Efficiency Under Pressure

Waterblasters help a New York State contractor deliver high productivity and shorten customers’ plant shutdowns

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Not many cleaning jobs can make crews at North American Industrial Services flinch. Headquartered in Ballston Spa, N.Y., and with 15 offices around the country, the company owns more than a dozen 605 Series trailer-mounted waterblasters from NLB Corp., each with a 605 hp diesel engine and delivering up to 20,000 psi/43 gpm.

“You can cut concrete at 17,000 psi at 100 gpm, so that gives you an idea how powerful these jetters are,” says Chris Spain, director of sales and strategic planning. “You really have to respect this equipment when you’re using it.

“We can hook two of these machines together to increase volume and generate more cleaning power. We did that recently while cleaning sediment and rocks out of some 10-foot-diameter outfall pipes at a utility plant in Massachusetts.

“We did 450-foot runs, starting at one end and working back. We pulled out vacuum truck after vacuum truck full of material. The nozzle sits on wheels on a rail system, and the jetter pulls the hose through the tunnel on this wheeled system.”

The 605s also handle slag and other byproduct buildup in large boilers in electric power plants. Some boilers the company cleans are up to 70 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter and are thickly caked with rock-hard material.

“The boilers are so big you could put a piece of heavy equipment down inside them,” Spain says. “We hook the jetters up to spinning nozzles that we lower into the boilers. That’s great from a safety standpoint because we don’t have to put people down inside the boilers to clean them.

“I’ve seen boilers completely closed off with buildup. They call it bridging. It goes from one side to another. Then we have to use water cannons or nozzles with two-directional water streams that spin in opposite directions.”

Productivity and reliability are key issues during plant maintenance shutdowns. Much of the company’s business is “critical-path work,” where crews have limited time to finish a job because contractors are waiting to perform other maintenance.

“Some of those plants can lose a couple hundred thousand dollars if they’re down for just a couple hours, so time is of the essence,” Spain says. “With advances in technology, we can do an average boiler job in half the time we used to 10 years ago.

“I can’t attribute all of that to the jetters, because the plants do more frequent routine maintenance, which reduces the time it takes us to do a job. But technology and other efficiencies definitely help. Nowadays, we can accomplish with 600 or 700 horsepower what used to require 2,000 horsepower.”

Along with improved efficiency, machines like the 605s have improved profitability by dramatically reducing manpower. An average boiler-cleaning job used to take up to 14 technicians “shotgunning” boiler walls with handheld pressure washers. With the 605s, it might require as little as six men.

Crews usually carry two of the 18,000-pound machines on a flatbed trailer. Each unit measures 17 1/2 feet long, 7 1/2 feet wide and 8 feet tall and carries a 300-gallon fuel tank and 450 feet of hose. The second unit serves as a backup or is used in tandem with the other on jobs that demand extra power.

“The 605s are our workhorses for the big plant outages,” Spain explains. “For what we do, power is kind of our niche, and the 605s are one of the best tools we have.”


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