Auto Laundry News - January 2013

Technology — Developments with Car Wash Application

By Robert Roman

Technology is the practical application of crafts, knowledge, machines, methods, and systems to solve problems and achieve goals and objectives.

In the car wash industry, technology has taken form in PCs and software to control equipment and manage operations; VFDs to reduce energy; pay stations to enhance ordering, payment, and reduce labor; and more efficient operating platforms like flex serve.

Technology can transform things before our eyes. Five years ago I couldn’t pull my daughter away from her PC. Today, an iPhone is attached to her hip and most of her generation have shunned e-mail for texting.

Technology runs from low to high. Consider Easywash located in Vancouver, Canada.

In 2007, a $1.2 million industrial fuel cell was installed on site, which used waste hydrogen gas from nearby chemical plants to supply most of the wash’s peak energy needs. Easywash opened in 2006 and incorporated other greeneries such as recycling, rainwater collection, and LEED-certified building.

However, the fuel cell’s government funding expired and the device was shut down and dismantled. According to Colin Armstrong, whose company Sacre-Davey Innovations provided the waste hydrogen, “The fuel cell was not self-sustaining, economically. The gas simply isn’t used widely enough for the costs to stay down.”

In order for technology to be useful it must have practical applications. Obviously, it’s not practical to use a $1.2 million fuel cell to power a $125K in-bay. However, consider Tom Petit, a car wash operator and equipment manufacturer based out of Norton, OH.

Tom’s company, Petit Auto Wash Inc. specializes in touchless. Tom’s latest invention is an in-bay system that is actually an industrial robot operating on six-axis — the point that something such as a tool rotates around. According to Tom, “The 360-I in-bay allows us to wash 30 cars an hour unattended and it uses 25 percent to 30 percent less water and electricity. Several patents are pending.”

Another high-tech development that’s entered the industry is nanotechnology — the manipulation of matter on the atomic and molecular scale. An example is the new breed of sealants that can protect vehicle paint for up to nine months.

The extended protection comes from combining an inorganic silicate layer (water glass) that forms a hard protective layer and an organic fluorocarbon layer of nano-particles that provides a lotus effect. The result is lightly soiled vehicles rinse clean with rain, and the finish can handle intensive manual or automatic washing.

Low-emitting diodes or LEDs have gained popularity in gasoline and convenience stores and their use is spilling over to car wash. LEDs have a quality of light superior to all other types of lighting and deliver it more efficiently.

According to Lighting Science Group, LEDs deliver 112 lumens per watt compared to 50 to 70 lumens per watt for a conventional fluorescent light (CFL). LEDs can last more than eight times as long as CFL. LEDs are also dimmable and come up to full brightness instantly in cold temperatures. Another advantage is the ability to distribute light evenly over a wide area. In other words, if you need a minimum light level over an entire parking lot, you would need fewer LED fixtures as compared to other technology.

Another high technology that may have more use for car washes is Skype — a proprietary voice-over-Internet protocol service and software application. Skype allows users to communicate with peers by voice, video, and instant messaging over the Internet.

Phone calls may be placed to recipients on the traditional telephone networks. Calls to other users within the Skype service are free of charge, while calls to landline telephones and mobile phones are charged via a debit-based user account system.

A promising high-technology for mobile car washers and detailers is Square Inc. Launched in May 2010, Square is an electronic service that allows users to accept plastic payment through their mobile phones either by swiping the card on the Square device or by manually entering the details on the phone.

Lastly, we discuss low or appropriate technology, which is generally recognized as an application that is small-scale, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled.

An example could be a hand wash — .5-acre lot, 1,500-square-foot building, grease trap, air compressor, prep gun, canister vacuums, and flex-serve format. This would provide developers long on sweat but short on cash with a low investment cost per workplace and low capital investment per unit of output.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises – Consulting Services (www.carwashplan.com). You can reach Bob via e-mail at bob@carwashplan.com.

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