For years the usual method has been complete dismantling, followed by scrubbing the plastic bits in the kitchen sink, and swilling the smaller metal bits in WD40. Ultrasonic cleaning offers a more high tech approach, working on the principle that agitating water around 40khz causes microscopic bubbles to form, which then burst, cleaning anything immersed in the liquid.
As well as cleaning nooks & crannies inaccessible to regular cleaning, getting really difficult dirt off (including aluminium pinion paste, given enough time), there can be less chance of losing small parts, having an ultrasonic cleaner gives the ability to clean things while doing something else - and not cause domestic disharmony by hogging the kitchen sink.
James Products Europe Ltd (website: http://www.jamesproducts.co.uk/ - English; http://www.jamesproducts.eu/ - German) divide their range into three, the first of which is "Domestic Ultra": smaller units intended for occasional home use. I already own one of these (an "Ultra 7000" cleaner), it's been very useful over the last 18 months, but after working it very hard (culminating in the ill-advised cleaning of a 1920s heavy cast bronze 1:1 carburettor) the buttons have become extremely unreliable & frustrating to use.
The "Ultra 8060D-H" falls in the "Professional Ultra" middle range. These are medium capacity units, aimed at the commercial user, but are perhaps of more interest to the enthusiastic amateur.
In terms of styling, the 8060 is reminiscent of many items including a breadmaker, modern sewing machine, and small, modern scientific instruments so will "blend in" equally well in a domestic kitchen or tidy hobby room, and even a lab or opticians. It may look a bit out of place in a shed or garage, but then, how many have a distinct theme going on? If you're fortunate enough to have a large workshop, then you'd probably be looking at a unit from the "Professional Sonic" range, as these have a larger capacity, and aluminium cases for more industrial use.
For the price of a low to middle cost Tamiya kit, the James 8060 offers a good number of headline features: a nominal capacity of 3 litres, a timer allowing up to 30 minute runs, heater, drain valve & hose, "ultra quiet operation", and a degassing facility.
Ultrasonic tanks are often sold on the basis of their volumetric capacity in litres, you'll see them rated as "0.6L", "0.75L", "3L" and so on... this is quite misleading as it's the absolute maximum amount of cleaning fluid you could possibly get in them without overflowing, not what you could sensibly get in. James are a bit more upfront about these figures, rating the 8060 as having a "max fill" of 3005ml, and an "Optimal fill" of 2591ml, although I suspect even the lower figure doesn't leave room for any cleaning baskets or anything to be cleaned.
Equating these figures to things you know - like a 2L bottle of Coke or a 4 pint bottle of milk - is not helpful - you're simply not going to be able to get an object that size in.
More useful are actual tank dimensions, where they're given, although they don't take account of rounded corners & any tapering from top to bottom.
The 8060 has nominal dimensions of 253mm x 180mm x 70mm - comparing it to the quoted dimensions of the smaller Ultra 7000 unit suggests that it's only really twice as big in practical terms. You're not going to get one of the larger chassis tubs in there at once (although you need to remember that you can angle larger bits in & run them several times to get all the angles), but there's plenty of room for an ORV frame chassis half.
On the minus side, if you're using a fancy cleaning fluid (such as James "Sea Clean", on a small number of brass bits for example), a larger capacity tank can be a bit wasteful.
The 7000 tank has an electronic timer that runs between 90 seconds and 480 seconds (8 minutes) in steps - that might be enough for lightly soiled items, but for nasty, greasy RC bits multiple runs were required. The 8060 being reviewed here, however, has a timer running up to 30 minutes. The timer is initially set in 5 minute increments, but you can reduce the time by single minutes if required.
A further feature is a countdown "solution use life" timer, which can be set in 20 minute increments. This might be useful where you use a cleaning solution that has a limited use period, but in practice for RC use, how dark & unpleasant your soapy water has got is the limiting factor.
