High-pressure Waterjet cleaning over sandblasting paint

This Waterjet Weekly is written by Dr. David Summers, Curator Professor from The University of Missouri Science and Technology.

This Waterjet Weekly is written by Dr. David Summers, Curator Professor from The University of Missouri Science and Technology.

High-pressure Waterjet cleaning over sandblasting paint

Over the years I have been caught up in “discussions” with several folk about how good high-pressure and ultra-high pressure waterjet streams were as a surface cleaning tool, in contrast with chemical and abrasive use in removing paint and other surface layers. One debate was about cleaning some particularly toxic chemicals from various surfaces. The point that often comes up in these discussions is that of “how clean is clean?” And in this particular case it was stated that the surface could never be completely cleaned. The rationale for that position was because the chemicals would enter into any cracks and flaws in the paint, and could therefore be retained either in the top coat, or the underlying primer. My answer to that was to take a small sample and clean the surface over the first quarter, raise the pressure and remove the top coat on the second quarter, raise the pressure further and remove the primer down to bare metal on the third quarter, and then, after adding a small amount of abrasive to the water, remove a thin surface coat of metal from the sample. It seemed to be a convincing demonstration, though I will come back to one problem in a later post, and for this post I will discuss taking the paint off.

It is now reasonably well known that high-pressure water can be cost effective as a way of removing paint, particularly from large structures such as bridges, and ship hulls, but it took a while for some of the benefits to become evident.

Quebec Bridge surface clean with waterjet blasting

Figure 1. It was originally estimated that it would save some $1.75 Canadian per square foot to clean the Quebec Bridge with ultra-high pressure waterjets, rather than sandblasting. That increases to $4.50 per sq. ft. were hand tools the alternative (WJTA Jet News, March 2000)

There are 8-million square feet of surface in the bridge. As I noted at the end of the last post, the historic method for cleaning surfaces, and removing deteriorated paint has been to suspend abrasive particles in an air stream, and to use those particles to abrade and erode the paint from the surface. When the paint, rust and other coatings have been removed the job is often considered finished when the surface is restored to a nice shiny surface finish. There is, however, a snag, when one does this. The numbers that I was once given were on the order of: from the time that a railroad wagon was put into service, it would take 5 years before it would require stripping and repainting. After that first treatment, however, the paint would deteriorate more quickly and often within another 18-months the wagon would have to be taken back for repainting.

So why is this, and why does high/ultra-high pressure paint removal help extend the life of that second paint coating? I, and the industry, are deeply indebted to Dr. Lydia Frenzel who did a lot of the pioneering work in helping to define the benefits of the technology, and then spread the word about them. The problem begins as the surface begins to corrode, and I will continue to use the wagon as the example, though the result holds true for many surfaces. As the rust and damage continues to eat through the paint and into the underlying metal, that surface is not attacked evenly, but, instead small pockets of corrosion develop, where the metal is eaten away more in the middle or along the sides of the pocket.

By the time that the surface is ready to be painted it is no longer, therefore, smooth, but rather is pitted and covered in corrosion.

Illustratin of surface erosion waterblasting

Figure 2. Exaggerated illustration of the condition of the surface, with the overlying corrosion shown in green.

When the surface is cleaned with an abrasive, typically driven using an air stream to sandblast the surface, the particles will impact and distort the surface. Thus while the majority of the corrosion will be removed by the impact and scouring action of the abrasive, some will not. Further the impact of the abrasive particles will bend over the weaker structures on the surface as well as peeling over some of the metal on the surface.

microscope photo of erosion edge waterblasted

Figure 3. Electron microscope picture of a piece of metal on the edge of a pass by an abrasive laden stream, so that the action of the individual particles in cutting into and plowing the surface can be seen. Note that this peels over metal edges, for example at the arrows.

The peeling over of the surface, and the flattening of it give the shine that used to be the sign that the job had been effectively done. There are, however, two disadvantages to this. The first is that by distorting the surface, the bending over of the metal traps small pockets of corrosion within the surface layer of the metal.

Illustration of metal surface after cleaning with water blasting

Figure 4. Representation of the metal surface after it has been cleaned with abrasive. Note the folding over of metal to trap corrosion products. The abrasive particles are also not small enough to penetrate into the smallest tendrils of corrosion migrating into the metal, and these pockets (green) also are trapped.

