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Joondalup Radiator Service:
Waterwise initiatives make financial 'cents'

The old adage of 'waste not want not' prompted Graeme Lewis — owner of a number of radiator repair businesses in Perth — to develop and implement innovative waterwise and wastewater reuse initiatives within each of his workshops. Since these water conservation initiatives have been in operation, they have improved profitability, created a safer work environment, significantly reduced labour-related expenses and drastically cut the business' demand for scheme water.

Background

Graeme Lewis has been involved in the radiator service and repair industry for over 20 years. During this period he has owned and managed workshops in Mandurah, Balcatta and Joondalup. Each workshop employs between three to six staff, and repairs and services on average 120 cooling systems per month.

In addition to overseeing the operations of his workshops, Graeme has been developing and marketing Ultra Flush — his own proprietary brand of cooling system products — to both local and interstate automotive businesses.

The Traditional process

Servicing and repairing radiators can often be a time-consuming, messy and wasteful process. Disadvantages and common environmental concerns associated with conventional procedures for servicing and repairing cooling systems include:

When starting his first business 17 years ago, Graeme was determined to address all of these concerns, and he began planning for cost-effective and innovative ways to improve the profitability, safety and environmental performance of his operations.

Two innovative pieces of equipment have since been developed - the Aqua Save rodding tank and the Ultra Flush machine. These simple, yet effective water conservation initiatives have saved the businesses considerable time and money, and have significantly reduced the ecological footprint of his operations.

Eco- efficiency initiatives

The following technologies have been introduced and are in operation in each of Graeme's workshops:

'Aqua save' rodding tank

The Aqua Save rodding tank is a large, rectangular fibreglass basin that is used for 'rodding-out' blocked radiator tubes. The radiator rests on a steel bracket that lies beneath the surface of the water, and is supported and held in place by an adjustable bar that runs along the length of the tank. A hose is connected to the radiator's bottom tank, and water is pumped through the tubes by a 2 hp irrigation pump. Any residues that are dislodged flow out of the tubes and settle on the bottom of the holding tank. The system is capable of delivering water to five radiators simultaneously.

'Aqua save' rodding tank

'Aqua save' rodding tank

The tank holds approximately 500L of water, which is continuously cycled through the system when it is operational. This water is reused until such time as it becomes too contaminated - which takes on average about three to four weeks. This wastewater is then drained to an underground holding tank where it is treated before being discharged to sewer.

'Aqua save' rodding tank

'Aqua save' rodding tank

Ultra Flush machine

The Ultra Flush machine was developed and patented 10 years ago. The unit operates on a similar principle to other commercially available units designed for flushing an engine's cooling system. To begin the process, all free-draining coolant is removed from the system and is captured for approved disposal. A biodegradable cleaning fluid is added to the cooling system and is run through the engine for up to 1 hour. Hoses connected to the Ultra Flush machine are then attached to both the upper and lower tanks of the radiator to create a closed-loop system. Water is then pumped through the cooling system with the aid of compressed air. The turbulence created by the air and water dislodges heavy particulates and residues, which are filtered out of the contaminated water by a fine stainless steel mesh. The recirculating water continues to be pumped through the system until all solid particles have been removed. At the end of the process, the cooling system is rinsed with de-ionised water to remove any residual traces of wastewater and/or contaminants.

Ultra Flush machine

Ultra Flush machine

The wastewater collection tank inside the unit has a capacity of 200L, which allows the business to perform approximately 15 - 20 standard flushes before the wastewater must be removed from the machine and disposed of appropriately.

Advantages of the process

The environmental benefit of these initiatives becomes apparent when you consider the contribution they are making to broader efforts to conserve water resources. Currently, each workshop uses, on average, only 9,000 litres of scheme water for flushing and rodding operations each year. Without these systems in place, the annual water requirements for these activities alone could be expected to be somewhere in the vicinity of 288,000 litres. This would equate to an additional 279kL of water on current requirements.

Although this is significant in terms of the volume of water saved, the cost savings are much more modest. Based on current commercial water charges in Western Australia, these waterwise initiatives have only saved each workshop approximately $200 per year in water-related expenses. In the future, a re-evaluation of the current pricing structure for water may encourage more businesses to adopt water-efficient technologies. However, whilst water remains inexpensive, there is often little incentive to do so.

The greatest financial gains that have resulted from these waterwise initiatives did not stem from a reduction in water consumption, but rather from a reduction in the time it takes to clean cooling systems. Using conventional cleaning methods, it can take up to 45 minutes to flush the cooling system and clean the radiator of an average sized vehicle. The efficient and user-friendly nature of the rodding tank allows for rapid cleaning, and when the flushing machine is in operation, staff are free to perform other duties. Together, it is estimated that these units are saving approximately 30 minutes in labour for each vehicle serviced. This accounts for a 60% reduction in labour-related expenses for these activities when compared to the time taken to perform these activities using conventional methods. Based on an average of 120 services/repairs per month, these systems are saving each workshop in excess of $10,000 in wages each year.

Other advantages gained through these waterwise initiatives include:

Table 1 below provides a brief summary of the economic and environmental advantages of these systems by making comparisons to the conventional processes still being undertaken by many radiator repair workshops.

Table 1: Summary of financial and environmental benefits of water reuse initiatives
RESOURCE COMPONENT Estimated volume of water per service (L) Estimated annual water consumption (L) Approximate annual cost of water ($)
Conventional Process 200 288,000 $199.50
Excisting Process 6 8,640 $ 5.98
LABOUR & TIME COMPONENT Average time taken to flush cooling system and rod radiator (mins) Labour cost ($) Approximate annual cost in wages ($)
Conventional Process 45 11.25 16,200.00
Excisting Process 15 3.75 5,400.00
SUMMARY OF SAVINGS FROM ECO-EFFICIENCY INTITIATIVES Annual Water Savings $193.50 (279 kL)
Annual Labour Savings $ 10,800.00 (720 hrs)
Total combined Annual Savings $ 10, 993.50

Notes: All water consumption estimates are based on the assumption that all work performed involved the use of both pieces of equipment. Estimates of financial savings have been calculated using the Water Corporation's 2003/04 commercial usage charges of 69.3 cents per kL (service charges have not been included). Wages have been calculated at a rate of $15/hr. 1 kL = 1000L

Incentive

The primary incentives for developing these technologies arose from a growing concern over the excessive water requirements of traditional radiator repair operations, and the realisation that there were no suitable or cost-effective technologies on the market to address this issue. Improving business profitability was another significant motivating factor for developing these initiatives.

Barriers

Possibly the most significant barrier encountered during the development stages of these waterwise initiatives was the lack of readily available information or excisting technologies to compare and model initial designs on. As a result, a number of prototypes had to be built, tested and modified before the equipment was at a standard that was suitable and reliable enough for regular use under typical workshop conditions.

Contact information

Graeme Lewis
MANDURAH RADIATOR SERVICE
Unit 1 / 17 Tindale Street
Mandurah WA 6210

Phone: (08) 9535 3450
Fax: (08) 9535 3358
Email: mrs@iinet.net.au
Web: www.ultraflush.com.au

This case study was prepared by the Motor Trades Association of Western Australia (MTA-WA) as part of an Eco-efficiency Agreement between the MTA-WA and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage, with funding assistance from the Natural Heritage Trust and Product Stewardship for Oil Program.