Most of the items featured in Green Tanker Technology are owner/operator derived, but the latest technology in tank inspections came as a result of the needs of a charterer
Dow Chemicals is a division of DowDuPont, the result of the merger of Dow and DuPont and now the second-largest chemical company in the world with sales worth US62.5Bn in 2017 (BASF was ranked number one with sales of US$69.1Bn).
As a huge consumer of petrochemical feedstock and a chemical producer itself, Dow has a significant demand on tank logistics. A Dow chemical plant in the US might receive up to five trains per day, each hauling 70 railway tanks holding 100 tonnes of feedstock or product. Every tank has to be emptied, washed and inspected. Saving a few minutes per railway tank each would save hundreds, if not thousands, of man hours and ultimately dollars each year.
There is also the safety aspect. Each railway tank has to be inspected by a person performing a confined space entry (CSE) procedure, which is both time consuming and dangerous. Dow Chemicals’ desire to optimise the process led it to reach out to various companies on the issue of how to eliminate CSE.
Innovative robot engineering company Inuktun produced an inspection tool, Spectrum Tank Inspection Kit (STIK). As the name suggests, the STIK is essentially a smart dipping stick with a camera. The stainless-steel-bodied camera is a turnkey visual inspection system for integrity assessment of tanks and pressure vessels. The STIK is also fitted with high-intensity LED lights. By lowering the STIK into the railway tank, the operator can zoom in and inspect every surface as if s/he is standing in the tank.
According to a presentation at the International Parcel Tankers Association conference in London in April 2019, the Inuktun product is being considered for deployment to inspect parcel and chemical tankers that call at Dow facilities and terminals. Not only does the STIK system reduce the need for CSE, it speeds up the inspection time, reduces fuel consumption and frees up the berth quicker.
Inuktun has also produced a hull-inspection and -cleaning robot based on one of its designs for nuclear powerplant-inspection robots. The MicroMag uses magnetic crawler pads to adhere to metallic surfaces and can be battery-powered or linked by umbilical cord to a generator.
The tiny robot can operate to a depth of 30 m and is equipped with a camera, high-powered LED lights and an ultrasonic sensor for assessing hull thickness. Equipping it with a wire brush also positions it in the hull-cleaning market. According to Inuktun, its magnetic crawlers are strong enough for the robot to work while the vessel is in service. Other hull-cleaning devices, including the traditional diver-operated hull-cleaning devices, require the vessel to be stationary.
According to Inuktun, a fully equipped MicroMag crawler with a five-year lifespan costs the equivalent of two hull-cleaning sessions.