How to reduce tank cleaning time
(and lost time) with water jets
29830 Beck Road, Wixom, MI 48393-2824
Phone: (248) 624-5555, Fax: (248) 624-0908
The Leader in
Water Jet Productivity
To people who don’t work in
processing industries, the term “tank
cleaning” likely suggests some sort of
spraying or scrubbing with detergent.
In processing industries, however,
cleaning a tank or reactor is a major
operation. Here it means thoroughly
removing hardened product quickly
and safely, without damaging the tank
walls or leaving behind anything to
contaminate the next product the tank
This level of cleaning presents a
variety of challenges, and no single
method will meet every one, in every
application. To determine which
method is best for a particular application, operations professionals look for one that:
¼ cleans thoroughly
¼ minimizes downtime
¼ maximizes the productivity of personnel
¼ keeps people out of confined spaces
¼ complies with all applicable regulations
¼ offers a reasonable payback period
¼ is environmentally-friendly
Companies that clean their tanks with high-pressure water jetting have found that it meets all of
these criteria for a wide range of products, such as resins (plastics, rubber, etc.), epoxies, and
paints. In this white paper, NLB Corp. — a water jet technology leader for over 40 years — will
explain how, citing the experiences of several customers.
How water jets work
High-pressure water jets (up to 20,000 psi, or 1,400 bar) are used around the world for product
removal and many other applications. Basically, a nozzle (or nozzles) attached to a lance or a
specially-designed accessory directs a focused stream at the product to be removed. The
resulting force cuts through the product in minutes (sometimes seconds), separating it from the
surface to which it was attached and rinsing the surface at the same time. The process
thoroughly removes resins, polymers, rubber — even seven-inch-thick coke — and needs no
abrasives or solvents of any kind.
For tank cleaning (and various other applications) automated water jetting has significant
advantages over manual water jetting as well as cleaning with solvents. Not only is it faster and
less labor-intensive, but it enhances employee safety in two key ways: by avoiding exposure to
potentially hazardous cleaning agents and eliminating the need for anyone to enter a tank. The
latter greatly reduces fall risks (not to mention exposure to uncomfortable temperatures, noise or
air quality), saves the expense of safety suits and harnesses, and simplifies compliance with
confined space regulations (See Figure 2 on next page.).
Automated water jetting is also an ideal solution when a tank’s opening is too small to allow a
person entry in the first place.
The key to productive tank cleaning is to maximize the coverage of the interior walls by the high-
pressure water. This is done by a 3-D head with rotating nozzles, attached to a lance that is
inserted through the tank opening. The reaction force of the high-pressure water causes the
high-velocity nozzles to spin vertically while the head rotates horizontally, resulting in 360°
coverage of the tank’s interior. The water jets can even get into hard-to-reach corners.
(See Fig. 3.) For large tanks — e.g., 20, 30 or 50 feet high — a telescopic lance is used.
Examples of water jet productivity
abound. One NLB customer was tired
of spending as many as 100 man-
hours to remove a seven-inch-layer of
coke from the walls of a 25-foot
vessel. He switched to high-pressure
water jetting and needed just 20
hours to do the job. Similar
efficiencies are possible when
cleaning totes, the small, reusable
vessels often used by chemical
producers. One company that was
previously able to clean 55 totes a day
doubled its output with an automated
NLB system, to 110 per day.
Just as important as the hours spent
cleaning are the hours of lost
production time while tanks are out of
service. Figure 4 demonstrates how
dramatically 3-D water jets can reduce
lost production time. The larger the tank, the more hours saved. One company reduced
downtime for a 3,000-gallon tank by 10 hours by switching from manual water jetting to
automated water jetting. Another saved 23 hours on a 6,000-gallon tank vs. the chemical
cleaning method previously used. And a company with a 20,000-gallon tank slashed lost
Figure 3. 3-D water jet action is created by rotating
the head horizontally as its nozzles spin vertically.
What is a confined space?
According to OSHA implemented standard 29
"A confined space means a space that:
(1) Is large enough and so configured that an
employee can bodily enter and perform
assigned work; and
(2) Has limited or restricted means of entry or
exit (e.g., tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins,
hoppers, vaults, and pits); and
(3) Is not designed for continuous employee
20,000 Gallons6,000 Gallons3,000 Gallons
Production Time Lost For Tank Cleaning
72 hrs. vs 8 hrs.
28 hrs. vs 5 hrs.
14 hrs. vs 4 hrs.
production time by nearly 90% — 64 hours
— by using 3-D water jet heads.
