Turbex is the leading UK supplier for the sales and service of top-end, highly controllable cleaning equipment for washing and drying medical instruments, prosthetics and consumables after manufacture.
Established in 1981, the company offers two ranges of aqueous machines, including ultrasonic and spray wash models, under sole agency agreements with the manufacturers, Mafac and Elma. The headquarters of Turbex is in Alton, Hampshire, where demonstrations and cleaning trials are carried out in a well-equipped showroom and technology centre.
One of the company’s medical customers in the Midlands specialising in producing mainly stainless steel hospital consumables has to degrease its products to a high level of cleanliness and has chosen an automated, aqueous cleaning line from Turbex.
Previously, manual dip tanks and a separate oven were employed, requiring a full-time operator. The approach was costly in terms of labour and because all tanks were maintained at an elevated temperature, so energy consumption was high. To reduce running costs, the manufacturer decided to modernise the process and automate it at the same time.
Turbex installed a compact, five-tank cleaning line with agitation, ultrasonics and filtration served by a gantry-mounted transporter to move baskets of components between the tanks under program control. One operator is saved per shift, as the person that manually prepares some components prior to cleaning and polishes others afterwards is able to operate the cleaning line as well.
The end results are better and achieve more consistent levels of component cleanliness, less rework, lower energy costs and reduced use of detergent.
In Germany, significant benefits in high-end intermediate cleaning of precision parts are being achieved at medical engineering company, Medikomp GmbH, using a Mafac KEA single-tank machine with rotating spray system, produced at the firm’s manufacturing facility in Alpirsbach.
When a medical company purchases a cleaning machine, the focus is primarily on cleanliness requirements and then on the purchase price and operating costs, according to Alexander Hörig, Head of Manufacturing at Medikomp and his colleague Tobias Zoller. Additionally, simple machine operation was important for the two engineers.
The company manufactures housings and other products used in the medical engineering, pharmaceutical, and laboratory sectors as well as in the food industry, under compliance with strict regulations including the Medical Devices Act DIN EN ISO 13485. Components are largely stainless steel, aluminium, brass or cast iron in a range of sizes. One feature they all have in common is their complex geometry, sometimes with several undercuts and blind bores.
The parts are cleaned after milling and deburring to prepare them for subsequent machining. It includes removal of all chips and traces of coolant as well as thorough drying. A pre-existing single-tank machine from another supplier was not able to process the components reliably, as parts were often damaged during spraying, and the process had to be monitored constantly.
Mr Hörig commented, “As we were unable to meet some customers’ requirements, it caused problems during further processing of the cleaned parts. Furthermore, the long cleaning times were unacceptable during peak production times.
“Parts had to be re-cleaned and sometimes the whole batch had to be reworked or even scrapped. To avoid the potential for loss and delay, one operator was assigned full-time to the machine and therefore was unable to carry out other tasks.”
Tobias Zoller said, “Overall, the cleaning process was severely affecting our work flow, so we started to look for a flexible and reliable cleaning machine to meet our current requirements, while offering easy adaptation to increase throughput and change applications.
The two Medikomp engineers came across the KEA on the Mafac stand at the parts2clean exhibition in nearby Stuttgart. The aqueous, single-tank machine with its compact footprint offered effective cleaning, suitability for a wide range of applications and the ability to be integrated into the production environment.
Mr Hörig explained, “We immediately knew that this machine would allow us to concentrate on what is really important, our production, and give us leeway for future needs.”
He said that the deciding factor in the purchase was the cleaning principle of the KEA, based on spray washing, with the basket containing the components and the spray nozzles rotating in either the same or opposite directions. It gives the freedom to adjust the cleaning process to suit the degree of contamination and the sensitivity of the components.
For Medikomp, it was important that basket rotation can be switched off so that only the spray system rotates around the parts being cleaned. This ensures gentle cleaning of all sides of static components and protects the sensitive surfaces of the parts from damage. Mafac was the only manufacturer to offer this principle, according to Mr Zoller. Before the equipment was purchased, test cleaning runs were carried out in the manufacturer’s technical centre to find the optimum combination of machine and cleaning agents.
Another benefit of the equipment is parts drying via a rotating hot air pulse-blowing system. For Medikomp, a KEA was adapted to increase the standard two tubes conveying hot air to include a third tube in the lower part of the cleaning chamber. The advantage is that comprehensive drying can be achieved within the specified TAKT time.
Acquisition of the KEA was accompanied by optimisation of the process sequence. Deburring, cleaning, and drying were combined in one line so that two deburring stations can use the cleaning machine alternately. To implement the change and achieve faster loading, the KEA was positioned in the middle of a T-shaped roller conveyor and equipped with an automatic lift gate.
Mr Hörig continued, “This was MAFAC’s idea. They came up with it during the planning phase and it significantly improved our throughput time.”
With a capacity of 320 litres and an oil separator with floating suction device, service life before having to clean down the machine has risen from four weeks to one year. It has minimised maintenance costs, while the cleaning process and results have improved significantly.
In conclusion Mr Zoller said, “With the Mafac KEA, we found a solution whereby small efforts achieve premium results. We are especially pleased that it requires so little maintenance.
“What’s more, every employee is able to operate the machine even though it is based on highly sophisticated process technology.”
The other manufacturer for which Turbex acts in the UK is Elma, which is well known for supplying modular ultrasonic systems, both standard and bespoke, with integrated passivation for pre-cleaning and final cleaning of surgical instruments, endoscopes, implants and optics made of metal, ceramic and plastic. An array of handling equipment, accessories and chemicals is available and a process laboratory at the manufacturer’s Singen factory provides facilities for deriving optimal process solutions.
The high precision cleaning machine programme ranges from small bench-top units to multi-tank cleaning and drying lines with automation. A hallmark of Elma machines is multi-frequency ultrasonics, where a single transducer can generate two different ultrasonic frequencies. Consequently, dis-similar components and materials can be processed optimally in the same tank.
The manufacturer places emphasis on a problem-solving approach to meet customers’ needs, especially for processing parts of complex geometry to a superior standard of cleanliness, complete with the requisite chemicals.
Equipment and systems can be validated depending on cleaning and throughput requirements. Quality assurance and its documentation uses a data logger and system control is to the Food and Drug Administration’s FDA 21CFR Part 11 with audit trail. Support for risk analysis (FMEA) and validation of systems and processes (IQ & OQ) are provided.