Tank cleaning used to be risky for people, but innovative robots can now take this work off your hands efficiently. According to Jos Versluis, director of Geerdink, the future of tank cleaning is far from “finished”. He outlines his vision for that future: “Co-creation of us with our customers is the magic word.”

The days when a group of poorly protected people entered an explosive tank to clean it are long gone. Major gas disasters such as those in San Juan Ixhuatepec in Mexico have made laws and regulations more stringent. And enforcement becomes stricter over time.

Although this has improved the protection of personnel, tank cleaning has not exactly become more efficient, says Versluis: “The hands-on tool time – the time that people can actually do the cleaning – is extremely low. All kinds of administrative actions take a lot of time, such as arranging permits and reading work instructions. But the necessary rest periods are also time-consuming due to the physically demanding work and changing clothes.”

From man entry to non entry

Non-entry tank cleaning is one of the solutions to this problem. Cleaning tanks from the outside with kinetic and/or thermal energy reduces safety and efficiency issues. Versluis: “In the meantime, this method has been so refined that we have various ways to clean a tank without man-entry, so without anyone having to physically enter the tank. Spool wash, manway cannons, jet mixing, warm water skimming, and steam skimming: all cleaning methods that remove residual product and sediment, usually via the manholes. ”

“It depends on the specific situation at the customer which of these methods is most suitable for him. Consider the dimensions of the tank, the type of product that has been in it, and the degree of contamination, but also the time in which cleaning is required and which facilities are available to the customer, such as heat and rinsing or cleaning medium. And is there, for example, an option to transport and process wastewater? ”

As ingenious as these non-entry cleaning methods are, they are almost old school compared to the latest innovation: robotics. In other words: robots that enter the tank and clean it. Human work is limited to someone who operates this robot outside the tank. A cleaning robot is no longer a utopia, but a reality. Versluis: “We noticed the flight that robotics took in other markets. In addition, we saw that not every tank can be treated with the non-entry method, due to various factors. We therefore deliberately released R&D budgets to investigate what robotics – or more broadly: new technology in general – could mean in our own market. We did not do this alone, through our separate BV Refine we involved smart inventors and our customers. So co-creation. This has now led to validated robots. ”

According to Versluis, co-creation is also a necessary condition for successful innovations in the future. Because developments in the field of robotics are not standing still. For example, Versluis expects a lot from submerged entry. “After man-entry, non-entry and non-man-entry – via robots – submerged entry is the next step. In the submerged entry, a robot can enter a tank while it is still in operation. The robot then drives through a tank full of product. In addition to cleaning, the robot can inspect and who may ever repair it itself. The advantages are obvious: a tank that does not have to be taken out of operation continues to generate turnover. In addition, you can work much more systematically because you will not be faced with surprises, thanks to the robot you are exactly aware of the condition of the tank.”

Disruptive innovation

Now that submerged entry is still future music, but if it is up to Versluis not far. “However, close cooperation between us as service providers and the asset owners is necessary. The market cannot achieve such innovation alone. Simply because it intervenes deeply in, for example, a customer’s maintenance philosophy and business processes. Only by joining forces can we achieve this truly disruptive innovation. ”

Refine plays an important role in this, not only as a connector for inventors and customers. “Our entire group – Enigma, Geerdink, and Compass – is represented in Refine, and with it an enormous amount of knowledge and experience. Knowledge of the latest technologies, for example. Via iTanks we look in the kitchen at organizations such as Google and NASA. With these insights, we consider how we can make our own services to the next level with new technologies. With experience, I also mean experience with the customer’s workplace. We are consciously a “flat”, not too large organization, where the top also knows the problems of the terminals. We then propose innovative solutions in continuous dialogue with the customer. Now, and certainly also in the future. ”