Central Vacuum Systems for the Express Exterior Wash: Auto Laundry News
By Steve Tucker
AutoVac Industrial Vacuum & Air Systems
Like it or not, express customers have come to expect free vacuums. Now, more than ever, car wash owners need to manage costs and maximize earnings.
Central vacuum systems offer carwash owners a competitive edge – energy efficient vacuums with low operating costs that are extremely durable and easy to maintain. This is especially important for large express washes that rely on low labor costs.
Central vacuums are also a winner with consumers, providing unsurpassed cleaning power and a quiet, convenient vacuum experience.
Understanding Central Vacuum Systems
A traditional central vacuum system consists of a powerful centrifugal vacuum producer, filtration device(s), and piping that delivers suction from the equipment area to the point of use. Today’s central vacuum systems also feature advanced motor controls to ensure maximum energy efficiency. With a properly programmed variable frequency drive (VFD), central systems are “smarter” than ever, producing vacuum-on-demand that’s cost-effective and extending equipment life.
Experienced express wash operators have crunched the numbers. They know the up-front cost of a central vacuum system is quickly recovered in lower operating expenses and reduced maintenance costs. Peace of mind and a more positive customer experience are added benefits.
Each wash is unique, but for the sake of discussion, consider an express wash that calls for twenty “free” vacuum stations. Installation is straightforward. The vacuum producer is in one area and suction is piped to the points of use. Electrical wiring is only needed in the equipment area, not at each vacuum station. And the amperage requirement of a central vacuum is far lower than 20 standalone units (or even 10 units with dual motors).
Maximize Available Space
Express operators enjoy the flexible design option of central vacuum systems. Because each vacuum hose or “drop” of a central system takes up very little space, operators can accommodate more customers in their existing area. More drops means shorter wait times and fewer lines.
Safe & Sound
With central systems, the vacuum producer can be installed in a separate equipment area or enclosure – out of the elements and away from customers. This protects equipment from vandalism and harsh weather. It also provides for a much quieter vacuum experience. When a customer begins vacuuming, there is no high pitched whine of a motor, just the sound of suction from the nozzle.
Carwash owners in residential areas also benefit from quieter central vacuums, especially where zoning requirements might otherwise preclude vacuum stations or limit the hours of operation.
Central vacuums provide customers with superior suction and noticeably more cleaning power.
Energy Efficient = Low Operating Costs
In a central system with a VFD, there are no costly power spikes at start-up. A properly programmed VFD powers up the central vacuum with a soft-start and then constantly manages production throughout the business day. As more customers begin vacuuming, the VFD recognizes the increased load and ramps up production to match demand. The system produces just the right amount of suction at any given time and then returns to idle or off when demand slows. Vacuums always run at maximum efficiency, keeping electric costs to a minimum.
As added incentive, energy providers often offer substantial cash rebates for installing environmentally friendly devices such as VFDs.
Extremely Durable = Low Maintenance
Central vacuums are widely recognized for their longevity. The centrifugal vacuum producer at the heart of each central system is a powerful workhorse engineered to operate continuously – day in, day out – for years on end.
Equipment life is extended even further when the motor is managed by a properly programmed VFD (see above).
It’s much simpler and less expensive to maintain one or two centrifugal vacuum producers than multiple standalone units. This is especially important in the express wash business model that demands low labor costs.
“Free” vs. “Free Unlimited”
Understanding the difference between “free” vacuums and “free unlimited” vacuums is critical. The last thing an operator wants is a backlog at free vacuum stations slowing down customer flow.
Central vacuum systems can be engineered to meter airflow at each vacuum hose. So car wash operators determine how long each customer is allowed to vacuum with each paid wash. When free vacuum time expires, additional time may be purchased. This keeps the flow of cars moving and manages electrical expenses.
Considering the total cost involved – equipment, installation, electrical requirements, and maintenance – central vacuum systems are a cost-effective solution to the free vacuum trend.
Steve Tucker Jr. is president of AutoVac Industrial Vacuum Systems, a manufacturer of vacuums, parts, and accessories headquartered in San Diego, CA. Tucker has more than 18 years of experience in the car wash industry and can be reached at [email protected]