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Timing is everything

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The Apple Newton, internet grocery delivery services, video laser discs, and the General Motors EV1 were all products that were ahead of their time, and all were destined to fall short of their initial promise. Most often these failures were the result of imperfect technology, a lack of robust infrastructure, and high costs which prevented a successful return on investment. And yet, all these inventions returned, in time, as the iPhone, Instacart (among others), DVDs, and Tesla. Once all the necessary elements had been worked out, each became a successful product.

Timing is everything

The storage tank industry is not immune to such excursions into new and promising yet under-developed and unproven technologies. One recent example is the introduction of welded full-contact aluminium internal floating roofs (AIFRs). A noble idea, but one that, like the earlier examples, is ahead of its time.

The industry has historically been very slow to adopt new technologies, regardless of the promise of improved efficiencies, improved safety, and decreased environmental risk or emissions – and rightfully so. The risks of taking on new, unproven technology are simply too high. Consequences can include tank cleaning to remove a malfunctioning product, reputational damage from an accidental product release, or worse, a safety incident where someone is hurt or killed. These costs make the industry understandably wary of replacing tried and trusted solutions, even if imperfect, with newer products or methods that lack a proven track record and operating history.

And yet, every once in a while, a product or work method comes along that holds so much promise, and represents such a great leap forward, that it is worth the risk.

A closer look at the AIFR

AIFRs were once considered unorthodox, given their lightweight design and relatively limited lifespan, at least compared to traditional carbon steel roof designs. Environmental considerations such as the desire to eliminate or minimise vapour spaces as would be found in cone roof tanks without floating roofs, coupled with the economics of reducing product heel, led to the introduction and lengthy adoption of this new technology. Many expensive lessons were learned along the way, as can be relayed by terminal operators everywhere. Nonetheless...

Written by Jeff Heath, Matrix Applied Technologies, USA.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Tanks & Terminals. To read the full article, and other great technical articles in this issue, view the full issue here. You can also register to receive a free regular copy of the magazine here.

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