MANY people learn business operations from the ground up and Bill Miller, owner of MT Clean, is no exception — except you could say he learned it from the inside out cleaning tanks.
When he was a teenager and living in his native Pennsylvania, a neighbor built a tank wash and Miller was selected to do some work. By the time he graduated from high school in 1981, Miller was working for that same company fulltime cleaning tank trailers.
In 1983 he joined Mast Tank Cleaning where he began honing his management skills. During 16 years with Mast, he was transferred to Kingsport, Tennessee.
“I probably learned more about tank cleaning from Max Mast than anyone else,” Miller says, estimating that he was involved in the cleaning of at least 125,000 trailers with Mast in Kingsport.
When a carrier in Kingsport decided to end its terminal and tank wash services, Miller decided it was time to set out on his own. So in 1999 he leased what was then a two-bay wash facility with two chemical bays with Kelton units, while at the same time planning future improvements and expansions.
A long-time friend he had worked with at Mast, Danny Bannister, offered some help, and the two soon had put their heads together to design an efficient and specialized tank wash. “I knew exactly what I needed,” Miller recalls.
Although tank cleaning service began immediately in the leased facility, Miller added new equipment, including three chemical bays, one foodgrade bay and four steam racks, and continued to grow the business so that by June 2003 he was able to purchase the property.
Three chemical wash bays, two bays for steam and drying, and one foodgrade bay are available at the 6.5-acre facility. Miller figures he has room to park about 170 tank trailers.
The facility begins weekly operations Sunday 11 pm and runs 24/7 until Friday at 11 pm, then from 7 am until noon Saturday.
In addition, Miller provides terminal space to carriers that includes a fuel bay, office space for dispatchers, and a training room. He also leases a maintenance bay to a carrier.
He estimates that the value of his current equipment is about $1.4 million that he acquired for about $605,000 by doing much of the designing and construction in-house. Along with other income generated by the facility, the company has about $1.2 million in gross revenue.
“People ask me what MT stands for,” Miller says about his company name. “I tell them you get them MT (empty). We'll get them clean — and I mean really clean.”
Miller points out that the success of the company stems from his relationship with Eastman Chemical Company headquartered in Kingsport. Eastman drives about 99% of the tank wash's business.
Although the chemical company relationship proves beneficial, its requirements are stringent for the tank wash, as well as for the carriers chosen to haul Eastman's products. As a result, it's important for all three to work together in meeting the standards, Miller says.
The chemical company regularly audits the tank wash and the procedures used there, so there's no room for a cavalier attitude where the standards are concerned, Miller points out.
“We basically maintain foodgrade standards even though the products are chemicals,” he says.
The tank wash uses high-volume, low-pressure pumps from Valley Equipment Company to provide maximum impingement in trailers cleaned. Weg 75-horsepower electric motors and Durco spinner pumps propel the cleaning operation with 540 feet of total dynamic head or 233 psi.
Miller specifies Sellers 360 Spinners supplied by J-Tech Inc fitted with stainless steel spinner cones that have a drip edge for returning splash out into the dome box area.
In the chemical wash bays, five, 1,000-gallon stainless steel vats hold hot and cold water, detergent, caustic, and super caustic (a boosted blend of caustic and several additives.) The vats designed by Bannister sit on a skid.
The cleaning chemicals are purchased individually and then blended onsite. “We think we save money by doing this and it gives us more control of the mixture that works best for us,” Miller says.
The foodgrade bay has four vats constructed of 316 stainless steel with capacity of 975 gallons each, one for foodgrade detergent, two for hot water, and one for cold. Capabilities include 180° F recirculated fresh city water for 15 minutes for sanitation and kosher requirements, as well as 195° F for a 20-minute single pass to satisfy Food Chemical Codex standards.
A Hurst 125-horsepower boiler and a Kewanee 100-horsepower boiler are set up in a system that is chemically treated and monitored to prevent water being carried over. This enhances efforts to utilize clean steam throughout the distillation process.
