Dry ice blast-cleaning could save South Africa at least one level of load shedding if all the power generators are dry ice blast-cleaned on a planned maintenance schedule within the next 12 to 24 months, says Deon Roux, CEO of Dry Ice Blasting Services. SA BUSINESS INTEGRATOR spoke to him to find out more…
What is the background to Dry Ice Blasting Services?
Dry Ice Blasting Service (DIBS) was born out of Dry Ice International. I was part of the startup 30 years ago, and we were the first company to bring dry ice blasting from the USA to Africa.
From the beginning, DIBS was part of Dry Ice International, but due to the rapid growth of the dry ice blasting market, it was decided five years ago to form a separate entity for blasting. The main focus was the dry ice blasting market in Southern Africa.
Dry Ice International is the mother company and supplies dry ice pellets to DIBS from six different manufacturing sites in South Africa, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days a year. DIBS delivers the dry ice blasting service, either on a contract basis, planned shutdown cleaning or 24-hour emergency cleaning.
What was the rationale behind starting this business?
My background is mechanical engineering. During the first part of my career I worked as an engineer in a chemical factory. One of the plants at the factory manufactured liquid CO2 from a fermentation process. Downstream from that was a dry ice plant, on which I spent time maintaining and optimising the plant.
This company was bought by an international chemical company and the liquid CO2 and dry ice plants were shut down just after I left to start Dry Ice International.
What is dry ice blasting and what are some of the benefits?
Dry ice blasting is similar to sand blasting, where 3mm dry ice pellets are accelerated in a pressurised air stream to impact the surface to be cleaned. Once in contact with the surface, the dry ice evaporates.
This process is called sublimation and this unique characteristic of dry ice is what makes it ideal for cleaning a variety of industrial equipment.
During the cleaning process two things happen – high kinetic energy impact and a thermal shock.
Which industries benefit the most?
Cleaning of the stators and rotors on large electrical motors, generators, and electrical panels that have been damaged by electrical flash or fire damage, mould cleaning, removal of ink on printing presses, cleaning of chemical plants and tanks, and food manufacturing plants.
Which industries would benefit in the long-term?
ESKOM is one which could benefit from dry ice blast-cleaning of their generators, transformers, and steam turbine rotor blades.
Dry ice blasting can make a significant difference to the downtime, efficiency and lifespan of generators by dry ice blast-cleaning of the stators and rotors on the large generators at all the major power generation stations in South Africa.
What is the impact from an environment and safety perspective?
The use of dry ice pellets eliminates any solvent or chemicals and solid waste, like sand, as it sublimates into the atmosphere after the cleaning process. It is like an industrial dry cleaning process without any secondary waste.
How does this service enable improved efficiencies?
Downtime on electrical stators and rotors can be cut by as much as 80%. The costs of cleaning a large electrical generator can be recovered in less than a month due to the improved output and higher efficiencies.
Considering the challenges facing South Africa, can the service offerings potentially assist to plug the gap?
During major breakdowns, dry ice blast cleaning can be done in parallel to emergency repairs and maintenance without any major disturbances to the technicians. We have teams that are on 24-hour standby in case of any electrical emergency in Southern Africa.
Many breakdowns occur due to short circuiting of the electrical control equipment. This happens when regular maintenance cleaning is not done to remove the carbon build-up between circuits. Dry blast cleaning is the perfect process to clean these circuits quickly and effectively, almost certainly eliminating short circuits due to carbon build up.
What other services do you offer?
DIBS also sells dry ice blasting machines to the industry in Southern Africa. We empower the client to do the dry ice blasting themselves or we offer a service and do regular blast cleaning for the client, depending on their needs.
What opportunity is there for SMMEs to enter this field, and enable job creation?
Many SMMEs have bought their own blasters. We take them through a training programme, highlighting all the correct safety equipment needed and accessories for the blasting equipment. We supply them with dry ice pellets and back-up service on the dry ice blasting equipment.
What are some of the indicators that could stimulate the dry ice blasting market locally and into Africa?
We have developed an alternative and less expensive dry ice blaster over the past three years. We supply the machine on a rental base to the client at an affordable monthly cost. The client uses the machine in his workshop or factory, as and when needed.
A new initiative we have started is providing a machine at no cost against a service level agreement coupled to minimum purchases of dry ice monthly.
How do you foresee the expansion of the company?
We have grown by at least 20% a year over the past 10 years, and believe that we will maintain this growth rate to 2030 and beyond.
Our operations are national with facilities in Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape and we recently established a new manufacturing facility in the Western Cape in December 2022. We are in the process of further expansion with the aim to establish manufacturing facilities in all the provinces by 2030.