Compact Hydrodemolition Machines Offer Power, Versatility and Safety

Robotic hydrodemolition equipment provides big benefits in many industrial cleaning applications

Compact Hydrodemolition Machines Offer Power, Versatility and Safety

 Using advanced hydrodemolition robots for industrial cleaning allows workers to remain at a safe distance and operate the unit via remote. While this does not eliminate the need for PPE, it allows workers to safely complete the cleaning without donning full body suits or breathing apparatus, saving time, resources and discomfort.

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Industrial facilities rely on high-pressure waterjetting machines for a number of specialized cleaning and removal applications to keep equipment operating at full potential. Enhancing efficiency for each task — from surface cleaning and preparation, to heat exchanger applications to refractory removal — is vital for maintaining productivity and profitability.

To help keep facilities running smoothly and optimize scheduled downtime, industrial cleaning contractors employ a variety of hand-held and automated waterblasting equipment designed for these challenging applications. However, what these tools provide in terms of efficiency — and long-term benefit to the contractor — depends on many factors. Selecting the right equipment goes beyond how fast crews can get the job done. It must include considerations for safety as well as productivity. Additionally, equipment that allows an operation to expand service offerings without further investment is the best choice for continued growth and overall stability.

This has led a number of industrial cleaning contractors to invest in robotic hydrodemolition equipment from original equipment manufacturers. These cutting-edge machines offer a number of safety and productivity benefits compared to hand-held equipment or homemade systems and increase contractor flexibility over highly specialized, single-application options. 

Improved safety

Industrial cleaning applications come with a number of inherent dangers. Limiting crew exposure to these hazardous conditions is a primary concern for contractors and has led to the development of numerous automated options. The extent to which these solutions keep workers out of harm’s way varies, as does the amount of personal protection equipment required. Due to the specialized nature of industrial cleaning applications, the use of automated equipment might be limited in some situations, leaving contractors to rely on more manual solutions — unless they have access to powerful robotic equipment.

For example, a contractor might be able to perform a basic tank cleaning application with an automated system, such as a rotating jet lowered from the top of the tank. But what if the project requires a more thorough cleaning or the removal of materials such as paint, coating or concrete? To achieve the necessary power for this type of cleaning, contractors often employ crews in full PPE wielding hand lances.

This method significantly increases the safety risks for crews. Because they must constantly resist back thrust, hand lances cause workers to fatigue quickly. A worker using a 40,000 psi hand lance must constantly fight up to 52 pounds of thrust (at a flow of 5 gpm) for normal operation. The Waterjet Technology Association recommends that, in ideal conditions, a single worker should not be required to withstand back thrust of more than one-third their body weight for an extended period of time. In poor conditions, such as low light, uneven or slippery footing, and confined spaces found in industrial cleaning applications, even less back thrust is recommended. 

And, like all hand-held equipment, hand lances also come with increased risk of hand, wrist, shoulder and back injuries since they require workers’ bodies to absorb the shock of the cleaning or removal process. Even more dangerous is the risk of water jet-related accidents. Improperly controlled high-pressure water jets can cause serious foot and leg injuries and have even contributed to fatalities.

On the other hand, using advanced hydrodemolition robots for this same tank cleaning task allows workers to remain at a safe distance and operate the unit via remote — even from outside the tank in some cases. While this increased area of operation does not eliminate the need for PPE, it allows workers to safely complete the cleaning without donning full body suits or breathing apparatus, saving time, resources and discomfort.

Compact units from OEMs offer further increases to job site safety by eliminating the need for workers to enter confined spaces such as tanks and pipes. Some advanced models can easily be broken down into smaller components — a third of their original size — that can enter these tight and inhospitable environments.

Advanced systems from OEMs can also reduce or even eliminate the need for scaffolding — another common safety risk for industrial cleaning specialists. Remote operation allows workers to stay safely on the ground and away from ledges or fall hazards and eliminating the need to erect scaffolding or fall protections increases overall productivity.

One type of innovative system features a lightweight, compact control unit and robotic power head with high-pressure lance that attaches to and robotically moves along standard scaffolding pipes. This setup is ideal for quickly covering large areas without requiring crews to work at height. Larger hydrodemolition robots are another option. These advanced units feature an innovative steel mast section with a reach of up to 23 feet that can eliminate the need for scaffolding all together. Additional mast sections can be employed to extend reach for larger projects, as well.