The water inside the boiler chamber must be treated so the minerals in the water don't adhere to the boiler tubes creating scale and a thermal barrier.
Carryover is a term used when the boiler is not sized correctly. If the boiler is run over its capacity, the water inside will escape with the steam. This creates a situation that sends water containing those boiler chemicals and minerals into the tanks that are being steam cleaned.
“What is usually found is a white streak or film inside the tank just cleaned, and it is still dirty from the process,” Miller says. “When a boiler is properly sized the steam that is generated is clean because of the distillation that occurs in that boiler chamber.”
A Kaeser air compressor is designed to pull out moisture from the air when utilized for drying outlet legs, valves, and other various parts of the trailers.
“Before we added this system, condensation would form from the tank air and its humidity,” Miller says. “We installed a 250-gallon primary air holding tank and ran 350 feet of two-inch piping to the tank wash to reduce demand and eliminate excessive wear on the compressor.”
Radiant heat is used in the process that dries the tank. A filtered blower is part of the system. “We avoid having black specks in the tank when we use that procedure,” he says. “The trailers won't pass inspection if they have them. Black specks have been a burden to our industry for many years, so we have tried to eliminate the possibility in the cleaning process.”
The two bays used for steam and drying have enough room for four trailers parked end-to-end. “We can steam and dry 2-5 compartments and 2-3 compartment tanks simultaneously,” Miller notes.
Miller specifies Goodall cleaning hoses made with an internal tube that is heat and chemical resistant. “Our steam hoses have a poly tube that's an inter-liner that doesn't break down and create those black specks,” he says.
Miller believes in having plenty of spare hoses, parts, pumps, and compressors on hand. “We can't take the time to shutdown our operation while we wait for a delivery,” he said.
Another benefit derived from Eastman is the agreement for the chemical company to handle the wastewater produced at the wash rack. But that also comes with stipulations that the wastewater meets certain standards. Both Eastman and the Environmental Protection Agency audit the effluent.
Wastewater is captured in the stainless steel floor drains and sumps and then pumped with 7.5 horsepower Gorman Rupp trash pump into a 32,000-gallon holding tank. The pump can handle about 1,000 gallons in two minutes.
A Gardner Denver blower is used to suspend solids. The wastewater is transferred to a tank trailer and hauled to the Eastman facility twice a day for testing and treatment.
In addition to meeting the sampling requirements, the tank wash must list all products that are cleaned at the facility and provide the list to the chemical company to insure no tanks are cleaned that have unauthorized products.
Miller says these standards demand consistent and repeated employee training. “Our employees are the backbone of this company,” he says. “Their work determines our success.”
Miller conducts all training, which includes instruction in Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, hazardous materials communication, lock-out/tag-out for electrical safety, personal protective equipment use, emergency response, solvents safety, and confined space entry.
“We just can't emphasize confined space entry safety enough — and the hazards of nitrogen blankets,” he says. “I usually spend two and a half hours just discussing confined space entry.”
Emphasis also is placed on the various chemicals that are used in the cleaning process. “We are able to clean tanks that are unusually difficult by using specific chemicals,” he said.
Employees receive classroom training and then move into the bays for hands-on experience. They learn to use the Industrial Scientific testers and how to work in fall-prevention harnesses. New hires are required to work with a supervisor for 90 days.
All the training has paid off by enabling the tank wash to operate with 99.999% efficiency. In 2005, of 7,926 tank trailers cleaned, just seven were rejected by Eastman, Miller says.
Staying on top of the standards reaps rewards for the tank cleaning facility, and Miller says he doesn't plan to relax those goals for the future.
“I have a lot to be thankful for, as well as a lot of people to thank who have been instrumental in helping me achieve my success,” he says.
He also hopes to improve tank cleaning standards throughout the industry. To that purpose, Miller has been active in the National Tank Truck Carriers Tank Cleaning Council, serving as vice-chairman and chairman.
As for the future, he expects to surpass last year's rate of about 150 tank trailers cleaned per week and to continue improving the standards, not only at his own company, but in the industry as a whole.