TANK AND VESSEL WASHING SPRAY NOZZLES
With the broad selection of tank cleaning devices available today, the thought of manually cleaning a tank, mixer, duct or any other vessel that has been used to hold or convey a liquid or dry product should be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, reports surface too often of injuries and even asphyxiation deaths from workers entering tanks for cleaning. What makes these especially disturbing is the fact that commonly available, inexpensive products are available that make these situations preventable.
These use a hollow shell, shaped like a ball or small pumpkin, with a large group of small holes that form many small solid stream sprays when the head is pressurized. In some cases there can be slots around the "equator" that send out a fan of spray in combination with the small holes.
Class I and possibly light Class II cleaning with smaller tanks, usually smaller than 10' in diameter. The design adapts well to specialized and directional coverage requirements given their ability to concentrate spray wherever it's needed. They can mount in any position since they have no rotating parts.
The tank surface where the spray actually hits receives the impact but this is a very small portion of the inside surface. The balance depends on wash-down action.
Small orifices are clog prone, which can form voids in the spray. Additionally, spray balls frequently become the "system strainer' due to their ability to trap debris. Make sure you install them where they can be cleaned out easily or you must have a very clean liquid supply. Otherwise they gradually fill with any junk carried by the liquid which drastically hurts their effectiveness.
Cluster Full Cones
Here a group of full cone nozzles are mounted on a central hub, which acts as a common liquid supply. The sprays overlap so there is a cloud of droplets, which provides very complete coverage. Flow rates range from less than 10 gpm up to several hundred gpm, so the size range is huge.
Class I and possibly light Class
II cleaning with smaller tanks, usually smaller than 8-10' in diameter. In
most cases the smaller the tank, the better, as impact falls off very
quickly as the spray travels from the orifice. With larger tanks, the impact
is minimal, but the coverage is very complete. If the application demands a
gentle spray, this would be the first choice.
In most applications, a gentle spray is not desirable due to the low impact but every situation is different. If the tank is small enough, the impact can still be effective.
The total flow rate of the head is typically divided among 13 or as many as 21 individual nozzles. This means the orifices might be small enough to clog if the liquid supply is not clean. Think in terms of the individual nozzle capacity rather than the total when you're sizing a strainer..
When making a selection, there are a number of
considerations that apply to the whole variety. In general, the main points
are as follows:
All classes of cleaning, especially I and II. Class III is also certainly possible if the impact requirement is not huge.
Spinning Reaction Heads
This segment of the spectrum is the largest and most varied. Reaction powered rotating tank washers are available from at least a dozen manufacturers. They can range from tiny heads less than I" in diameter to huge units spraying hundreds of gallons per minute.
Given the variety of designs, free spinning heads
can handle everything from a bucket to a tank 30' to 40' in diameter.
However, spray impact falls off quickly as distance increases.
Anything that rotates has the potential to jam. Choose carefully based on the quality of your water and critical nature of the application.
Some do not work well if mounted in a position other than straight down, but others work in any mounting orientation.
You must control the feed pressure otherwise the spray head can rotate so fast that it interferes with effective spraying. High speeds cause small droplets to form, which do not carry as far and have less impact than large droplets. Frequently 30 to 40psi is the useful upper limit.
When looking at a specific design and matching it to an application, think through the particular features with the following points as your guide:
It is difficult to give universal guidelines for how much liquid it takes to wash a tank since conditions vary so widely Suggestions range from .2 to .5 gallons per minute per square foot of internal tank surface. If there are few obstructions so the spray can propagate easily, and the tank is not too large, the lower end is probably adequate. For more difficult installations or aggressive soil, a higher flow rate may be required. Higher flow units normally produce larger droplets, which carry over greater distances and hit with more impact.
Make sure the unit you are considering has sufficient power to project the spray far enough to work satisfactorily in your application.
Impact falls off quickly as the distance from the nozzle increases. While a specific tank washer can wet the walls of a large tank, there may not be sufficient impact to strip the soil.
Since effectiveness does not always increase with pressure, test your application carefully to find how high you can go before impact is lost from excessive spinning or atomization.
There is no standard for impact or cleaning power, so information from one manufacturer will not necessarily relate to another. Only your, experience will give you valid information for comparison.
Material of Construction
In this product category, almost all designs are either made from stainless steel or plastic, primarily PTFE (Teflon using DuPont's name) but a few others like PVDF and polypropylene are also available.
All-stainless steel units are very durable and can be subjected to extreme temperature ranges. The main drawback is ensuring that you have an appropriate grade of stainless if your environment is particularly corrosive. Units in exotic materials are normally very expensive.
