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A new era in truck washing

Editorial
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Linfox has recently upped the ante on truck maintenance, ushering in a new era in standards of cleanliness for their assets running through Port Hedland.

With construction recently completed, Linfox’s newest industrial truck wash has been put through its paces, and has cut the wash time on a prime mover B-double from five hours down to 15 minutes for a general wash.

The wash system was designed by a number of partners from Australia and Germany working in close consultation to assist Ken Harrison, business development manager for Karcher, and car and truck washing industry professional for 16 years.

“It’s a very personal design,” Harrison told LMH.

“This is the first of its type that Karcher has done, and it’s absolutely sensational.”

Problems on the Road

When Linfox chairman Peter Fox first brought the brief to Cameron Mole, Karcher’s Managing Director, it had to be recognised that there were a number of problems associated with running heavy haulage in the Pilbara region.

“It depends on the season,” Harrison said.

“First there is the mud. In the wet season you can have around 300 kilograms of mud stuck underneath a single truck.

“The mud gets stuck to the drive trains, the sump of the motor, gearbox, transfer cases, diffs, and of course the parts are insulated by the mud which prevents them from cooling properly.

“The oils and lubricants can get too hot to properly function, and this was destroying the drive trains, they just can’t breathe properly with mud stuck all over them, so getting that mud off was the first issue.”

The second problem was the heat during summer, with trucks coming in off the road at soaring temperatures from 60 to 80 degrees.

Harrison pointed out that the trucks needed to be cooled down before bringing any chemicals or detergents into the mix.

“You can’t put washing detergents on a hot vehicle, it cooks it on, it goes all streaky and wrecks the paint,” he said.

The other problem encountered in dry conditions was the presence of iron ore dust, ever-present in a heavy mining region such as the Pilbara.

“During the dry season the iron ore dust gets into everything, brakes, brake drums, the various connections and bearings, it’s highly abrasive and capable of destroying everything under the truck.”

Out with the old, in with the new

The old truck wash at the Port Hedland depot was in a pretty sorry state when Ken Harrison went up to quote the Linfox job.

The whole operation consisted of a pressure cleaner, buckets and brooms and a concrete pad.

Over the course of almost 12 months Harrison and the Karcher team designed a system that was customised to deal with the rigours of outback long haulage issues, but also designed to be suitable for the region in a way that ensured no environmental impact would result from operation.

With the help of Melbourne building contractor John Courtney of Bolte Bay Industries, after about a month of construction the end result was a state-of –the-art truck wash bay that immediately improved the speed of washing by a factor of 20.

Solutions in soap

The entire truck wash system at Port Hedland was custom built to cope with the pressures of outback haulage.

In the first stage, a dirty truck that’s fresh from the road passes through a system of cooling, or dousing arches, which spray on 750 litres per minute of cold water in order to cool the truck panels down from soaring Pilbara road temperatures, allowing the use of chemicals and detergents without damaging the paintwork.

Next the truck passes over the underbody wash, for eroding the hundreds of kilograms of Pilbara mud and abrasive iron ore dust from the undercarriage.

This stage includes “sidespinners” which deal with muck that gets caked into the wheels and on the sides of the truck, running at 350 litres per minute each.

The key stage of cleaning is a manual washing system, with upstairs and downstairs gantry on both sides that enables four staff to clean at once, two up and two down, with a Karcher HD-C Multistack Pump unit, feeding four washguns that can be pulled along the gantries, for hosing down and injecting detergents to wash the muck off the truck.

The final stage before exit is a rinsing arch to ensure a sparkling finish on the prime mover.

A new era for truck washing

Harrison said he has been involved in the car and truck wash business for around 16 years, and has worked with Karcher since 1984, but this is the biggest and most satisfying project he’s ever been involved with.

“Absolutely, it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done, it’s absolutely sensational, but on top of that it runs like clockwork,” he said.

“The word from Linfox was that it sets the benchmark for truck washes for Linfox Australia.”

It is understood that Linfox has plans for two more truck washes, including an upgrade at Port Augusta, and a greenfield site at Newman, which will utilise the same technology.

“A lot of the gear we’ve used in this installation came from my previous job sites, drawing on all the key experiences, used in hundreds of car and truck dealerships installations around Australia,” Harrison said.

“We’ve used a lot of the technology that I’ve brought across in the last year and a half to put this all together and design the beach pits.

“The settling systems for the iron ore dust, there’s no other system like that, it was personally designed by myself, and it works 150 per cent, the water is absolutely spot on.”

Looking after the environment

The key to sustainability for the system is in water management and recycling.

All water from the wash is drained to a beach pit, which runs alongside the truck wash.

“The beach pit is like a huge swimming pool. It’s the pre-settling system for all the mud and muck that comes of the truck,” Harrison said.

Conventional big budget systems work by taking the dirty water and running it through a water recycling plant using reverse osmosis and chemicals and flocculants, however some of these systems run at a very high cost, around $700,000 for the initial build, followed by expensive ongoing running costs.

However, the new Karcher system has integrated a low-tech approach for keeping costs down, while maintaining the ordinary mineral content of the water.

“My theory was to settle all the oil and mud out of the water in-ground manually, then process it through a water recycler, without using chemicals at all,” he said.

“This reduces cost considerably, by hundreds of thousands each year.”

Key considerations were that Port Hedland has no stormwater or sewerage connections, with all waste water going into tanks or seepage pits underground, and the water tables are also quite shallow, sometimes only a single metre deep from the surface.

The system cannot allow any hydrocarbons to get into the shallow local water tables, so it functions as a closed loop, with regular waste disposal.

The real heart of the recycling system is what Harrison calls the beach pits, a low tech alternative to reverse osmosis.

In essence, everything from the 30m long washbay flows sideways into the beach pit, which runs alongside the truck wash.

The pit is used to settle out sand and heavy iron ore from the water, which passes through a series of baffles, resulting in 80 per cent of the water being recycled for reuse in the wash system.

Harrison has also designed an ingenious system for ensuring the water is kept at safe temperatures to prevent bacterial growth, to ensure health and hygiene for workers who also have to deal with washing roadkill from the vehicles, but he has told LMH that this is a trade secret.

Capital expenditure

LMH understands that a system like this can cost around $450,000 to $500,000 for full installation, with added costs for building and infrastructure over two million.

The end result is a system that washes 20 times faster than the old ‘hose and broom’ system, with the ability to wash a single truck and trailer in 15 minutes, a rate that can be kept up all day and night if necessary.

“When you consider a single truck can be worth 1.2 million, it’s a cost effective outlay,” Harrison said.

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