This article has been reproduced from Tank Storage Magazine June/July 2019 issue.
The integration of modern technology and working practices into mature life-cycle equipment can be difficult to achieve. Entrenched methods of working, generational lack of investment and third-party interests conspire to restrict innovation.
The evolution of the tanker loading process has been ‘glacial’. This is not due to any single reason, although money is often cited as one of the primary factors. But, is that still a justifiable reason to reject change?
Miniaturisation and lowering costs for electronics, instruments and processing power now mean we have all the tools available to transform how we do most things. If you think about industries that have not been changed by technology, then we can narrow it down to a few including embalmers and barbers.
Tanker filling is a dangerous and labour-intensive process. The implication for getting it wrong can get you on global news headlines the same day. Probably not the publicity you are hoping for.
Whenever humans and machinery are put in close proximity, the opportunity for calamity exists. Given that people are a necessary factor, what needs to happen to create a safer and cleaner workspace?
Loading arms, whether they connect to a tanker on the top or bottom, are taken from a parking point, out to the tanker and manoeuvred into position in the manhole or onto a connection. It’s fair to say that, after 80 years of loading arm manufacture, progress has been slower than global warming. Of course, there are some good reasons for this.
The loading arm has its roots in the oil and gas business where dangerous liquids are transferred in unimaginable volumes daily. Whilst all loading arm manufacturers can say a silent thanks to oil and gas for their volumes, this is really the bargain basement of technology, where the loading arm is essentially considered as a piece of pipe that moves. Of course, that is exactly what it is. But that doesn’t advance safety, ergonomics or efficiency very far.
Compared to the fuels business, which has a maximum of about six different grades of the same kind of liquid, the chemical industry moves thousands of different liquids around the world every minute of every day.
The fuels business concentrates on filling and emptying tankers that are built with virtually all the technology on-board, making the arm a simple device. The chemical industry tends to use general purpose or ISO tankers. Literally, a barrel on wheels, with a hole on top and a valve at the outlet.
The need to determine the liquid level in the tanker and recover vapours are issues that need to be taken care of and, in most cases, the loading arm carries that technology. Top loading is often seen as the cause of many problems. Not least because it creates a need for an operator to step out onto an unpredictable walk surface four metres above the ground. Clearly, the prevention of falls comes into play.
A number of companies have taken steps to mitigate this by demanding that all tanker loading is carried out at ground level. A great solution, as long as you can control the variety of tankers visiting your site. Vapour recovery and liquid-level detection need to be considered. So, if one person needs to go on top to fix these devices, then the whole point of the bottom loading exercise is lost.
To maintain flexibility and maximise the potential for clients to use the facility by sending in a variety of tanks, from all over the world, the tanker filling operation should be via the manhole or top flange connection. Making personnel access safe is easy. Removing the reliance on erratic tanker walkways is a thing of the past. There are systems available that provide complete safe access to tanker tops, irrespective of length and configuration. Loadtec has worked in close partnership with Sam Carbis Solutions Group for more than 20 years, delivering safe access solutions that are adopted as standard by blue chip companies handling bulk liquid chemicals.
So, a person can get onto a tanker top safely but the task of filling a tanker is a risky one. The elements; condition of the loading equipment; design of the loading equipment and dexterity of the operator all play a part.
In normal situations, most of these actions are being undertaken by site operations, as the driver looks on. The driver may open the manhole and close it at the end. The operator, however, has to set up the load, remain in attendance for the amount of time that loading takes and then move the arm back to the parking position. An expensive exercise for the plant, when the number of loading points is factored in.
It is repetitive, hazardous and, after a while, boring. This is where the problems start to fester. The human brain, faced with carrying out repeated tasks, day after day, will become conditioned to the risks and, quite possibly, become creative. You can dictate all the protocols you like from afar but when creativity rears its head, that’s where problems start.
With safety at the heart of Loadtec’s business strategy, the company has developed a solution to mitigate the danger facing operators. Loadtec Engineered Systems and Sam Carbis Solutions Group have worked closely for more than 20 years to bring advanced fall prevention and tanker loading solutions to a global audience. Many of the solutions, sold 20 years ago, are still regarded as cutting edge by most global customers.
But as with all things, different factors affect the working environment. Increasingly, the safety of employees is, rightly, paramount. The latest generation of tanker loading systems can be supplied as full or semi-automatic. This is not just the batching and control. It extends to zero manual handling or vigilance. The only current caveat is the need to lift a manlid by hand. But if tasked to the driver, the plant will start to save from day one.
This will appeal to companies who are already handling dangerous liquids in unfavourable situations. It is for companies who have recognised the hazards and are considering buying sophisticated arms or, possibly, remote controlled arms. It is for companies who have multiple loading racks scattered around the world and burgeoning operational costs, risks and insurance premiums.
So, what is this solution? Autoload and VELP-E
Loadtec Autoload is an intelligent loading arm that recognises an open manhole, moves to it, inserts, self-checks and loads. On completion it will self-check/purge and then park, with no operator involvement. Vapour recovery and all instrumentation can be included to whichever level of scrutiny the client wants.
The Loadtec Autoload arm bridges the gap between what is considered possible now and the inevitable future direction of the industry. It is a future that Loadtec will embrace, as it continues to challenge convention with innovative ideas that shape environmental and operator safe working practices.
A Vertically Elevating Platform (VELP) Tanker Access System that can deploy with one touch of a button, detect a tanker top using lasers and position itself optimally to allow the manhole to be opened by an unskilled driver without risk of falls. This new generation of tanker access is specifically designed to work as an integrated component of the tanker loading process, so that no actions are performed unless peripheral equipment is correctly positioned and considered safe.
Industries looking to decrease maintenance costs due to damage, operator costs for purely waiting around and insurance premiums for that moment of creative madness are talking to Loadtec Engineered Systems and Sam Carbis Solutions group to see how their concerns can be resolved.