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Wire Cleaning With Ultrasonics

Wires have a range of important uses across industries, including in electrical wires, suspension cables, and all kinds of machinery and equipment. For example, a single car contains kilometers of wiring and a commercial aircraft might house over 3,000 pounds of wire.

During the wire production process, contaminants such as lubricants and oxides can become strongly adhered to the surface of the wire. Thorough cleaning is necessary in many cases, but can represent a significant challenge.

Here, we look at why wire cleaning is important, how ultrasonic cleaning works, and the benefits of ultrasonic wire cleaning.

Ultrasonic Wire Cleaning

Why Wire Cleaning Is Important

Wire is usually produced using a drawing process which involves starting with a metal rod and pulling it through dies to achieve the desired thickness. During the manufacture of wire, lubricants are required to lower friction. These lubricants and other contaminants adhere to the surface of the wire and can be difficult to remove.

Their removal is important for several reasons, depending on the use case. In some scenarios, the wire production process cannot be continued unless the contaminants are removed - this is where an inline cleaning process may be desirable.

In other cases, the contaminants must be removed after production has finished and prior to use. The medical industry, for example, will usually require extreme cleanliness of finished products.

Traditional wire cleaning methods such as spray washing or dipping are suitable for some applications. However, ultrasonic cleaning offers a deeper clean and provides a more efficient and effective solution. It also overcomes the other potential downsides to traditional methods such as spray wash which could contaminate the surrounding environments and excess water consumption.

How Ultrasonic Wire Cleaning Works

Wire is usually transported in the form of a roll. However, it's not possible to thoroughly clean wire in this configuration. Instead, it's necessary to feed the wire from one reel to another, applying a cleaning process in between. This is no different for ultrasonic wire cleaning. The reel is fed into the ultrasonic cleaner at one end, goes through the ultrasonic cleaning process, and is reeled at the other end.

To improve efficiency, it is possible to apply this reel-to-reel process to multiple parallel strands at at time. For example, the continuous ultrasonic wire cleaner below can clean up to nine strands of wire at at time.


Custom ultrasonic wire cleaner

Model 50-26-1030, BT 6012 - 16 gallon Continuous Ultrasonic Wire Cleaner

An ultrasonic cleaner works on the basis of ultrasonic waves traveling through a cleaning solution. The wire is submerged in the detergent and transducers in the unit produce ultrasonic waves which transfer energy to the surrounding liquid. This energy causes the formation and collapse of bubbles in a process known as cavitation.

When the bubbles collapse, high-speed liquid jets are released which are powerful enough to remove contaminants from the surface of submerged objects, in this case the wires. Ultrasonic cleaning is compatible with a range of materials including steel, copper, aluminum, titanium, and iron. It can remove a variety of contaminants, for example, drawing oil and powder lubricants such as calcium and soldium stearates.

Benefits of Ultrasonic Wire Cleaning

Traditional wire cleaning methods include spray washing, dipping (without ultrasound support), electrolytic cleaning, and vapor deegreasing. These all have their strengths and some may even be used in conjunction with ultrasonic cleaning to provide optimal results.

That said, ultrasonic cleaning comes with some key benefits:

  1. Thorough, efficient cleaning
  2. Compatibility with a variety of materials
  3. Compact solutions

Let's look at each of these in detail.

1. Thorough, efficient cleaning

Many applications require the thorough removal of contaminants:

  • Mid-production: Contaminants often need to be removed to allow for the next steps in the production process, for example, extrusion, welding, galvanizing, passivation, or annealing. Contaminants can render these processes ineffective or incomplete, compromising the quality, integrity, and usefulness of the wire.
  • Post-production: Dependingo nthe nature of the application, some wires need to be thoroughly cleaned in preperation for use. Examples are wires used in medical devices, surgical equipment, and aeronautical applications. Unwanted contaminants can render wire components useless, or in the worst cases harmful.

Ultrasonic cleaning is highly thorough. Cavitation bubbles reach every part of the wire's surface, ensuring no area is left contaminated. The nature of ultrasonics also means that the rmeoved contaminants are dispersed in the solution. This prevents them from adhering again to the object as is the risk if you are simply using a dipping cleaning process.

Although it is thorough, ultrasonic cleaning is fast. This is particularly important if the cleaning is required as an inline step as the manufacture of wire is often a high-speed process. The ability of an ultrasoinc cleaner to handle multiple strands of wire at a time makes it even more efficient.

2. Compatible with a variety of materials

WHen deciding which process to use to clean wires, there is often a concern that ultrasonic cleaning may be too harsh a process for delicate wires. To the contrary, ultrasonic cleaning is actually a gentle process and is compatible with most materials commonly used in wire production.

The key is choosing the right detergent for your needs. For example, an alkaline solution will remove most contaminants associated with the wire production process. To remove more stubborn materials such as oxides, you may need to use a harsher detergent. That said, some highly caustic or acidic solutions will be incompatible with certain materials such as magnesium, copper, brass, and aluminum.

3. Compact solutions

Some traditional methods of wire cleaning require cumbersome equipment that takes up lots of space or requires special environments. As you can see from the image above, ultrasonic cleaners are compact enough to sit on a benchtop and require minimal additional components (such as a reservoir and pump stand). They are ideal for inline solutions inserted at the desired pointi n the wire manufacturing process.