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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

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Rowell & Searle Auto Transmissions Pty Ltd:
Using an ultrasonic parts washer to generate financial savings and reduce environmental impacts

The installation of new equipment for the cleaning of automatic transmissions, valve bodies and other ancillary motor parts has resulted in a significant 40% reduction in the usage of cleaning solvent, with an accompanying annual saving of approximately $4,800. Labour cost savings in the vicinity of 20-30 hours per week have resulted in further savings of $29,120-$38,480 per year. The initial investment cost of the machine was $22,000, which was easily recouped within the first year. Additionally, employee exposure to hazardous chemicals and solvents has been substantially reduced.

Background

Rowell and Searle Auto Transmissions is a South Australian company employing 16 staff at its premises in the Adelaide CBD. Since its establishment in 1945, the company has developed into a fully diversified automatic transmission and power steering workshop. The business employs modern technology to assist with the previously inefficient labour intensive tasks associated with this type of work.

The process

The cleaning of automatic transmission housings and gearing was previously an extremely labour intensive task, requiring approximately 1 - 1 hours manually using a brush and oil based solvent (143 Petroleum Spirit). When left overnight, this solvent would evaporate and leave an oily/greasy residue, which would then tipped into a hot bath and passed through the separator.

The use of solvent 143 posed some serious health problems, as staff involved in the traditional manual cleaning process were exposed to solvent fumes emitted by the chemicals used in that process.

Cleaner production initiative

The company introduced the Grease Monkey ultrasonic parts washer, which uses a water-based cleaning powder. The unit has a thermostatically controlled heat cycle with a maximum operating temperature of 70 degrees Celsius. Ultrasonic cavitation and implosion brought about by mechanically produced sound waves has the effect of speeding up dissolution and displacement of oil and grease contaminants. Oil, grease and other contaminants float to the top of the bath where a unique skimming system removes the contaminants to the separator. Filtration is a three-stage process, which prolongs the life of the cleaning solution.

Each tradesperson is required to wash their own parts in the ultrasonic parts washer in the one central area within the workshop. The Grease Monkey system is less hazardous and more user friendly due to the simplicity of the operation. In occupational health and safety terms, operators are less exposed to the fumes from solvent 143 and the danger of spillage, as the system protects the user from solvent vapours and contact with chemicals.

Image 1: The Grease Monkey ultrasonic parts washer

Image 1: The Grease Monkey ultrasonic parts washer

Advantages

The company's decision to invest in the new ultrasonic technology has increased productivity, improved the work environment, greatly reduced environmental impacts and benefited the company financially.

The process has reduced the usage of solvent 143 by approximately 40% — saving the company $400 per month on this product alone. The powder used in the Ultrasonic parts washer is relatively inexpensive ($80 per twenty litre drum) and lasts approximately 6 months, which represents a cost of $14 per month. This results in an overall cost saving per month of roughly $386, or $4,600 per annum.

The introduction of this system has also resulted in increased productivity. The time saved by using the ultrasonic parts washer (as opposed to manual cleaning of parts) is approximately 1 - 1 hours per transmission. Based on 20 transmission rebuilds per week, this means a labour cost saving of 20-30 hours per week. As tradespersons labour costs, including on-costs (superannuation, WorkCover etc.), amount to $28 per hour, this represents a cost saving of $560 - $740 per week, or $29,120 / $38,480 per year. Additionally, the resultant increase in productivity is reflected in faster job delivery and client satisfaction.

Table 1: Cost, savings and payback period for ultrasonic parts washer
Total outlay (including annual maintenance)
$22,100
Savings per Annum
$
Savings in use of solvents
$4,600
Labour cost savings
$38,480
Total savings
$43,080
Payback Period
6 months

Incentive

The main motivators behind the introduction of the Grease Monkey was the desire to increase productivity, minimise environmental impacts, and improve OH&S.

Barriers

No notable barriers were encountered in this eco-efficiency / cleaner production initiative, other than the initial purchase cost of the ultrasonic parts washer ($22,100). This barrier was largely overcome by the short pay back period (approximately 6 months).

Further developments

The project is ongoing and continues to have positive outcomes in terms of enhanced productivity and minimising environmental impacts via reduced solvent usage and wastewater volume.

Contact

Mr Peter Stewart
Rowell & Searle Auto Transmissions Pty Ltd
217 Pulteney Street
Adelaide SA 5000
Ph: (08) 8223 1844
Fax: (08) 8233 1370

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