Maintaining the optimum reactive level of form release agents in pipe production dip tanks ensures performance and quality.
By Bob Waterloo
The author of this story summed up the entire problem and solution of dip tank maintenance with this poem:
I started the day, the tank was full,
all the pipes were an easy pull.
By the end of the week, things weren’t so well,
the pipe release has gone to hell.
I checked the tank, it was still to the top,
I don’t understand why the good release has stopped.
And then I remembered there was one thing gone,
enough reactive to release like a song.
During production, one thing became clear,
some of the reactive material had disappeared.
It was a result of sludge in the tank,
and I corrected it before things sank.
The test showed a decrease, which was to be expected,
and I simply added some material to bring back the reactive.
Now things are good, and production is up,
but I now remember to check out the “stuff.”
Dip tanks play a critical role in the dry-cast pipe production process for many manufacturers. The reactive properties of the fatty acids in the form release agent enable the pipe to smoothly release from the pallet/header. Here’s the problem. The cement/concrete residue left behind when headers are dipped begins to negate the reactive properties of the fatty acids.
Left unchecked, the form release agent eventually begins to lose its effectiveness, pipes will not pull easily from the headers and quality could suffer. The solution: a regular program of monitoring and maintenance that keeps the form release at the optimum reactive release level and reduces replacement and disposal costs.
Benefits of a dip tank
Reactive form release agents are the accepted standard in today’s precast and pipe-forming operations. Fatty acids, which are found in an infinite number of blends, are the most commonly used reactive material. Fatty acids have the unique ability to react with the free lime on the surface of the concrete, which results in a nonviolent chemical reaction. This neutralization (or saponification) forms a metallic soap, allowing the product to easily release.
There are a number of benefits to using a dip tank to apply form release during pipe-forming operations, including complete coverage, proper release and reduced chance of operator error. However, a common occurrence when using this method of manufacturing is increasing difficulty with “pulls” or “tip-outs” during stripping over a period of production time. This is generally the result of decreased reactive material in the dip tank as contaminants enter the system and negate some of the reactive material.
Maintaining the dip tank
Two areas must be addressed in the preventive maintenance program for this type of equipment:
- Regular maintenance to remove sludge that accumulates in the bottom of the dip tank
- Regular maintenance of the release agent’s reactive levels for effective release
The sludge generated in the dip tank includes contaminants from previously dipped headers/joint rings. These contaminants negate the reactive portion of the form release. As the reactive portion of the release agent gradually decreases, the possibility of concrete sticking to the headers increases, causing a more difficult release. The rate of decrease is gradual and depends on a number of factors, including rate of production and amount of contaminants allowed to enter the dip tank.
Rather than disposing of the entire tank of form release, transfer it to a holding tank and shovel out the sludge. Because the sludge typically contains petroleum hydrocarbons, disposal should be in compliance with local regulations. Then transfer the recovered form release agent back into the dip tank and top it off with fresh release agent.
Remember that by adding fresh release agent to the recovered material, rather than using all new release agent, reactive levels will be reduced and release problems will occur sooner unless the reactive portion is tested and brought back to a normal level. The discoloration of the recovered material from the dip tank is not relevant to the release characteristics, or levels of reactive material.
Maintaining reactive release levels
Maintaining the correct level of reactive agent in the form release is quite simple. Test the recovered material and bring the reactive portion back to optimum levels.
Test a sample from the dip tank (less than one ounce is sufficient) for the reactive level through either titration or infrared analysis. Your release agent supplier should be able to tell you the optimum level of reactive material required, and may be able to run the analysis for you. Once you determine the level of fatty acids, a number of simple calculations determine the amount of pure reactive agent to be added to the dip tank to bring it back to the optimum reactive level.
After adding the recommended amount of reactive material to the dip tank, use an air lance for mixing for a minimum of two minutes, making sure to cover the entire area of the dip tank. Then top off the dip tank with fresh release agent and air lance again for good distribution.
Depending on the amount of contaminants and reduced reactive material, the timeframe between tests will vary. One way to determine the frequency between tests is to establish a baseline. Begin with tests every 30 days, which should be recorded, until a history can be compiled to determine the needed frequency. Normal frequency of adding more reactive ingredients is typically five gallons for every six weeks of normal production.
In many cases, production workers can see the reduced effectiveness of release agents. It’s important to train them to notify management to add additional reactive material to the dip tank. As usual, science is best, but practical application and analysis are also important.
Total replacement of form release
While removing sludge and maintaining dip tanks by adding new release as needed make sense from an environmental and cost perspective, on occasion you may feel it necessary to clean the entire dip tank to remove all residual sludge and refill the cleaned dip tank with fresh release agent.
Dip tank maintenance comes down to five options. Option 1 is the least cost-effective, while Option 5 is the most cost-effective.
Option 1: Drain the dip tank, dispose of the sludge and old release material, then refill only with fresh form release agent.
Option 2: Remove the form release from the dip tank, dispose of the sludge, refill the dip tank with fresh form release, then use the recovered form release to replenish the dip tank as necessary.
Option 3: Remove the form release from the dip tank, dispose of the sludge, refill the tank with recovered form release, then top off with fresh form release.
Option 4: Remove the form release from dip tank, dispose of the sludge, test the recovered form release, add reactive ingredient to bring it back to an optimum level, then top off with fresh form release.
Option 5: If there is not enough sludge to remove but the release is not as good as it should be, test for the reactive level of the release agent in the tank, then add reactive material to return it to an optimum level.
In the long run, a little care and attention to the reactive content level in the dip tank will help to reduce labor costs and maintain or improve casting appearance.
John Pelicone says
Instead of a dip tank why not spray on form release agent. I know it takes longer, but could save more form release agent.
Also does this method remove more bug holes instead of spraying.
Sara Geer says
Thanks for your comments and questions John. Here’s a response from Bob Waterloo. “First, and perhaps most important, is that the article is designed for “headers,” not pallets. From my travels and experience, pallets are always sprayed—not dipped. That being the case, there are benefits and detriments to both methods of applications.
As to the dip tank, over-application and higher usage of form release could be a concern. You are, however, assured of complete coverage of the headers. Labor is reduced through an automated system, and I also believe that dip-tank operations have the headers “tilted” slight (when withdrawn from the dip-tank) to help remove excess release agent. A lower viscosity release agent is of benefit here, as the pallets will “drain” better than with a higher viscosity material.
As to spraying vs. a dip tank:
What is the labor cost of an employee spraying the headers?
What is the cost of a small additional amount of form release agent vs. spraying by hand?
Are you assured of complete coverage (due to the configurations of the headers)?
What is the cost of clean-up after spraying?
There are other questions in considering cost, but these would be the most obvious.
If the headers are sprayed, there is generally a concern about the over-spray that ends up on the floor. This area becomes slippery and a walking hazard. A controlled area, such as a large pan to put the headers in for spraying, helps to contains the over-spray material and which can then be recovered.
As to reducing bug holes, my feelings are that bug holes are generally caused due to mix design and vibratory practices. As pipe utilizing the dip-tank method, dry cast is always used, so I do not feel that bug holes and form release are related in this case.”
Bob invites you John to contact him if you have more questions. You can reach him at his office at Hill & Griffith Co. at 317-542-3362.