Maximum productivity

Increased worker safety is only part of the equation when it comes to overall equipment effectiveness. For industrial facilities, routine maintenance and cleaning is a necessary but costly undertaking. Minimizing the customers’ downtime must be a top priority for successful industrial cleaning contractors.

Among automated options, robotic hydrodemolition equipment has proven to provide optimal efficiency, where applicable. Specialized equipment for applications such as tank, scrubber or heat exchanger shell cleaning are widely used across the industry, removing workers from some of the most dangerous and challenging jobs. But these still require support crews that vary in size. A hydrodemolition robot, on the other hand, can perform many of the same applications with a single operator. This allows contractors to better utilize crews and maximize productivity across the job site.  

Operating at pressures up to 40,000 psi, hydrodemolition robots also provide more productivity compared to hand lances and other automated options. For example, when used on a routine scrubber application at a pulp and paper mill, one contractor was able to increase productivity 80%, completing a job that usually took 30 hours in just five.

For removing concrete, paint or other coatings, powerful hydrodemolition equipment again provides maximum productivity compared to hand lances, due to the robot’s ability to handle the higher water flow rates and reaction forces necessary for successful material removal. At 40,000 psi, hand lances can only safely offer 5-6 gpm for reaction forces up to 62 pounds-thrust, whereas a compact hydrodemolition robot can easily handle 30 gpm for up to 312 pounds-thrust of reaction force. So while a hand lance might be used to remove refractory concrete, the process would be far more time and labor intensive with removal rates of just 0.5 to 1.0 cubic feet per hour. Compare that to a compact hydrodemolition robot, which can remove concrete at rates of 10 cubic feet per hour — almost 10 times faster.

The increased productivity offered by robotic hydrodemolition equipment means industrial cleaning specialists can optimize operations during scheduled downtime. Contractors are able to complete cleaning applications faster and with less labor, leaving them free to move on to the next job while the facilities can restart production more quickly.  

Service flexibility

But what exactly is the next job? For many contractors, adding advanced hydrodemolition robots to their fleet not only increases productivity and safety for industrial cleaning applications, but opens the door to increased service offerings and long-term company growth. The power and precision of these machines allows them to branch out from surface preparation to full concrete demolition, as well as concrete or steel tunnel rehabilitation and repair tasks, refractory removal and much more.

Thanks to a variety of attachments from innovative OEMs, contractors can tailor hydrodemolition equipment packages to fit the current — and future — needs of their operation. For example, a number of OEM attachments exist that allow for more efficient concrete or material removal in tunnels and pipes. In conjunction with the robotic equipment, these tools allow for consistent cleaning or material removal on uneven or oval-shaped passageways, making them ideal for applications such as penstock cleaning, dam work and sewer rehabilitation. Other attachments enable removal of concrete, paint, rust and coatings along an entire section of horizontal, vertical or inclined tunnels and pipes for applications such as removal of refractory concrete in risers and transfer lines.  

In addition to attachments, hydrodemolition OEMs also provide support equipment that can increase efficiency for industrial cleaning applications as well as open up new revenue opportunities. A silent running high-pressure pump/engine combination was recently unveiled that provides the necessary pressure for industrial cleaning applications but is quiet and compact enough for any urban job site, allowing for growth into new markets, such as demolition, road and bridge repair and refractory removal. This system is available at up to 700 hp and features integrated auto start/stop technology that improves fuel consumption — saving as much as 6.6 gallons of fuel a day — while operating at up to 43,511 psi and under 65 dB.

Industrious partners

Capitalizing on industrial cleaning safety, productivity and growth potential starts with investing in the right tools. There are a number of specialized industrial cleaning mechanisms available that provide an automated solution to help limit worker exposure in the most hazardous conditions. But for forward-thinking contractors, these methods fall short when compared to the power, versatility and safety offered by compact hydrodemolition equipment. Working with reputable OEMs to customize hydrodemolition equipment packages that meet current and future business goals can help ensure long-term success. 


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