Cleaning technology has changed dramatically over the years, especially thanks to one of the most common gases in our atmosphere – carbon dioxide.

Using CO2 for cleaning complex, professional devices with precision and surface preparation applications has become more and more popular as manufacturers see the many environmental, efficiency and cost benefits of this cutting edge technology.nozzle spray

One manufacturing industry that’s increasingly adopting dry carbon dioxide cleaning is the automotive industry.  Several major car makers are finding that the technology is allowing them to save money and time, while lowering their negative impact on the environment.

What makes CO2 special?

Besides the garments, pharmaceuticals and aeronautic industries, the automobile sector has been adopting the use of CO2 for cleaning as well. The gas is pulled out of a cylinder or Dewar and regulated through the Omega™ cleaning module where it forms the solid CO2 particles that provide the cleaning. The converted solid particles can vary both in size and density.  The particles are then mixed with inert propellant gases, which are heated and regulated in terms of pressure. The spray formed this way is non-condensing and homogenous.

This unique spray can be delivered at a high pressure without damaging the surface of the parts it comes into contact with. CO2 is convenient to use in these cleaning processes since the substance sublimes upon impact and doesn’t leave a residue behind that would require secondary cleaning.

CO2 Cleaning In the Automobile Industry

The advantages of using CObased cleaning in the automotive industry are innumerable. The spray cleans without condensation, which means that there is no need for a special cleaning zone in most plants.

CO2 cleaning is used for parts made of acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) or polycarbonate (PC), not limited to interior plastics, trim, door handles, dashboards, and headlights, prior to a painting or coating process. The CO2 spray can effectively remove all particles that may affect the quality of the paint, such as light oils, water marks, fingerprints and dust.

When compared to water based or aqueous cleaning, CO2 is more efficient by avoiding a tedious secondary drying process. CO2 cleaning is completely dry saving immensely on energy costs and time, while enabling the parts to move directly into painting/coating.

These CO2 based cleaning systems are integrated directly into the manufacturing line. A component manufacturer in North America recently added a CO2 cleaning system to their paint line at its plant. The parts heading for the entrance to the painting booth are cleaned with the help of two robots that work simultaneously to erase all the foreign objects on the surface. The custom-designed nozzle and CO2 spray generator are the only components in the cleaning system used in this plant. The whole process takes less than 45 seconds per rack of ABS parts. Both sides of the 40 x 60 inch parts are cleaned in this short span of time.

The Advantages of CO2 Compared to Traditional Cleaning Methods

There are a number of reasons CO2 technologies are better than traditional methods that have been used in the past for cleaning automotive parts. Costs are substantially reduced from running a power washer and drying oven process as much as $50-$75 per hour. Additionally, the cleaning time is greatly reduced using dry ice cleaning, making overall operations much more efficient.

Simple air blasting/air knives can blow dust and light particles off the part, but they leave behind fingerprints and smudges that can affect the coating adhesion. Watch this brief video for a comparison between the two.

For some, though, the biggest benefit is the decrease in water usage and chemical pollution.  As environmental regulations increase, there is a pressure for manufacturers to make big changes in the way they do things, and CO2 cleaning is one such change that can help move a company in the right direction.

Want to read more about CO2 cleaning? Check out the latest Cool Clean Technologies feature article in Products Finishing for an in depth look at cost savings and applications.