I can't help thinking this is a bit of an unnecessary extra - in my experience, ultrasonic tanks tend to be self heating, and the usual problem with heavier running is keeping the temperature down to safe levels; even after just a few sequential runs, soapy water gets to steaming point & becomes uncomfortably hot to fish bits out of.
Another issue is the size of the heater - it's under the small rectangular area in the bottom of the tank, and gets much hotter than the temperature set. I'm a little concerned that heat applied over a small area like that has the possibility of melting any plastic items that might come into contact with it.
Assuming you do want to use it, the target temperature can be set in 5 degree (C) increments from 40C (104F) to 60C (140F).
The heat indicators seem counterintuitive to me - green apparently means the temperature is less than 30% of the target, orange means less than 60%, solid red means less than 90%, flashing red less than 100%, and all the lights on means the target temperature has been reached. There's nothing to indicate if the temperature has climbed beyond the set point.
The ability to drain the tank without pouring it out over a sink, or using a large syringe to suck spent cleaning fluid out is a big plus at this price point - usually it's a feature found only on much more expensive, aluminium cased "professional" tanks.
A length of reinforced hose is supplied, it's just about long enough to reach from table height safely into a bucket; if you're just routing from a kitchen worktop into a sink it's fine.
One drawback is that there's nothing to stop small items from falling into the drain hole in the bottom of the tank. I've been using a small rubber bung to act as a plug & carefully checking spent fluid for escapees, but a better solution involving some sort of filter, preferably at the base of the tank would have been better.
Using very high detergent concentrations means bubbles linger, but when your cleaning water looks like this it's probably time to change it.
A plus point is that the drain control is fairly positive in action: it needs a firm tweak to open or close it, so is hopefully safe from inquisitive younger fingers.
If you select the de-gas function, the ultrasonics are pulsed on and off (1 second on, 1 off) for the first 2 minutes of the cleaning cycle, before reverting to continuous operation for the remainder of the selected time.
In theory, this helps to properly mix anything added to your cleaning water, and/or knock out dissolved gases and/or bubbles for a better clean.
In practice, I have to say that detergents or anything else disperse quickly, and any dissolved gases or obvious bubble really don't stand much of a chance anyway, so this is not a feature I'd regard as particularly necessary.
Cadmium Passivated Tamiya Fasteners a couple of seconds into a cleaning run. Note the bubbles on the surface of the water, the "Lemon" Fairy Liquid dispersing, and the "smoke" of dirt being lifted off the parts.
"Ultra Quiet Operation"
The smaller 7000 unit is quiet enough to be able concentrate on something else while it's running (at least with the lid closed and from at least a couple of metres away), but this 8060 unit really isn't.
It's nowhere near a level that's going to do any damage to your hearing of course, but while James don't give decibel figures for their ultrasonic tanks (and I don't have any means of measuring them), I have to say this statement is a bit optimistic.
Well, the box is unlikely to wow anyone seeing it on a shelf, but it does a decent enough job of protecting the unit in transit.
The tank also comes with a plastic basket should you want to use it, and (in the UK at least) an earthed mains cable.
The lid is a loose fit, rather than being permanently hinged as smaller James models, I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus.
It has to be said that this is not an entry level tank: despite the greater capacity & features, it's still four times the price of the excellent 7000 model, and that's going to put off anyone "umming" & "ahhing" about whether they actually need an ultrasonic tank or not.
However, as a step up if you've outgrown (or worn out) your first tank, it's a excellent buy.
|Plus points: |
• 30 minute timer
• drain feature
• impressive feature list for the price
• heater feature not that useful, not well implemented & boneheaded display
• drain feature needs tank filter
• De-gas function a bit gimmicky IMO
• Not quiet
|Minus points: |
• no major flaws
Best price (August/September 2013): 119 GBP (http://www.frost.co.uk/)
Also consider: James "Ultra 7000" model, currently less than 30GBP at Maplin
Written by TB member Jonny Retro