Integrated Infrastructure Frees Tank Services Inc for Expansion

March 1, 1999
By continually maintaining versatile cleaning equipment and updating its wastewater treatment system, Tank Services Inc (TSI) is in the enviable position

By continually maintaining versatile cleaning equipment and updating its wastewater treatment system, Tank Services Inc (TSI) is in the enviable position of expanding services to tank truck carriers. Coupled with the infrastructure already in place are imminent plans to purchase property adjoining the company's 11-acre site in East Chicago, Indiana.

"We are gearing up for growth," says Michael Pellin, owner of United Transportation Group, which also includes Tank Services Inc, United Rail Services Inc, Contract Fleet Maintenance Inc, and Transloading USA Inc. He predicts annual revenue for 1999 will reach $5 million, an increase from $3 million in 1998.

In addition to revenue gained from tank wash services, United Transportation Group offers tractor and tank trailer repair and maintenance, conducts product transfer and storage for rail and truck shipments, and provides flaring, dry-air purging, nitrogen purging, and a complete compressed gas service.

About 60 tank trailers can be cleaned daily in the 8,500-sq-ft building that also houses the maintenance shop. The company's rail facility can accommodate approximately 120 rail cars. Approximately 7,500 tank trailers and 1,000 rail tank cars are cleaned annually.

The wash racks are open 24 hours throughout the week from 11 pm Sundays until 11:30 pm Fridays. Saturday hours are from 7 am until 2 pm. Other times are available by appointment. The shop hours are the same as the wash facility.

Pellin first created the rail car division when he saw the market possibilities for service to the Midwest market in East Chicago. A Certified Public Accountant, he had a strong financial background to draw on, having been formerly employed in Chicago as an auditor with KPMG Peat Marwick Inc and later as a stock trader with Merrill Lynch, all together for 10 years.

A client led him to a Bulkmatic Transport Company where Tank Services acquired a contract to build and operate a facility for cleaning flour tank trailers. The maintenance company, Contract Fleet, was established for servicing tractors and tank trailers. By the time Bulkmatic sold the wash rack to Allwaste Inc, Pellin had gained the experience, employees, and contacts needed to start up the East Chicago business.

In the beginning, he opted for a rail operation, planning to develop on-site divisions and other location services gradually. Building the rail part of the company in 1987 required a significant capital investment, but by 1989 Pellin was ready to add the tank trailer wash and repair shop. The rapidly expanding business outdistanced predictions for the first three to four years and then leveled off. For now, plans for development in other locations are on hold. Instead, he prefers to expand the cleaning facilities, transloading operation, and buildings - and possibly add chemical storage - in a $1.5-million to $2-million investment.

"I want to utilize the property's capacity to make it more productive," he says. "For example, the additional acreage allows room to construct a commercial building with suites for carrier dispatch offices. This would enable us to add several more rail car transloading spots. We already have air, steam, and nitrogen available. The rail-truck facility is very complementary.

"In addition to our facility capabilities, we have several other advantages. We are located in the central part of the United States. Chicago is the country's rail hub, as well as a cargo origin and destination point. We have immediate access to every mainline railroad via the Indiana Harbor Belt and to Interstates 90 and 80/94, one of the busiest east-west truck routes in the US.

"Until now, our business has grown without an aggressive marketing program, but we see an opportunity to expand by detailing our advantages to both current and prospective customers."

Rail car cleaning comprises about 40% of the tank-related services while 35% comes from tank trailer cleaning. All types of trailers, except foodgrade, are cleaned in the two wash racks. Cleaning services also are available for IBCs. A large variety of products are handled, except those designated as acutely poisonous.

Another segment of the tank-related business, about 25%, focuses on tractor and tank trailer repairs, maintenance, and HM183 Department of Transportation inspection and testing procedures.

Satisfying carrier cleaning needs is a major focus of the company, Pellin says. To accomplish that, the wash system was designed and built in-house. A versatile multi-tank system serves the two bays dedicated to tank trailers. One bay has three spinners to simultaneously clean all compartments of multi-compartment tank trailers.

Sellers Cleaning Systems high-volume, low-pressure spinners work in conjunction with two Gould's pumps that generate about 150 gallons of water per minute. Gorman Rupp pumps work the return system.

Solution tanks provide hot and cold rinse water, caustic, detergent, booster, and other mixtures. Hot water and steam for both rail and tank trailer cleaning are provided by a 150-hp Indek boiler. An Ingersoll-Rand air compressor provides 100-psi pressure for the entire plant.

In addition to all typical wash services, TSI offers presolve, passivation, hydroblasting, sandblasting, and diesel steaming. The company also removes stubborn polymerized, hazardous and waste heels, whether solid or liquid.

