WJTA-IMCA Meets with North American Asset Owners to Discuss the Future of Hydroblasting

One of the primary goals of the WJTA-IMCA is to facilitate communication and awareness with industry leaders, especially end-users and asset owners who have the ability and desire to influence best practices in the industrial cleaning industry. The WJTA-IMCA continually looks for ways to engage these constituents to increase buy-in for the use of safer, more productive methods of hydroblasting. In the spirit of gathering feedback, the WJTA-IMCA recently held a meeting with North American asset owners to learn more about their current views of our industry. Here are the takeaways, paraphrased for clarity:

As an industry, how do we need to improve?

One of the primary challenges facing asset owners is the consistency of cleaning between contracting companies; different contractors and personnel produce different results on the same job. Inconsistent quality leads to internal planning, production, and efficiency issues, all things a plant tries to minimize. A standard, industry-wide training program would help ensure that all contracting companies are using best practice cleaning methods to improve consistency in cleaning. Asset owners acknowledged that they own part of this issue due to the “fouling factor” of the equipment being cleaned; it can be hard to predict, and fouling can differ between cleaning cycles.

The industry could also benefit from more workforce training, especially when it comes to the effective use of automated cleaning solutions. Front line operators need to be more capable of setting up equipment; some operators can set up a machine in 20 minutes, while others take an hour. There must also be a concerted effort to attract more mechanically inclined personnel into the industry.

Contractors could also improve by having a consistent pre- and post-job review process to ensure that they are continuously improving safety and productivity. Some contractors do this already, but many don’t. This requires stronger leadership and supervision, especially at the front line.

Lastly, asset owners felt that it would be helpful if the WJTA-IMCA would create standard terminology and definitions, helping to improve the validation and inspection process. For example, there isn’t a standard definition of “clean” and there are different levels of “clean”. It’s hard to communicate expectations and judge results based on broad and generic terminology.

What cleaning applications need the most improvement?

Now that automated tube cleaning has become standard, the focus must shift to less frequently performed jobs. Remote shot gunning, while much improved, remains difficult and there is a growing need for solutions to clean more difficult applications. There will also be a continued effort to reduce confined space entry therefore more remote operated machines will be required in the future.

In terms of technology development, what is needed to take the industry to the next level?

First, technology needs to evolve so that contractor personnel can always remain outside the barricade zone. This would reduce most, if not all, water jet injuries, and could be done by using more remote-controlled equipment, cameras, and sensing technology. Second, using automation is not always easy and there are still too many requests for variances. There needs to be a better understanding of the nature of common variances so that manufacturers can design more effective equipment. The industry must continue to find ways to automate 100% of waterblasting work. Lastly, there is a demand for more “smart” machines with positional feedback and data collection and dissemination technology. In the future, equipment where an operator can push start button and walk away will be required.

Overall, the meeting between North American asset owners and the WJTA-IMCA was informative and productive. The WJTA-IMCA is committed to using this feedback to bring more awareness to the challenges the industrial cleaning industry must overcome to increase safety and productivity, worldwide.

Article written by Kerry Siggins, CEO at StoneAge and the Vice-President of the WJTA-IMCA Board of Directors. Discussion moderated by Gary Noto, Vice Chairman Board Directors at HydroChemPSC and Secretary of the WJTA-IMCA Board of Directors.