With corrosion already embedded in the surface, before it is painted, that will develop immediately and thus the relatively short time before it undercuts the paint and causes it to fall off. There is also another reason for this. As air pressure is increased to speed up the cleaning, and give that “shinier” surface it smooths the surface and makes it more difficult to anchor the paint on the metal. This was shown by F.W. Neville (and is quoted in the book “Blast Cleaning and Allied Processes, by H.J. Plaster) with this table:

Relative paint pull strength with air pressure

Figure 5. Relative paint pull strength as a function of the pressure of the air driving the sandblasting stream in pre-cleaning the surface of the old paint, prior to repainting.

As the table shows, the higher the air pressure then the smoother the surface, and the poorer the bond made with the paint.

Now consider what happens when a high-pressure jet cleans the surface. The water does not have the power to distort the metal, but rather does have the ability to penetrate all the cracks and pits on the surface, and flush them clean. As a result the surface is left rough (to give a good paint bond) and corrosion free.

Illustration of the relative condition after waterjet blasting

Figure 6. Illustration of the relative condition in which a high-pressure waterjet will leave the surface.

One of the difficulties that early proponents such as Lydia had in getting the technique accepted, however, lay in the cleanliness of the surface. Because the metal had not been distorted back into a smooth upper surface, it does not reflect light in the “shiny” manner that an abrasive cleaned surface does. Thus to those trained to the latter, it did not appear clean. There had to be a considerable amount of demonstration, explanation and training before it was accepted that this “grey” surface was actually cleaner. And there are now standards, issued by the Steel Structure Painting Council, that recognize this.

Before and after photo of primer coated plate waterjet blasted

Figure 7. A primer coated plate (left) that has been cleaned to white metal (right) using a high pressure waterjet.

Note that actual microphotos of abrasive and waterjet cleaned metal surfaces can be found in the paper by Howlett and Dupuy (Howlett & Dupuy, NACE Corrosion/92, paper No. 253; Mat. Perf, Jan. 1993, p. 38, the waterjet pressure was 30,000 psi).

 

Waterjet Technology – Higher pressure washing with power.

This Waterjet Weekly is written by Dr. David Summers, Curator Professor from The University of Missouri Science and Technology.

This Waterjet Weekly is written by Dr. David Summers, Curator Professor from The University of Missouri Science and Technology.

Waterjet Technology – Higher pressure washing with power.

Happy New Year.

With record low temperatures covering most of The United States, 40 degree weather looks very appealing this week.

In the last post, on surface cleaning, I showed how the jet from a fan nozzle spread very quickly once the water left the orifice. With this spread the stream got thinner, to the point that, very rapidly the jet broke into droplets. These droplets decelerate very rapidly in the air, and disintegrate into mist which rapidly slows down. That mist has little capacity but to get a surface wet, and thus, within a very short few inches, the jet loses power and the ability to clean.

How can we overcome this? Obviously the jet would work better if it could carry the energy to a greater distance. And the jet that does that (as we know from trips to Disney) is a cylindrical stream. In some parts of the cleaning trade this is known as a zero degree jet, to distinguish it from the fifteen degree or other angular designation of the fan jet nozzles that it is often sold with.

But the problem with a single cylindrical jet is that it has a very narrow point of application. Depending on the standoff from the nozzle to the target this will increase a little as the distance grows, but is still likely to be less than a tenth of an inch. That, by itself, would make cleaning a bridge deck a long and laborious job. But consider that if we spun the jet so that it is tilted out to cover a 15 degree cone, the same angle as the best of the fan jets, the water would travel further. With a good nozzle it is possible to extend the range to 3 ft, rather than the typical 4 inches of a fan jet.

Figure 1. The gain in performance when a fan spray is changed to a rotating cylindrical jet. (initially proposed by Veltrup, these are our numbers).

Figure 1. The gain in performance when a fan spray is changed to a rotating cylindrical jet. (initially proposed by Veltrup, these are our numbers).

