Micro-ARM Offers Hands-Free Hydroblasting

Remote-controlled water blaster improves productivity and employee safety while reducing operator fatigue.

Micro-ARM Offers Hands-Free Hydroblasting

Evergreen Industrial Services owns three Micro-ARM robotic hydro blasters from NLB Corp. for safely and efficiently cleaning everything from industrial machines to tube bundles in heat exchangers.

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Almost three years ago, Zac Cudney from Texas-based Evergreen Industrial Services started searching for hands-free hydroblasting technology that was compact, mobile, efficient and powerful enough to handle difficult cleaning challenges in oil refineries and petrochemical plants.

After working with engineers at NLB Corp. for eight months, a solution emerged: The Micro-ARM (which stands for automated remote manipulator), a robotic hydro blaster that has dramatically boosted employee safety and productivity at Evergreen. The company now owns three of the highly portable Micro-ARMs and plans to order more. The units are used to clean everything from machines to tube bundles in heat exchangers.

“I’d say that on average, the Micro-ARMs are about 30 percent more efficient compared to how we worked before,” says Cudney, the company’s general manager of hydroblasting and turnaround services. Part of the time savings stem from reduced setup time. For example, the unit’s remote-control capability allows operators to work up to 700 feet away from the items getting washed, which eliminates the need to don cumbersome protective gear.

The machine’s maneuverability also increases efficiency. At only 29 inches wide and weighing just 1,000 pounds, it’s surprisingly nimble for a hydro blaster. Equipped with rubber treads, it can even climb stairs and navigate narrow catwalks. “You could literally drive one right through the front door of your home,” Cudney says. “They’re compact enough to easily drive around a wash pad.”

Before, crews at Evergreen often relied on other contractors to use a crane to move items on a wash pad into a position where a bulky hydro blaster could work. Now, they just steer the Micro-ARM into position. “As a result, we can get work done faster by not involving other trades,” Cudney notes. “If they’re contractors that work for the plant, we’re not tying up this valuable resource that could be doing something else. Customers appreciate that.”

Another bonus: The Micro-ARM includes an onboard air compressor, which eliminates the need to tie into a plant’s air system. Without a hose tethered to the unit, operators are free to maneuver around much more freely. “Imagine cutting your lawn with a heavy garden hose attached to your mower. It’s pretty inconvenient,” he says. “Not having to use one shaves time off setup. And it’s one less utility that we have to ask our customers to provide.”

The hands-free remote operation pays big dividends because it eliminates the risk of exposing operators to the many chemicals produced during various processes inside refineries and petrochemical plants. “It’s always something nasty like benzene, naphthalene, butylene or crude oil. … Everything in the plant can harm you,” he notes. “So instead of putting a guy on shotgun cleaning (manually), we can send in the Micro-ARM. And it doesn’t get tired, either.”

Efficiency is critical during planned maintenance shutdowns, where many different contractors work in an intricate sort of dance. No one wants to be the guy that slows things down, and customers notice when contractors consistently finish their work on time and on budget. Moreover, getting more work done in less time allows Evergreen to price bids more competitively.

“When these plants go into turnaround mode, you have to consider that they’re losing money twice,” Cudney explains. “First of all, they’re losing money because they aren’t making the product they usually make. And second, they’re losing money because they’re paying you to clean things. The faster you can help them get up and running, the more profitable they are. And the more profitable they are, the better the chances are that they’ll bring you back to do the work again.”

Last but not least, the Micro-ARM — powered by a 305 hp NLB 225 Series water pump (20,000 psi at up to 23 gpm) — provides a great return on investment, Cudney reports. “The payback period depends on your workload,” he notes. “For us, it’s just under 40 days. They’ve been a great investment for our company.”


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