All-plastic units are getting to be more common. They are normally inexpensive, especially those made from injection molded PVDF. All-PTFE units are an excellent choice for the most corrosive applications. While inexpensive, they are disposable since they cannot be reconditioned.
Stainless steel with plastic bearing inserts are a good compromise. They can be disassembled easily and the inexpensive plastic inserts replaced as they wear.
Tank washers have an amazing variety of nozzle and orifice designs:
"Cat Eye" flat fans offer a
wide spray for complete coverage combined with large free passages that
resist clogging. A tank washer can give 360' coverage with only 3or 4
orifices. This style of orifice is the most common for standard flat fan
nozzles used in countless other cleaning applications.
Deflectors offer many of the
same characteristics as "cat eye" orifices, although these are not very
Solid streams maximize impact
but sacrifice coverage. Cleaning between the streams depends on
wash-down, which may create internal stripes if the soil is difficult to
remove. If there are lots of holes to filling gaps, they can get small
which make them easier to clog.
Slot orifices offer good
coverage, however they are can accumulate debris, which forms voids in
the spray. Make sure you have clean water or a good strainer.
Count the number of orifices.
In most cases, the fewer, the better. Larger orifices produce larger
droplets, which make for higher impact. Larger orifices are also harder
Most tank washers offer 360'coverage to wash the entire interior of the vessel. However, there is a variety of spray angles which concentrate the spray in a specific direction. Look at each application carefully and don't use more coverage than you really need. If you only need to wash below the head, use a design that only sprays down. Otherwise you are wasting your cleaning power on parts that don't need it.
Anything that rotates has to have a bearing. Since this is a critical aspect of tank washer construction, it deserves special thought:
All-stainless steel bearings are durable, resistant to temperature extremes and do not allow any potential for static electricity build-up. They also spin very easily which can make speed hard to control. If you are working in a corrosive environment, make sure you know what material the balls are. Frequently manufacturers use a harder grade of stainless for longer life, which is not as corrosion resistant. Check to make sure the unit will spin if you plan on mounting it sideways or upside down.
Plastic bearings, primarily PTFE, when combined with other stainless steel components offer a good compromise. They normally limit the rotational speed somewhat, at least until they begin to wear and get loose. Under high pressure or high temperature situations the PTFE can deform which can lead to bearing failure. Some manufacturers offer specialized materials for such applications.
Tank washer bearings leak. This happens with all models and actually helps flush and lubricate the bearing. When wear advances to the point where there is excessive mechanical play between the components, it's time for maintenance.
or Gear Driven Designs
These are the "bigger hammers" of the tank washer product spectrum, and are defined as units that use a small group of nozzles, usually solid streams, that sweep the interior of the vessel following a gear driven path. They are the most powerful and can clean the largest vessels, but this comes with a tradeoff of higher cost and mechanical complexity.
Looking at the product offering in this design class, there is a huge range of sizes, flow rates, operating pressures and characteristics. Given the cost of such units, it is worth spending some time making a thorough evaluation.
Class I cleaning for very large tanks. Class II or III cleaning in the most difficult situations or where the sheer size of the vessel demands the most extreme solution. Spray radiuses of 40 to 50 feet are certainly possible. For smaller tanks where the soil is most difficult to remove, this may be the only practical method.
Gear driven units wash
using a specific pattern, which eventually covers the entire
interior of the tank. While this is very thorough, these units have
to run for a minimum length of time to complete the task. With each
revolution they typically advance 5" to 10" so they need 40 to 80 or
more turns to make a complete circle.
True scrubbing may
require more than one circle. Shortening the time will leave
areas that are not hit directly by the spray. If a light wash is
all that's required, an incomplete cycle might be enough.
Water quality becomes a greater concern where there is a more
sophisticated mechanism. Debris or abrasive products in the liquid
can stall or cause premature wear on the moving parts. Manufacturers
go to great lengths to minimize the effect of this, but filtration
is still recommended. Some models are more tolerant than others are,
but it is difficult to get objective information if you don't have
Most units give 360' coverage. There are very few units that only
spray one direction.
When looking at a specific design and matching it to an application,
think through the particular features with the following points as your
Units are available with 1 to 6 solid stream nozzles, with 2 and 4
the most common. The total flow of the unit is divided among all the
nozzles. Adding nozzles gives more coverage with each rotation so the
interior is swept completely in less time. Fewer nozzles
concentrate the cleaning power and increase spray distance for a given
flow rate. The streams are heavier and have higher impact when not
divided among too many orifices.