In both cases the water flows out of the orifice at the same volume and pressure. But with the rotating jet the water is able to carry the energy some 9 times as far. As a result the area covered is 9-times as wide, and the job is carried out faster.

You can also look at it another way. It takes only about 10% of the water and the power to clean the surface with the rotating jet, as opposed to the amount required to clean with the fan jet. This is even though the pump unit and the flow rates are the same in both cases. This is why, when you buy some of the smaller pressure washers, they include a nozzle that has a round orifice and which then oscillates within a holder. Not quite as efficient as a controlled movement, but at least it is a start.

Now, of course, life is never quite as simple as it at first appears. Because the jet is being rotated there is sometimes, if the jet is being spun fast enough, some breakup of the jet because of the speed of rotation. And so, in the above example, too high rotation speed would have a disadvantage. Doug Wright showed this in a paper he presented to the WJTA in 2007.

Figure 2. The effectiveness of a rotating jet, at two speeds and at different distances (Doug Wright 2007 WJTA Conference Houston).

Figure 2. The effectiveness of a rotating jet, at two speeds and at different distances (Doug Wright 2007 WJTA Conference Houston).

On the other hand because the jet has to make a complete rotation before it comes back to the same point on the coverage width, if the lance is moving too fast relative to that turning speed, then the jet will miss part of the surface that it is supposed to be cleaning.

I can illustrate this with a sort of an example. To make it obvious the rotating jet has enough power to cut into the material that it is being spun, and moved over. If the rotation speed is too slow, relative to the speed that the head is moving over the surface, then the grooves cut into the surface won’t touch one another and small ribs of material are left in the surface. This is not a good thing, either from a cleaning or mining perspective. The material we were cutting in this case was a simulated radioactive waste, that an improved design later went on to extract as a “hot” material in a real world project. These materials tend to be unforgiving if they are not properly cleaned off.

Figure 3. Cutting path into simulant showing the grooves and ribs where the rotation speed is not properly matched to the speed of the head over the surface.

Figure 3. Cutting path into simulant showing the grooves and ribs where the rotation speed is not properly matched to the speed of the head over the surface.

There is another answer, which is becoming more popular for a couple of different reasons. If the pressure of the water is increased, then the jet will remain coherent for a greater distance, at a higher rotation speed. Going to a higher rotation speed, also brings in an additional change in the design of the cleaning head.

 Figure 4. Cleaning head concept sectioned to show vacuum capture of the debris through the suction line after the jet has removed the material and washed it into the blue cylinder.


Figure 4. Cleaning head concept sectioned to show vacuum capture of the debris through the suction line after the jet has removed the material and washed it into the blue cylinder.

As the pressure increases, so the energy of the water and the debris rebounding from the surface increase. To a point this is good, since once they are away from the surface it is relatively simple, if the cleaning operation is confined within a small space by a covering dome, to attach a vacuum line to the dome, and suck all the water and debris into a recovery line. The surface remains relatively dry, all the water and debris is captured, and the tool can be made small enough, and light enough, that it can be moved either by a man or on the end of a robotically controlled arm. (The arm we designed the head for was over 30-ft long, which means that the forces from the jets had to be quite small).

With the higher pressure also comes the advantage that the amount of water that is required, for example to remove a lead-bearing paint from a surface, is much lower. If the water becomes contaminated by the material being washed off, then not only has the total volume to be collected, which is an expense, but it also must be stored and then properly be disposed of. And that may cost several times the cost of the actual cleaning operation, if the contaminant is particularly nasty. So reducing the volume of the water is particularly useful.

A friend of mine called Andrew Conn came up with the idea, for removing asbestos coatings from buildings, of tailoring the pressure and the flow from the nozzles, so that the amount of water required was just enough that it was absorbed by the asbestos as it was removed. Simplified and reduced the costs of cleanup, where that was a significant part of the overall price.

And speaking of using higher-pressure water, this means that there is no need for the abrasive additive, when cleaning say a ship hull. And that means that there is no need to buy, collect, and dispose of the abrasive during the operation.

Figure 5. Spent cleaning abrasive at a shipyard.

Figure 5. Spent cleaning abrasive at a shipyard.

There are other advantages to the use of high pressure water over abrasive when cleaning metal, and I’ll talk about that subject a little next time.