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Fuel Tank Inspections

Industrial fuel tanks are classified as hazardous areas. In many cases, the tanks are hazardous even when they are empty and typically you need special tools to perform inspections, handle maintenance, and repairs.

Cracks, leaks, and damage can happen to containers or tanks, creating high-risk incidents that can be avoided with regular inspections. Since inspections are mandatory in most industries, documenting the entire container or tank, inside and outside, can help ensure you are complying with industry requirements. From gasoline to chemicals, you will find fuel tanks in many industries including:

  • Gas carriers
  • Crude Oil Tankers
  • Aircraft
  • Helicopters
  • Chemical plants
  • Distilleries
  • Pharmaceutical plants
  • Cars and trucks

A fuel tank inspection, for example, may involve one or more of the following: an external visual inspection; non-destructive testing (examination); assessing the containers’ condition for service. Industry standards establish the scope and frequency for inspections that consider conditions such as age, service history, original construction (shop-built vs. field-erected, welded steel vs. riveted steel), prior inspections results, and the existing condition of the container.

Different Methods of Inspection

The types of tanks range from automobile fuel tanks to commercial sized chemical storage containers. Depending on the type of container, integrity testing may be as simple as an external visual inspection or may involve more complicated methods of non-destructive testing. Frequent external visual inspections can be completed by trained facility personnel, but, in some cases, the requirement to conduct regular inspections may involve hiring specialized personnel. 

Large product storage tanks can be found at chemical processing plants, refineries, and industrial locations. These larger tanks, in some cases, require inspection robots and a team dedicated to inspecting every inch of the tank. These robots have magnetic wheels that cling to the tank walls. An operator uses remote controls and guides them into positions and makes the necessary measurements. These robots can have video and photo capabilities as well as making them an efficient and safer alternative.

A properly trained and equipped maintenance crew is crucial in preventing injury during fuel tank work. A typical fuel tank entry crew includes an entry supervisor, standby attendant, and the entry personnel. Each crew member must be able to recognize potential hazards and evacuate the tank if conditions deteriorate. The entry crew must individually and collectively be aware of continuous voice communications, respiratory protection, proper ventilation, air monitoring and the use of electrically powered equipment.

For smaller tank inspections, a borescope will help you to identify any internal issues not easily seen by the naked eye. A borescope has the ability to capture video or still images. Due to the optical fibers, a borescope has the ability to access small out of reach areas as well as reach cavities which are around a bend such as tube bundles or combustion chambers.

Fuel tanks for aircraft and vehicles can be inspected using a borescope. Their flexible and lit options can reach small, dark spaces and the models with photo and video are useful in documenting inspections, maintenance, repairs or as training resources.

Why Inspect Fuel Tanks and Storage Containers?

  1. To evaluate the structural integrity of the tanks The older a tank becomes, the more at risk it is for structural defects such as cracks, leaks or corrosion. Regular maintenance and inspection can catch any flaws before they get worse, causing downtime and deconstruction of the equipment.
  2. To evaluate the interior condition of lined tanks Certain contents can eat away at the lining of a tank causing structural defects. Using an inspection robot or video borescope will keep you safe during inspections and provide you documentation for verification, training or review.
  3. Find the source of clogged filters Clogged filters can weaken the performance of the system and can eventually lead to failed equipment. Insufficient fuel supply causes the engine to stall; fuel filter clogging can lead to an insufficient fuel supply. Proper inspections of the equipment can help prevent the clogging of filters which can lead to a series of other problems.
  4. Locate debris in tanks Over time, buildup can occur within tanks and debris like dust, sand or rocks can settle in the tank. Ensuring the tank has no debris can ensure the equipment run properly and filters remain unclogged.

Inspecting Airplane Fuel Tanks

According to the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA), an estimated 12,000 aircraft will be retired in the next two years and today, 80-85% of an aircraft is recycled. Aircraft maintenance checks are required after a certain number of flight hours. Some inspections are done overnight or at the gate. Others, however, require the use of a hangar and may put the aircraft out of service. A crucial part of maintenance requires a professional to inspect and modify the aircraft fuel tanks and associated systems. For this, inspection and maintenance personnel have to physically enter the fuel tank where many hazards exist.

There are two potential dangers for workers who are entering the tank; physical and chemical. The physical characteristics of the tank itself can create hazards and can also exacerbate fire, explosion, and toxicity hazards. The most commonly recognized hazard of fuel-tank work is the jet fuel itself. Jet fuel is flammable chin a liquid state that can be ignited given certain conditions, primarily temperature and vapor concentration. Chemicals, including jet fuel, present toxic or irritant hazards. Jet fuel and other hydrocarbons, in large amounts, can affect the nervous system, causing headache, dizziness, and lack of coordination.

When inspecting an aircraft fuel tank, look for any wear and tear or damage. All applicable panels of an aircraft's structure should be removed and inspected for corrosion on the external surfaces, for the security of attachment, and for correct adjustments. Make sure all units are securely attached and the valves in the fuel system should be opened to check for the presence of sediment or water.

Over time, chemicals can eat away at containers causing internal damage. Identifying any flaws and required maintenance is the most important reason to get containers and tanks inspected. The type of inspection needed will depend on site-specific conditions and should be conducted by professional and experienced personnel. Not all storage containers or tanks are inspected the same but the universal goal of inspections is to ensure safety and serviceable conditions.

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SPI BORESCOPES

SPI Borescopes & Inspection technology is a United States based company that serves North America and the international industrial inspection markets. SPI specializes in strategic production and distribution of high-quality Remote Visual Inspection Tools, such as Borescopes, Endoscopes, Industrial Cameras and more. We are here to make your inspection processes more efficient, more effective and to put it simply: better.

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SPI Borescopes
200 SE 1st Street, Suite 502
Miami, FL 33131

800-540-7429
info@spiborescopes.com
FAX: 888-871-7597

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