A general truth in life is that maintenance is just as (or even more) important than acquisition. Buying tools or equipment – as a business owner – is only the first step; you have to maintain them so that they reach the full length of their life cycle.

Cleaning machinery, tools, and equipment are one of the primary ways to care for them. It keeps them in pristine condition whilst helping remove the residue, contaminants, and degradative agents that could shorten their lifetime.

On that note, ultrasonic cleaning is a novel method that involves the use of high-frequency soundwaves to clean out objects. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about the technology, you’ve come to the right place.

In this piece, we’re going to go over 5 important things you need to know about ultrasonic cleaning: from its definition to its advantages, features, and little-known facts.

What is Ultrasonic Cleaning?

The earlier paragraph referenced the fact that ultrasonic cleaning relies on high-frequency soundwaves to thoroughly remove any foreign material from the object being cleaned. However, there’s more. These soundwaves are transmitted through a liquid known as the “solution”.

By their very nature, the soundwaves aren’t immediately apparent to us. At 40khz, these vibrations simply aren’t jarring enough to be picked up by the naked eye. They are, however, powerful enough to create tiny cavitation bubbles in the solution, which implode upon contact with the material being cleaned – further dislodging any foreign, unwanted material.

By their very nature, cavitation bubbles are formed when sonic energy acts to create a void. This void (or cavity) is then encapsulated in a bubble in the liquid solution – which, itself, could either be a specialized solvent or just water.

In simple terms, the explosion of millions of tiny bubbles at the surface of the material scrubs it clean.

The Main Parts of Ultrasonic Cleaning Equipment

Ultrasonic cleaning tools are commonly defined by three major component parts: a tank, an ultrasonic transducer, and an ultrasonic generator.

The function of the tank here is pretty self-explanatory. It is a cavernous chamber that holds both the fluid and the item which is to be cleaned. The tank is oftentimes designed to be closed while running, although some models work just fine open.

Ultrasonic transducers are the key component of any cleaning system. They generate high-frequency sounds that make the whole operation possible. Usually, a transducer consists of a backing, a radiating plate, and an active element (which is often piezoelectric crystals).

The third and final component, an ultrasonic generator, is nothing more than the power supply. This component transforms alternating current from a power source to electrical energy at appropriate levels to energize the transducer. The high voltage electrical pulses from the generator allow the creation of ultrasonic frequencies.

The Types

Much like other tools such as 3D printers, ultrasonic solutions come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They range from just a few square feet to covering swathes of floor space.

For starters, the benchtop form factor is the simplest variation. It is also the most commonly used because it’s perfectly suited for most businesses’ needs, use cases, and budgets. With benchtop (or tabletop) ultrasonic cleaning, the tank is usually smaller and placed on a table or bench. Rinsing is done in a separate container or sink.

Next, we have multi-tank cleaners. This ultrasonic cleaning solution is best suited for large-scale industrial applications. Here, there is a series of separate tanks for washing, rinsing, and drying. The transducer and generator here are usually larger to accommodate the increased size of the tank.

For increased ease of operation, many businesses prefer to go with automated ultrasonic cleaning equipment. At the press of a single button, the operator can wash, rinse, and dry the material – much like modern washing machines and dishwashers. Hitherto, they would have to move the object(s) from one tank to the next.

Things to Know When Buying One

Much like any other piece of technology, some research needs to be done before purchasing or leasing out ultrasonic cleaners. Luckily, we’re going to cover a few items you need to check off before deciding on the purchase.

First of all, transducers that use piezoelectric crystals vary drastically in quality. Ideally, the high-quality ones would naturally degrade over 3-6 years. However, transducers made with lower quality crystals tend to degrade much faster than that (in a couple of months with heavy usage).

Watch out for low-power transducers as well. While these advertise reduced costs on the entire machine, the reduced power often means a similar reduction in the transducer’s ability to properly cavitate the fluid for effective cleaning.

While the tank isn’t one of the volatile tools in an ultrasonic cleaning system, its thickness is highly important. Manufacturers of lower quality tanks will often opt for lighter gauge stainless steel which is naturally thinner and more susceptible, over time, to rust and pits at the bottom. Most of these lower-quality offerings begin to wear in a matter of months.

A Few Ultrasonic Cleaning Myths Debunked

To close out the list, let’s take a look at some misconceptions around ultrasonic cleaning that have gained considerable traction over time.

First of all, many professionals think that more fluid movement at the surface of the tank means uniform distribution of ultrasonic energy. This is not true. The “dancing” at the fluid’s surface is only a result of the ultrasonic energy being exerted, not its even distribution.

An adequate way to test for even energy distribution throughout your tank is to slide a piece of foil into it and observe for cavitation holes at each depth level.

Another myth that has become popular concerns the transducer frequency. According to some, tweaking the frequency put out by transducers helps even out the degree of cavitation throughout the tank. This practice is known as “frequency sweeping”, and its efficacy hasn’t been factually proven.

Frequency sweeping doesn’t improve anything if you have a high-quality transducer. Instead, it is a way to match the resonant frequency of low-quality transducers. To boot, it has also been proven to waste more electrical energy than needed.

In Closing

Many fields, industries, and product verticals today rely on ultrasonic cleaning as part of their day-to-day operations. From the medical to automobile, aerospace, optics, jewelry, electrical, and energy sectors, the market for ultrasonic cleaning solutions is set to top $2.2b by 2024.

Alongside the big market players, many smaller businesses, factories, and shops rely on the method, and why wouldn’t they?  It uses powerful sound waves to thoroughly clean materials like glass, plastic, aluminum, and ceramic.

The article has discussed five talking points around ultrasonic cleaning and, in doing so, touched on a few knowledge gems that will, no doubt, be valuable to any intending user.