Control Tank Cleaning Costs

March 1, 1998
SPEAKING at a recent meeting, National Tank Truck Carriers Vice-President John Conley said that cleaning ranks as the second highest cost for chemical

SPEAKING at a recent meeting, National Tank Truck Carriers Vice-President John Conley said that cleaning ranks as the second highest cost for chemical tank truck fleets. Only labor costs exceed tank cleaning.

Costs for tank cleaning are expected to go even higher in coming years for a number of reasons. Topping the list of cost-escalating factors are new wastewater treatment rules that are due to be published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within the next couple of months.

EPA presentations to industry over the past couple of years have provided good insight into what likely will be required under the new wastewater treatment rules. The agency acknowledges that many chemical wash racks will have to significantly upgrade wastewater treatment systems to comply with the regulations. In addition, annual monitoring and treatment costs are estimated at $33,800 to $93,400.

Improved productivity is the only way to effectively contain cleaning costs in the future. All of the parties involved in tank cleaning-tank truck carriers, commercial wash racks, and shippers-can contribute to productivity improvements.

Wash racks must become more efficient, and throughput must increase. Some commercial wash racks in Europe clean well over a hundred tanks a day in two- and three-bay facilities. For example, Gentenaar Cleaning in Moerdijk, the Netherlands, moves as many as 120 tank trailers and tank containers through two bays each day. The wash rack also cleans up to five rail tankcars and 50 to 60 intermediate bulk containers every day. A profile on the Gentenaar operation starts on page 36.

High-pressure cleaning is one contributor to efficiency at Gentenaar. Spinners operate at nearly 3,000 psi, virtually blasting product residue from the tank walls. In addition, tanks are taken to another part of the facility for exterior cleaning, drying, and inspection.

At some European wash racks, workers remove hardware, such as valves and vents, prior to moving a tank into the wash bay. Interior cleaning is the only function performed in the wash bay, and many operations have extensive automation and computerization.

A presentation on the Gentenaar operation, and European tank cleaning in general, has been scheduled for NTTC's Tank Cleaning Council annual meeting April 7-9 in Nashville, Tennessee.

A more educated (and better paid) wash rack workforce is needed. Tank cleaning has reached a level of sophistication that demands good reading and comprehension skills. Workers must be able to understand the information on material safety data sheets (MSDSs). Increasingly, the job calls for at least a basic understanding of chemistry.

Wash rack training programs should be strengthened, and system maintenance must be a part of the program. Poorly trained workers are more likely to have accidents or fail to spot problems that can lead to inadequate cleaning. Mistakes in cleaning cut productivity and can become very costly when they result in contaminated loads.

Tank fleets, shippers, and receivers must do a better job of limiting heels. Trailers arriving at commercial wash racks sometimes contain a couple hundred gallons of product residue, which must be classified as waste (often hazardous) once it is removed from the trailer. Waste disposal is expensive.

Shippers need to provide more product information on the MSDSs, especially cleaning details. Wash racks have been making this request for years. Many wash rack managers note that they can find efficient ways to clean just about any chemical product if they have enough information.

Shippers, receivers, carriers, and wash rack operators form vital links in the tank cleaning chain. Productivity and efficiency will never be fully maximized without full involvement from everyone.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.