UTICA, MICH. - A Michigan firm has developed a method for cleaning molds with compressed air and ice particles that it says avoids the environmental hazards of solvents and abrasives. Ice Blast International Inc. of Chesterfield, Mich., developed the system for use in construction, food processing, waste management and nuclear decontamination. The system originally was designed as a dust-free coating-removal technique for confined spaces such as ship interiors and engine rooms.
The company is making inroads in the plastics processing industry, where solvent-based methods create environmental problems, said Ice Blast President Sam Visaisouk.
The blast of ice crystals works well on mold deposits, which Visaisouk likens to chunks of concrete: ``The technology works with a rapid hammering action that breaks loose the deposits. It's just like a jackhammer.''
Ice Blast has a contract to clean several large rotary foam presses at the Ford Motor Co. plastic trim plant in Utica, Mich. Ford moved to the Ice Blast system because the traditional method - leaving a solvent-soaked rag in a closed mold - no longer was acceptable under new environmental regulations, said Andi A. Risca, a manufacturing engineer at the plant.
As explained by Visaisouk, the technology works this way:
A target coating is identified for removal. The ice blast is aimed at the coating, compressing it, and causing an instantaneous expansion, or rebound, of the coating. The successive impacts of the ice crystals eventually works the coating free.
Although Ice Blast offers service contracts, it also sells machines to processors for $70,000-$130,000.