"We have jackhammered many a tanker full to the top with solidified product," says Ron Parrott, general manager for United Transportation Group.

Several other systems were also engineered and fabricated in-house, including passivation, presolve, media blasting, and wastewater pretreatment. "In our passivation system that was constructed in-house, we use a Chemdet Sonic 2000 spray nozzle with the nitric acid mixture," says Parrott.

Handling the equipment are wash rack employees who are trained and certified in a 40-hour hazardous materials and hazardous waste program, says Parrott. An eight-hour confined-space-entry training program is also conducted.

"We carefully screen all prospective cleaning technicians through written testing and a multi-stage interview process," he says. "Successful candidates are educated and have industrial experience. We screen them well. As a result, we have good retention."

Training for the 18 wash and six shop employees is conducted in-house by an environmental health and safety director, Tim Jeremiah. Jack DeVience, maintenance director, conducts mechanic training, and oversees all tractors and trailer repair operations for Contract Fleet.

"Another thing we are very strict about is drug testing for employees," Parrott says. "The services we render are far too sensitive to take any chances."

Of equal importance to the company's wash facilities is its wastewater pretreatment system. The company has to conform to East Chicago's strict wastewater regulations. As a result, an intricate wastewater treatment system was developed in-house. As public concerns about environmental hazards continue to prompt government constraints on the tank cleaning industry, the ability to treat wastewater effectively on site is a big plus for any facility.

"We have a distinct advantage in this area," says Parrott.

Used wastewater treatment equipment was purchased when Pellin established the company. However, he soon realized it would not meet the demands of the growing business, particularly when the tank trailer division was added, so new equipment was ordered and installed. What could be utilized of the initial system was redesigned, renovated, and incorporated into the new system.

"We were already 95 percent compliant with the regulations before we made the changes," he says, estimating the current system called for about $700,000 in capital investment and is now valued at about $1 million. Success of the investment is evident because the wastewater treatment system not only serves the trailer and rail car tank cleaning racks but allows the company to take in outside wastewater for treatment, an additional revenue-generating operation. More importantly, it allows Pellin to follow through with the expansion of cleaning facilities.

Wastewater is captured from the tank trailer and rail car wash racks, and storm drains. Collection for the various sources includes a trench system and common sumps. Pumps move the wastewater through insulated lines to two equalization tanks (35,000 gallons each) for aeration or pretreatment as needed.

"This allows us to mix a large batch prior to further treatment," says Parrott. A complete batch analysis is conducted prior to formulating a treatment plan.

System components include a mix tank, inline feed system, a 90-gallon-per-minute (gpm) dissolved air flotation system, 2,000-gallon neutralization reactor tanks, and a 10,000-gallon oil/water separator. The system also includes a 3,500-gallon slanted plate clarifier and a 3,500-gallon vertical tube clarifier. A 40,000-gallon sludge thickening tower is utilized before effluent reaches the 2,000-gallon final holding tank.

Not satisfied with just wastewater treatment equipment additions, Pellin hired Fred Davis, a treatment technician, who oversees the system's laboratory. The improvements make Pellin confident that the facility will meet proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effluent guidelines now under consideration. The EPA proposal addresses existing and new chemical and foodgrade cleaning racks that discharge wastewater into lakes, rivers, or streams (direct), or to publicly owned treatment works (indirect), the latter a receiver for TSI.

"The tank and rail wash complex was one initially visited by the EPA to begin research and analysis of the industry," says Pellin. "We believe in being proactive when it comes to regulatory compliance."

The rail side of the business is linked into the wastewater system and focuses on a full-service logistics complex that includes interior and exterior cleaning of tank and hopper rail cars. This service encompasses all of the services provided by the tank wash facility in addition to some others such as jackhammering and vapor scrubbing. Compressed gas rail cars are cleaned and excess gas flared. An on-site locomotive moves the cars, and a vacuum truck is available for product removal.

"We guarantee a 72-hour turnaround time for cleaning many rail cars, based on their last contents," says Parrott.

The transloading division offers rail to truck, truck to rail, or rail or truck to drum services. Nitrogen padding, steam, and compressed air are available at the rack. Truck scales also are available. A warehouse is available for storage of certain commodities.

With the basics in place, United Transportation Group appears ready to expand services to tank truck carriers. "We are committed to continually refining and strengthening our processes while developing a long-term tactical plan," says Pellin. "We think our focus on a synergistic combination of services unusual in our industry puts us in a strong position to respond quickly to our customers' needs while delivering the high quality service they expect."