A “No Confined Space Allowed” Dilemma

Client: Polyurethane Manufacturer, Malcom, IA
Chemical Reactor Freeze-Up
Robotic 40K Water Blaster Safely Cleans the Tank

Problem: The client’s polyurethane manufacturing division had a glass-lined chemical reactor “freeze up”. The term “freeze up, is a common term used in the industry for the blending of chemicals together under certain atmospheres to create product that turns the liquid product into a solid. In this case, water was mistakenly added to the reactor, rather than a product with similar properties of water. This reaction caused the batch to instantly solidify, halting any production from this reactor. For the company, they were not only shut down from production, but also had a tank filled with concrete-like waste.

The client knew there was only one phone call to be made at this stage: ERC Midwest. Understanding the inconveniences that accompany a frozen reactor, we knew time was pressing, and we were able to access the issue very quickly and present the client with a very clear plan of action to get the reactor back online ASAP.

Objective: Our team had the knowledge to understand that in order to remove the material, it was going to take very high-water pressure to break up the chemical compound. PSI’s of 5, 10, or 20,000 would simply bounce off the material.

Everyone agreed we needed the 40k. Operating at that high pressure involves risks. The ERC Midwest team takes extreme pride in their safe work practices and invests in the all the equipment necessary to reduce as many risks as possible.

Additionally, the client would not allow a shotgun attachment on a 40,000 psi high powered water blaster with an operator, so automation was the only option. We utilized an NLB 40k pump to run the NLB mini arm. This unit is a hands-free mini excavator arm designed to control the business end of a rotational gun.

This setup would be used to break up the material, then be removed using our Presvac 6000 CFM straight truck tanker. All the waste was profiled non-hazardous and would be disposed at a treatment facility.

On Site: The three-man team showed up on site at 6:45 am ready to get at it. This type of working environment and utilizing the equipment required to get the job done required a number of special permits.

We coordinated with the client’s EHS, Facility Management, and Facility Maintenance teams to procure the necessary permits: Safe Work, Job Safety Analysis, Lockout Tagout, and Hot Work Permits.

After areas were barricaded off, equipment set up and permits completed, the crew began the task of removing the waste. Having used 40,000 PSI in the past, ERC Midwest alerted the client that the glass lining wouldn’t stand a chance against the pressure.

We had already addressed this in our proposal, and it ended up being the largest challenge the crew encountered during the project.

How do you drive a truck straight through a china shop and not break a single piece of glass? Very carefully!

We developed a strategy with the client to blast the vessel clean but leave an inch-thick coating around all sides of the vessel creating a protective coating for the glass.

Once the waste was removed to that point, we used a solvent and heat to loosen the coating, allowing the remainder to be removed at a much lower pressure of water, thus preserving the glass lining.

Promised Result: One of the cornerstones upon which ERC Midwest was built is the understanding that when our team and the client develop a partnership, the client’s issues become our issues. We enjoy the challenge of getting any client back up and running.

This project was completed in a safe and timely manner and, as always, created a memorable experience, for ERC Midwest as well as the client.

We were able to finish this project beyond the expectations of the client while saving them 30% of the initial bid. While this project presented its share of challenges, our best work is often performed when the cards are stacked against us.

We grow and learn from each project, consistently improving our SOP’s. Never complacent with the projects we have completed, instead we look ahead to the next one.

Another complex waste problem solved! Happy Client!

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