Gear driven units can run at anything from normal water line pressure to 20,000 psi. Obviously, no single design covers that whole range. You need to look at your needs and consider how far you must go to get the job done.
Each design will specify
an operating range. The low end is the amount to make it move and
the high end the maximum speed the mechanism is designed to
withstand. With too much pressure the unit may rotate too fast which
will make it wear out too quickly.
While higher pressure
cleans better, it takes a lot of horsepower to provide an
adequate volume of water at that level. A small high pressure
head that sprays 20 gpm at 10,000 psi has to have a 200 hp pump
behind it. Even 35 gpm at 1,000 psi takes 30 hp. Make sure you
have the pumping capacity before you consider entering the pressure
Some manufacturers offer versions called lances
where the main drive mechanism stays outside the tank and only the
actual washing head extends inside on a pipe. When size is critical, a
lance can keep the diameter to a minimum to allow insertion through an
opening too small for a self-contained unit.
The overall lance length limits the insertion distance. If
there is a large variety of tank sizes, this can become a draw back.
For explosive atmospheres or high purity installations such as
pharmaceuticals, many users like to keep as much of the mechanism as
possible outside the tank.
If you need to operate at a wide range of pressures, a lance can give
independent control of the rotation speed regardless of the liquid
The power source on a lance can be the spray liquid, or an external
drive mechanism using an electric, hydraulic or compressed air motor to
provide the rotation force. This can provide flexibility for the
installation, but requires an additional connection to the unit.
Some units have sections of the mechanism sealed and packed in oil or grease. This protects the more complex gear trains and minimizes wear. While this was more typical in years past, there are some units currently available that still use this approach or it is available as an option. The main drawback is the potential for contamination if the washing medium breaks through the seal and forces the grease out into the process. On the upside, a sealed unit can be a way to cope with poor quality water since the water flows through less of the mechanism. With the development of more sophisticated materials, most tank washers are now are lubricated only by the washing medium. Well designed units direct the flow through the internal passages to keep them flushed with fresh supplies of liquid so no sediment or debris accumulates.
As a piece of mechanical equipment with moving parts, a tank washer will eventually require maintenance. With most you have the option of returning them to the manufacturer or doing the work yourself. Since the mechanisms vary in complexity between manufacturers, this is something to keep in mind. You can always ask to see the service manuals they supply before you buy.
There are a few tank washers that resist classification into one of these three groups. Since they are usually unique to one manufacturer, it is difficult to go into much depth without giving a sales pitch. If you carefully study the literature you receive from various manufacturers, you may find models with attributes that fall between the groups. Given the number of units on the market, there is little reason to believe that you can't get exactly what you want within practical limits. The key point is to shop around and discuss the matter with people you trust.
General Considerations and
Regardless of the tank washer design you choose there are some considerations that are universal. These suggestions are exactly that: suggestions. Nothing is absolute. Nothing works every time for every application. Think through these approaches and decide what sounds best for your specific installations.
If the tank is very tall
such as a silo, it will help to have more than one tank washer
operating at different levels.
If the tank is horizontal
and very long but must be washed from only one location, a
horizontal lance can help the spray reach into the ends.
Most washing takes place by inserting the tank washer through a spud
or other access point. For portable washing applications, simply attach
the tank washer to the end of a pipe and feed it with a hose. Just be
careful not to bang the head on the spud or tank wall.
More sophisticated units offer retractable mechanisms that can insert
and withdraw the lance for cleaning and operating cycles. While
generally expensive, this offers the ultimate in automated solutions.
If contamination is a concern, there are units designed specifically
for critical installations such as dairy, food or pharmaceutical use.
Most "sanitary" tank
washers are the static spray ball variety or smaller free spinning
units. More complex mechanisms offer too many potential sources of
contamination for these applications.
True "sanitary" tank
washers need to conform to extensive design and mounting
requirements to ensure that they do not retain either product or
washing solutions after cleaning and operating cycles.
For the most complete
analysis on the topic, 3-A offers a new standard (just adopted
officially in November 1998) for tank washer designs. Ask a
potential nozzle supplier if their unit is certified to 3-A Standard
78-00 for tank washers. This is the most sophisticated standard
The Cleaning Process
Each cleaning situation is different. Washing a tank can be as simple as a water rinse or as complex as high pressure blasting with solvents that must be collected and incinerated. If you are not sure how to approach a new application, here is one method that has many applications:
using your lowest quality water. This wets down the interior and
removes any loose soil.
