Tank Cleaning 4.0: A Dirty Job Gets Smart

Thailand 4.0 remains one of the most talked about programs in the country. The economic model is designed to improve economic prosperity, social wellbeing, human values and environmental protections. Under the Thailand 4.0 plan, the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) was selected to be a center for trade, investment, regional transportation and a strategic gateway to Asia.

The EEC is also the hub of Thailand’s petrochemical industry, Map Ta Phut. According to the Thailand Board of Investment, 94 percent of the country’s petrochemical capacity is based along the Eastern Seaboard with Map Ta Phut hosting the bulk of the facilities. That means there are numerous oil tanks in the area that need to be managed and cleaned.

The trouble with current tank cleaning methods

Tank cleaning is an expensive and stressful experience for petrochemical firms in Thailand as most still opt for manual cleaning methods. While this is a tried and trusted process, it is far from perfect. Each hour the tank is not in operation costs money and raises concerns over unfinished hazardous work.

The highly regulated process can take weeks or even months to complete. The tank needs to be emptied and vented until all of the chemical fumes are gone. Then, sludge build up needs to be removed. It is nearly impossible to safely speed up this process.

Regulations call for cleaners to only be inside the tank for a few minutes at a time before coming out. Even with a team of cleaners on-site, entering and exiting the tank’s manhole cover on a regular basis is a slow process. The job requires a great deal of coordination, support and supervision to meet safety requirements.

Safety is the most important aspect of the entire process. With staff working in a confined space around toxic material, it is important to eliminate as many of the inherent hazards of manual tank cleaning as possible. There is no margin for error.

A smarter way to clean tanks

"By using robots, petrochemical companies can achieve two important goals: a much safer overall process and less tank downtime. This allows them to both improve site safety and save money."

Smart technology has revolutionized a number of industries in recent times and industrial cleaning is no exception. The use of robotics has been a high priority under Thailand 4.0, which seeks to find areas where the technology can be more effective than human labor.

Tank cleaning is one such area. The technology has been used for tank cleaning in other parts of the world, so it is not a new concept. But INSEE Ecocycle is probably the first firm to use robotics for tank cleaning in Thailand.

The robotic crawler safely enters the tank via a manhole, supported by ramps, and removes sludge from inside of the tank.

Clearly, new technologies can make tank cleaning safer and more efficient. The challenges of manual tank cleaning are known throughout the petrochemical industry, but finding the right solution took careful examination.

It was important for INSEE Ecocycle to find a technology that was robust enough to handle the dangerous and demanding job while offering best-in-class safety. After a thorough analysis of available technologies, a robotics solution that met every safety requirement was found.

Robots can easily navigate the space of a tank and have no issues operating in areas that have flammable or explosive conditions, while human personal operate and monitor them from a safe distance.

A monitoring staff at control unit looks after everything from a safe distance.

By using robots, petrochemical companies can achieve two important goals: a much safer overall process and less tank downtime. This allows them to both improve site safety and save money.

But the actual tank cleaning is only one part of the process. Many firms only remove tank sludge. Another company must then be hired to remove the waste from the facility and dispose of it. The segmented process disperses responsibilities and creates additional safety liabilities for petrochemical companies in Thailand.

INSEE Ecocycle can handle the tank cleaning, sludge removal, transportation of materials and final disposal in a seamless and rapid process.

The safety performance of clients can be maintained and enhanced throughout the entire process. INSEE Ecocycle does everything possible to reduce risks. This is done by utilizing new, safer technologies, such as robotics, along with support from highly-trained staff.

Tank cleaning is a dirty, dangerous job, but technological advancements mean humans no longer have to do it manually. While it is not officially recognized as part of the Thailand 4.0 efforts, the end result of INSEE Ecocycle’s advancements in the field are perfectly aligned with many of the program’s aims.

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