Ultrasonic cleaner cuts costs, enhances safety

Posted: August 27, 2013 - 1:42pm

“The work is interesting, but it’s the people that get you back here every day.” That’s Facility Design engineer Ernie Lamb’s summation of another successful team effort at Y‑12, this time for the ultrasonic cleaner in Building 9201‑1, or Alpha 1.

Last fall the 30-year-old cleaning unit, essential to the building’s parts-cleaning operations, was having difficulties. Today “the cleaner works better than ever,” a result of a collaboration of system engineers, Facility Design engineers, Production personnel and craft workers, said Lamb, who led and coordinated the Facility Design effort on the project with Career ONE engineer Jesse Fritz.

“It was a little job with a lot of facets to it,” said Lamb. The fix improved production, enhanced worker safety and saved money. The upgrade measures also may be useful for other ultrasonic cleaning units at Y‑12 and possibly elsewhere in the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

Alpha 1 system engineer Mike Greene conceived of the project and started it about a year ago. The cleaner, which scours parts through ultrasonic vibration, generating millions of cavitation bubbles, was not operating properly. Suspecting that the original analog controller was failing, Greene discovered that a replacement part was no longer available. So he asked Facility Design to prepare the design documents necessary to procure and replace the analog controller with a new digital controller, said Lamb.

“As a system engineer Mike interfaced with the shop floor daily,” Lamb said. Greene recognized the opportunity not only to improve the controller but also to replace frayed or broken wiring and address other issues. Because the cleaner consists of both a detergent bath and rinse bath, two digital controllers were needed.

In addition to updating the controllers, Greene also proposed a modification to improve safety and save time and money. In the past, calibration and certification of the ultrasonic cleaner hardware by Equipment, Testing & Inspection required the electrical craftspeople to open the cabinet doors to gain access to the hardware test points. Since the process also required the equipment to be energized, the workers had to be protected against exposure to hazardous electrical energy whenever the equipment was recertified or recalibrated. Greene proposed adding an interface patch panel to the cabinet’s front door to serve as a bridge between the thermocouple sensor devices and the temperature controllers. The new panel allowed ET&I to test and calibrate the devices with the front door of the cabinet closed, providing a safer, less expensive activity.

The cooperation was excellent, Lamb said. Production had the need, Engineering developed the design, and crafts provided support and bought the hardware. “The maintenance and craft workers also offered suggestions for fabrication as the engineers worked on the design for the panel installation,” he added.

“Interfacing with Engineering made the installation of the controllers simple and quick,” said Maintenance Supervisor Jimmy Robertson. “Given the specific operating parameters by Engineering, we could verify the accuracy of the digital controllers and thermocouples against the operating temperature and perform the necessary adjustments without performing a lockout/tagout.”

An added bonus was the work experience it provided Fritz in his rotation assignment. He worked on the design, parts procurement and assembly. “Jesse worked with equipment that’s older than he is,” said Lamb, who described him as representative of “the good engineers coming through Career ONE.” Fritz eagerly took advantage of the craft workers’ expertise and their years of experience with the hardware, Lamb noted.

Fritz said, “This type of work is what draws me to engineering. Technology is continually changing, and we are forced to keep pace. The old becomes new again, and in the process there is understanding of how things were once done and of the advances that have taken place.”

Mike Greene, a 33-year-plus employee, passed away in December. “This project is one example of the many contributions he provided to Y‑12 throughout his service,” said Jim Henry, a Facility Design manager.

Additional project participants were John Benton and Darryel Brooks of Maintenance Resources, Jay Charette of Maintenance Engineering and Raymond Hutzler of Facilities, Infrastructure & Services.