Benefits of Robotic Water Blasting for Surface Cleaning Applications
Traditionally, sandblasting has been the method of choice for rust and paint removal, as well as concrete surface preparation applications. However, changing standards in safety and environmental protection are causing many to question whether it’s still the best option. Compared with other methods, such as robotic water blasting, the answer is often no.
By Roger Simonsson, Managing Director, Aquajet Systems
Over the last 30 years, advances in hydrodemolition technology have led to water-blasting equipment that produces better results, more safely and efficiently than sandblasting, and with less environmental impact. Here are some of the benefits:
Applications such as sandblasting require a lot of physical exertion, as operators must constantly resist back thrust. Personal protection equipment—respirators and protective clothing, for example—can also increase fatigue and strain during prolonged operations.
Fatigue and other safety factors might not be quite as much of a concern for smaller sandblasting applications, such as removing graffiti from a building. But for larger operations, such as rust or paint removal on a bridge or from a tanker’s hull, the toll on workers can be significant. Repeated over days, weeks or years, this type of prolonged physical exertion can lead to a number of injuries, which, in turn, decreases productivity and drives up costs for insurance and workers’ compensation.
With robotic water blasting, or hydroblasting, the heavy lifting is left to the machines while crew members stand safely out of the way. These machines are available with a number of attachments that enable operation over large areas — vertical, horizontal, and overhead —allowing workers to remain safely on the ground. When additional reach is needed, robotic water blasting might include a basic scaffolding system for the machine or additional tower sections or attachments.
Additionally, robotic water blasting is ideal for confined space operations, requiring fewer workers and eliminating the risk of silica dust exposure. In some cases, the robot can even be operated from a location completely outside the confined space zone.
In addition to safer operation, robotic water blasting offers a level of precision and productivity far above traditional sandblasting. This is thanks in part to the incredibly high pressure available from industry-leading water blasting equipment. These systems operate at up to 40,000 psi (2,758 bar) and can easily obtain International Concrete Repair Institute concrete surface profiles from 5 to 10, with results below CSP 5 achievable with certain equipment. Using robotic water blasting, contractors can see production rates at CSP 5 ranging from 500.5 to 1,799.7 ft2 (46.5 to 167.2 m2) per hour, depending on equipment configurations.
While robotic water blasting byproducts still require containment, collection and cleaning, the process is much easier and more cost-effective because the primary byproduct is water. During the process, a small portion of the water is lost due to evaporation and surface absorption in certain applications. The rest can be easily collected using gravity and a system of dams. Like the used sand, this wastewater will contain small bits of removed material that must be properly handled.
While sand can be reused many times, there is no effective way to remove particles. It has to be stored between jobs and disposed of when it is no longer usable. With an on-site water treatment system, debris can be easily removed from wastewater, allowing operators to reuse the water or safely release it.
Time for a Change
Making the switch to robotic water blasting might seem daunting at first, but an operation employing the right system will find quick success. For best results, work with a reputable OEM for system tailored to fit specific needs. But hurry, before the last few grains of sand fall through the hourglass and you’re left in the dust.
Roger Simonsson is the managing director of Aquajet. He has more than 30 years of industry and leadership experience.