touch®II multifunctional digital control panel to deliver that capability. It can be controlled or monitored with an Android or iOS smart phone or tablet, and can be set up to run the ultrasonic cleaner with a countdown timer or a seven day schedule. The unit monitors cavitation activity levels using a patented Liquid Condition Sensor, and can notify supervisors of changes in system status through multiple methods. The Sonic Touch®II can give notice of scheduled maintenance or alert the user of a problem by sending emails or text messages to an appropriate account. It can also continuously record system data in real time, and download that data to flash drives.

There’s a lot to consider when making a purchase as important as an ultrasonic cleaner, but if you begin with those that are made here in America, have a rock-solid warranty, include multi-frequency technology capability and integrate mobile-friendly technology, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Finding The Balance: Tuning in on the right frequency for your ultrasonic cleaning application

There’s no doubt ultrasonic cleaning is simple, versatile and effective. No other method can deliver the same spotless cleaning in the same short timeframe while offering an equal level of safety for your parts and employees. But even though you’re dealing with a simple process, an adjustment in the frequency your ultrasonic cleaner operates at can make a noticeable difference in performance.

Why does “hitting the right note” matter? It comes down to the details of cavitation. When ultrasonic waves travel through a liquid, they form bubbles on the surface of submerged items. But the waves also cause the bubbles to collapse, and as they do so, they create a powerful jet of liquid that strikes the surface and any contaminants clinging to it. This creates a constant scrubbing action.

Different frequencies will produce larger or smaller bubbles. The higher the frequency, the smaller the bubbles are. The smaller they are, the more gentle the scrubbing action will be, and the more evenly the bubbles will be distributed across the surface. Smaller bubbles also penetrate cracks, crevasses and other narrow and/or deep recesses more effectively. The larger bubbles produced by lower frequencies create a far more powerful cleaning action, but don’t penetrate as well.

Let’s take a look at the available frequency ranges, what they can accomplish and what the best items to clean them with are:

25kHz

This frequency is quite low, just above the top of the human hearing range, which is 18kHz. It produces relatively large, powerful bubbles, which strike the part being cleaned with a powerful jet. This makes it the ultimate scrubbing tool for contaminants which are thick and/or tenaciously sticky. This frequency is ideal for cleaning large, durable metal parts—such as engine blocks, radiators, dies—and any parts for which finish isn’t a critical consideration. The main disadvantage is that the bubbles produced won’t penetrate narrow crevices.

40kHz

This is the most commonly used frequency in industrial applications because it hits the “sweet spot” for scrubbing power and penetration. It can be used for about 95% of ultrasonic cleaning applications. The bubbles it produces are about a micron in diameter, and can deliver excellent cleaning results in all but the smallest spaces. It’s gentle enough for almost all materials and the bubble size also provides good coverage on wide surfaces.

68kHz

For some materials, 40kHz is too aggressive and can leave damage behind. Those parts—such as hard drive components, electronics, buffed soft metal parts and precision optics—call for the gentler scrubbing action of a higher frequency. As you’ve probably guessed, this frequency also penetrates into even smaller spaces than 40kHz.

132kHz to 170kHz

This is the highest frequency range commonly used in industrial ultrasonic cleaning, and offers the ultimate in gentle cleaning and penetration of even the tiniest crevices. It’s commonly used to clean pharmaceutical products, medical implants, titanium components and unusually delicate electronic parts.

With the right frequency and our Vibra-bar® Simultaneous Multi-Frequency® transducers, you can clean nearly anything, and do it with a healthier bottom line. To see how our customers used our cleaners to reduce costs and deliver a cleaner product, click here to learn about Ushers Machine and Tool.