First washing rinse,
using a hot alkaline cleaning solution such as 1% sodium
Water rinse to wash
out the alkaline cleaner. This can be re-used next time for the
Second washing rinse
using an acid solution to neutralize any alkaline residue and
make sure no scale is left behind from hard water. Shocking the
soil from one end of the pH scale to the other also helps break
Final rinse with
clean water that can contain any specific agents you want to
leave in the tank prior to the next operating cycle.
There are any number
of chemical companies that can help you select the best cleaning
agents for your specific needs and equipment.
carefully, making sure you are not creating hazardous wastes
from the cleaning process that will require special treatment.
You ultimately have to decide what is appropriate for your
situation based on your specific needs.
Portable Cleaning vs. CIP
Once you have studied your applications and chosen the appropriate tank washing nozzles, you now have the choice of either moving the tank washer from tank to tank or creating a CIP (clean in place) installation by mounting it in one place where it will be turned on for each cleaning cycle..
Portable tank washing approaches work the best in the following
The tanks are close
together so they can be washed from a central point.
Sufficient water or
cleaning chemical is available and handy. Even more important,
you have a place for the used solution to drain.
Cleaning cycles are
infrequent. There aren't many tanks.
You have the people
to get out and do the job. Given minimal maintenance staffs,
this has become a major consideration.
Some plants have facilitated portable washing with carts that can
be wheeled or driven around carrying the necessary chemicals, pumps
and maybe even water. Something like this coupled with a selection
of tank washing nozzles can be a practical way of moving around to
cover all your applications with minimal manpower.
On the other hand, the broad selection of tank washing nozzles
and their generally economical pricing makes permanent installation
more and more attractive. The thought of turning a valve or pushing
a button from a console to wash one or a group of tanks certainly
has its appeal. Such CIP systems can be configured to wash an entire
production line. A CIP system can be as simple as a mounted tank
washer connected to a water supply pipe. On the other end of the
spectrum, it can be highly sophisticated with automated controls to
ensure that product is never contaminated with cleaning solution.
Use the same analysis to select a tank washing nozzle for CIP use
that you would for any application.
There are many engineering companies that can help you design a
system with whatever level of complexity is required for your needs.
The move from manual cleaning to a tank washing nozzle requires either faith that it is working or some way to determine that your equipment is clean enough that it will not contaminate product.
Some products are easier to contaminate than others. A bin that
holds black plastic pellets for an injection molding machine can be
cleaned two or three times a year with little chance of
contamination other than a pencil or hardhat falling in. On the
other hand, if that same bin is having the black pellets washed out
to be replaced with white, a few that stay behind and get carried
into the white pellets can spoil many critical parts.
While that is an extreme example, the same could apply to a tank
that holds two colors of paint or two different pharmaceutical
products. Contamination in such a case could spoil product or even
The question is how to validate the cleaning process to ensure
that the tank washer you have so carefully selected is doing the
This is particularly critical if you are using an automated
process where there will be no inspection of the washing operation
on a day to day basis. To make things more complicated, if you are
using a tank washer that rotates, there has to be a way to verify
that it is indeed rotating since that is critical to the cleaning
Verifying that soil has been removed can be accomplished in a
number of ways depending on the degree of tolerable contamination.
Two critical examples include dairy and pharmaceutical applications.
A common dairy method is to take bacterial cultures using swabs
following very defined procedures. This indicates whether
disinfection has been sufficient to reach accepted levels. In
pharmaceutical applications, tanks can be coated with proteins other
substances that fluoresce under UV light. Inspection using this
method shows any weakness to the washing process.
If your validation process also demands verification that the
unit is turning, the sophisticated method is to insert a pressure
sensor into the wall of the tank that can measure the changes in
pressure on its surface as the spray passes by. There should be
regular undulations in the measurement at the same frequency of the
nozzle's rotation. A cruder method would be to listen through the
wall of the tank using a stethoscope or similar device for the same
These examples are at the high end of the spectrum. In less
critical applications, you can verify cleaning and mechanical
performance through regular inspection. The problem is that any loss
of vigilance in your inspection regimen could result in a
contaminated batch of product. Tank washers, like most things in
life, are not foolproof or infallibly reliable.
While not the silver bullet for every situation, tank washing nozzles can fill an important role for cleaning all manner of product handling equipment. When used properly through careful analysis and engineering, they can perform even the most critical operations easily and economically. In the process, your maintenance personnel stay outside the confined spaces, away from potentially harmful chemical contact.