When the labor hours are factored in
(Figure 5), the advantages are even more
obvious. Cleaning the 20,000-gallon tank
with hand lances required four people to
work 72 hours each, or 288 hours in all. But
with a 3-D water jet head, just two people
were needed for eight hours each: a net
savings of 272 hours. Not only did those
two people have a much easier time than
the four using hand lances, but the latter
were reassigned to other tasks to further
Simply by saving so many hours, automated
water jetting can save a plant hundreds of
thousands of dollars a year. It’s a cost-
effective process that typically pays for itself
in months, not years.
Like most water jetting tools, 3-D heads are available
in a variety of models to meet a variety of needs.
Harder materials are cleaned more efficiently with
high pressures, while softer materials come off more
easily with higher flows. Really tough jobs require
both high pressure and high flow, and high
horsepower as well. Whatever the operating
specifications, heads should be made of a rugged
material that will resist corrosion, such as stainless
steel. They should also have long-lasting seals that
are fairly easy to replace. Some heads, like NLB’s,
feature carbide nozzle orifices, adjustable rotation
speeds and compatibility with a variety of nozzle arms
(different sizes and configurations) to meet changing
Today’s 3-D heads pack a lot of cleaning power into a
relatively compact body, with adjustable rotational
speed and easy-to-replace seals that last hundreds of
hours. This makes them suitable for tanks of many
shapes and sizes and gives users lots of flexibility.
NLB’s Torrent™ 50, for example, is rated at up to 20,000
psi (1,400 bar) at 600 hp, with flow up to 50 gpm, yet
can fit through a six-inch tank opening. The larger
Torrent 200 has the same pressure rating with flow as
high as 200 gpm (757 lpm) at 2,300 hp (1,715 kW).
20,000 Gallon Tank6,000 Gallon Tank3,000 Gallon Tank
Difference in Cleaning Time
Lost Production Time
Hours Saved With
Automated Water Jetting
Figure 5. *The 6,000-gallon tank comparison
is to chemical cleaning, which requires no
man-hours. The 10 man-hours required for
water jetting were more than offset by the
savings (23 hours) in lost production time.
Figure 6. Torrent 50 3-D head
Like 3-D heads, the lances that maneuver them
should be carefully matched to the application.
When cleaning small tanks or horizontal tanks
(e.g., blow-down tanks, stripping columns,
hopper cars), a swivel socket lance can be
mounted to the manway and maneuvered
For large vessels, or in areas where the overhead
height is limited, telescopic lance is often used.
NLB has 14 standard models that fit tanks ranging
in height from 10 feet to nearly 28 feet, and
custom-engineers lances for larger tanks. These
lances often have hand wheels for extension and
retraction, and are brought to the tank on a cart
and raised into position. In automated
operations, a lance (or lances; a big reactor may
need several lances and heads) is more likely to
be custom-manufactured to the appropriate length.
Some are as long as 36 feet. These are permanently attached to the vessel, with an extension/
retraction mechanism (electric, hydraulic or pneumatic) whose operation can be integrated with
the plant’s mixing and cleaning controls system.
Lances are made of durable, corrosion-resistant materials, often stainless steel. For more
maneuverability — around baffles or mixers, for example — aluminum lances offer weight
savings of up to 80%. NLB has three lightweight lance models, the largest of which weighs just
80 lbs. but can extend over 20 feet.
High-pressure pump units
Water jet tank cleaning requires a consistent
supply of high-pressure water (typically 4,000 to
20,000 psi for tank cleaning, or 275 to 1,400 bar).
This, in turn, requires a rugged, dependable pump
unit… ideally, one that’s easy to operate and
maintain, and minimizes downtime. Most
companies who do their own water jet cleaning
have electric-powered pump units connected to
the plant’s power supply, while contractors hired
to clean tanks usually bring along a diesel-powered
unit on a trailer. Those who want the flexibility to
use water jets for other jobs requiring different
pressures and flows may prefer a pump unit that is
convertible to a range of pressures. NLB offers
over two dozen such models.
Figure 7. Telescoping lances are available in a
lengths to suit tanks of various heights.
Figure 8. Electric pumps, like the NLB 325E, are
ideal for in-plant use.
The Leader in Water Jet Productivity
The fact that nothing is used in high-pressure water
jetting but the water itself makes it an exceptionally
environmentally-friendly process. First, of course, water
is a clean, natural resource that is readily available. And
since no potentially hazardous caustics or abrasives are
added, users can recover the water after cleaning, filter
out whatever substances it has removed, and use it
Over the past four decades or so, automated, high-
pressure water jetting has proven itself an excellent
choice for many tank cleaning applications, and a
solution for some of industry’s most difficult challenges.
User experience has shown that it effectively meets all
key criteria for choosing a cleaning method, from
thoroughness of cleaning and productivity to safety,
investment payback and environmental responsibility.
Further, many applications can be handled with
standard equipment. To see if high-pressure water
jetting may be the solution to your tank cleaning
problem, contact NLB today.