You may have heard of the term “ultrasonic cleaning” before and wondered what it means or exactly how it works. It’s the same process jewelers use to clean rings, watches and other fine pieces at their shops. Items to be cleaned are placed in a tabletop bath of water and a mixture of cleaning solutions, and the machine sends high frequency sound waves through the liquid, essentially cleaning the items with the power of sound. Though the process began in the 1950’s, it has since grown and spread into a number of applications and industries, eventually taking the form of the large-scale assembly line styled system we use at our own facility for restoring contents.
The advantages of ultrasonic cleaning give it a clear and considerable niche in the restoration industry, which has become one of its largest new markets, even entering into the field of cleaning aircraft engine and turbine parts, where proper cleaning is critical to the actual operation of the craft. Our ultrasonic equipment was a welcomed addition to our skill set and capabilities at ECS, yielding us a better finished product with smoother workflow and a higher level of quality control throughout the entire cleaning process. Without getting too technical, the ultrasonic process uses a combination of special generators and hand-crafted transducers mounted to the bottom of the tank. These components work together to emit high frequency sound waves that travel through the tank and resonate within the cleaning bath.
This equates to rapid and alternating waves of compression and expansion in the bath which produce millions of microscopic bubbles called cavitation bubbles, because they are essentially tiny bubbles of vacuum. When the compression wave hits the newly formed bubbles, this great and sudden pressure causes an implosion of the bubble. The impact energy of these millions of implosions acting upon the surface of the item in the bath is what dislodges contaminants from its surface, like “scrubbing bubbles” at the micron level. This type of cleaning can be used to remove soot, odor, grease, oil, rust, paint and even mold contamination from hard, non-porous contents and machinery. It is also a safer alternative to automotive and industrial machinery parts cleaning, since the cleaning solutions specifically designed for this system are non-toxic and have the same pH as regular household soap. With the right combination of chemistry, temperature, power and time settings dialed in, we have seen some amazing results in the items we’ve cleaned with the ultrasonic system, specifically in the case of highly detailed ceramic or porcelain figurines and glasses or pitchers where it would be impossible to reach every crevice with the same scrubbing power using any other methods.
There are many advantages to ultrasonic cleaning. First of all, it allows us to clean and restore more items than we could possibly clean without it. This means that we are able to save more contents for our customers and more money for their insurance companies. There have been jobs that we would have been forced to turn down, were it not for the cleaning power of our ultrasonic system. Another advantage is that it limits the likelihood of breakage during the cleaning process, since most of the cleaning is now done by the tank and there is less handling of each item. Our system includes a presoak tank, an ultrasonic tank, a rinse and air-dry station followed by a timed conveyor drying oven and a repacking station. Each station has automated settings and timers, which allow us to continue processing other items while those are being cleaned, and the stations create an opportunity for quality control inspections at each step of the process. Finally, the ultrasonic cleaning system allows us to streamline the cleaning process, ramping up our productivity and making our jobs more cost effective, which in turn benefits all parties involved.