Dry Ice Blasting & Cleaning Blog

Automated Interior Diameter Tube Cleaning Research with Dry Ice Blasting Underway

Heat Exchanger ID Tube Cleaning

Learn how Polar Clean’s ongoing collaboration with university researchers is yielding improvement in the process for automating the cleaning of interior tube diameters with dry ice.

For many years, dry ice blasting has been used to thoroughly clean the exterior diameters of pipes and tubes. Dry ice is non-abrasive and water-free so the process will not thin walls, weaken welded joints or cause rust.

Cleaning interior diameters has been a more challenging proposition, particularly for heat exchangers and reactors in petrochemical plants and refineries. At Polar Clean, we have created proprietary equipment – including specialized nozzles – and processes for cleaning internal diameters, as part of ongoing collaboration with engineers and researchers.

Problems with Interior Diameter Cleaning

The current industry standard for cleaning machinery is primarily through abrasive media or hydroblasting. These methods can cause wall thinning or introduce humidity that contributes to rust formation and polymerization in the pipe/tube interior. This equipment erosion impacts product quality and production uptime.

Both abrasive media and hydroblasting processes also require additional cleanup leading to greater downtime for critical machinery. They create secondary waste of abrasive material or water within the units that must be collected, removed, and processed so that it doesn’t cause quality control problems or environmental issues.

The current manual method of dry ice cleaning utilizes dry ice pellets that are blasted through a lance at high pressure to remove debris within pipes and tubes. The combination of clean, dry air, a dehumidifying agent and HEPA filtration ensures that no particles or moisture is left behind. This means no additional clean-up is needed, cleaning is faster, more cost effective, and critical machinery has less downtime.

Our extensive experience with manual dry ice blasting inspired the development of an automatic lancing process built around deep understanding and detailed measurement of the manual process.

Research Objectives

The goal of one current research project is to evaluate options for proving the technical feasibility of the proposed automatic lancing solution to clean the inner diameter of pipes within industrial equipment used for the maintenance of equipment and facilities. This includes the following testing objectives:

  • To acquire quantitative manual operation data on lance feeding/retraction and quality measurement as automatic solution design input
  • To design, model, simulate, and partially test the automatic lancing mechanism
  • To develop the control system and hardware selection with modeling and initial testing
  • To finalize quality control sensing method between online sensing and data-based pre-planning

The automatic lancing solution combines a mechanical feeding design with an automated system control and a smart quality control process. This approach has been developed based on our long commercial experience with manual operation of a lance applicator and key cleaning technology using dry ice.

The Research Team

The Polar Clean and university collaborators on this project have a combined 50 years of experience in their respective fields; bringing together Polar Clean’s expertise in cleaning industrial equipment through dry ice blasting and the university team’s expertise in robotics and automation.

Research Outcomes

A successful research project will validate the process for automated interior diameter dry ice cleaning to protect the high pipes and tubes used in petrochemical plants and refineries without abrasives that can thin pipe and tube walls and reduce their lifespan – and without the profit-shrinking downtime of other methods.

Additional commercial use could include cleaning of equipment used in other processes that rely on straight pipes and tubes, including a variety of reactors and heat exchange systems.

Stay tuned for results of our research…

Contact us to learn more about dry ice blasting of tubes and pipes