Mobile System Stops Contamination

Olli Lamminen, a Finnish expatriate who has been around motor vehicles all his life, knows the dirt, so to speak, on the U.S. trucking industry. Whether it is hauling coal from a mine, debris from a construction site, or refuse to a landfill, trucks are the lifeblood of business in America. Those are also dirty businesses—a fact that aroused the entrepreneur in Lamminen.


Olli Lamminen, a Finnish expatriate who has been around motor vehicles all his life, knows the dirt, so to speak, on the U.S. trucking industry. Whether it is hauling coal from a mine, debris from a construction site, or refuse to a landfill, trucks are the lifeblood of business in America.

Those are also dirty businesses—a fact that aroused the entrepreneur in Lamminen. “Environmental tire track-out problems are beginning to get attention from state environmental agencies,” says Lamminen, sales and marketing manager for InterClean Equipment in Ypsilanti, MI. “A truck leaving a mine or landfill can average 500 lb of dirt and debris on its tires and lower chassis. Over time, that is a lot of pollution being carried to our public roads.”

Founded in 1984, InterClean sells cleaning systems to public works departments, transit systems, construction and quarry contractors, railroads, and the military. Their biggest customers are waste management companies, for washing garbage trucks.

The company also has experience with disaster zone clean up. After the World Trade Center disaster in New York City, InterClean won an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contract to set up and operate three wash facilities at the site to wash asbestos, jet-fuel residue, and other toxic ash from the 500-plus debris-carrying trucks that left the site each day.

Faced with the challenge, Lamminen and InterClean’s engineers developed the Red Wolf series of completely automated tire and lower chassis wash systems for the EPA. InterClean teamed with the Applications & Solutions Group of industrial automation and controls manufacturer Schneider Electric, and high-pressure pump manufacturer Goulds Pumps, ITT Industries, to meet the EPA’s request.

“Asbestos was used up to the 41st floor in construction of the first World Trade Center tower, so the EPA needed wash facilities quickly,” he says. “We developed our first three rapid-deployment wash facilities, or RDWF, and had them onsite in just five weeks. That started the fully automated Red Wolf cleaning system line.”

The key to the Red Wolf system, according to Lamminen, is its ability to unleash large quantities of water. “Up until we introduced Red Wolf, tire washing and its enforcement in the U.S. was hampered by the fact that our trucks are difficult to wash,” he says. “Most of our heavy-haul trucks have eight to 13 axles, so, although the number of tires on American trucks increases the need for tire washing, it also makes tire-wash equipment expensive and complex, until now.”

High-pressure cleaning

The Red Wolf system incorporates an open-grated settling pit 80 ft long and 20 ft wide, with 6 ft walls on either side. Portable systems—like those designed for the World Trade Center clean up—incorporate a conveyor for solids removal rather than a settling pit. Hundreds of spray nozzles placed on the ground in the truck-tire path and along either side are connected to piping that runs from two 400 gal./min high-volume pumps. As the truck passes over the nozzles, water sprays into the tire treads and along the lower chassis, loosening dirt and debris. The system filters effluent to collect solid materials and recycles 95% of the water.

The system is automated, according to Lamminen. “The truck passes through a photo-electric eye to start the wash cycle and the driver just keeps the truck steady as it moves over the wash platforms,” he says. “The driver never leaves the cab, and he’s off the site in minutes.”

Schneider Electric supplies TeSys U-Line motor starters from Telemecanique and Modicon Momentum PLCs. The starters use a plug-in modular design that allows maximum flexibility in controlling the Red Wolf system’s ten 20- and 40-hp pump motors. The PLCs enable communication with a full range of Ethernet TCP/IP-compatible control products, so a Red Wolf system operator can view diagnostic information using a standard Web browser.

“The motor starters are modular, so we can change the overloads without re-wiring the panel,” Lamminen says. “They’re also fuseless, so if the system is operating at a coal or bauxite mine in the middle of nowhere and experiences a fault condition, there is no need to go looking for fuses. Just clear the fault, re-start the starter, and the system is back up and running.”

“Given the applications for the system, it’s important that the PLC be highly adaptable,” he says. The automation equipment is enclosed in a polycarbonate panel box, NEMA 4X rated to withstand the elements.

Lamminen says he’s impressed with the adaptability and reliability of the automation. “All of the equipment is UL-approved and modular, so we can easily adapt it to a specific application; that means design advantages for us and cost savings to the customer,” he points out. “We have not had a single reliability issue in the field, and that is a direct result of the electronics.”

New challenges

Watchful for new applications, Lamminen says InterClean has adapted Red Wolf systems into bio-decontamination centers in hopes of reaching poultry processors and others concerned with the spread of the avian flu virus. “We heard from a number of large chicken farms and poultry production facilities who want to have a system in place in case their vehicles have to be sanitized.”

Bird droppings containing the virus can mix with dirt and get caught in the tire treads of feed and supply trucks. Once the vehicles get on the road, the dirt can dry up, dislodge and fly off, potentially spreading the virus.

“As the trucks go from one farm or production facility to another, they could systematically spread the disease,” Lamminen says. “We have had discussions with some major poultry producers who are looking to install Red Wolf systems in every one of their plants.”

InterClean Equipment is ahead of the curve on the U.S. truck tire track-out issue. Unlike the heavily regulated Europe and Asian markets, the U.S. EPA has been reluctant to issue regulations on the subject, letting state and local governments address the issue, or deal with single instances like the World Trade Center.

“A few selected areas in the country have made attempts to regulate and enforce track-out problems,” Lamminen says. “California and Washington have rudimentary tire wash enforcement through their Departments of Transportation, and Hawaii has instituted daily fines of $25,000 to contractors who continue to carry dirt onto public roads.”

Even cities are taking action, according to Lamminen. Las Vegas, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, has established rules to enforce tire washing on general construction sites. And in Austin, Texas, the mayor had the public works department purchase Red Wolf systems after her car windshield was broken by a piece of debris from a truck leaving the nearby landfill.

According to Lamminen, InterClean Equipment expects sales to reach $15 to $20 million in 2006, three times what they were in 2004. “The message is getting out,” he says. “Injuries, disasters, possible epidemics—people realize track out by truck tires is a potential problem that can be corrected relatively easily.”

Lamminen adds that as the Red Wolf systems are placed in more remote and harsh environments, the automation components’ reliability and flexibility are critical to the system’s performance.

Author Information

Tom Noble is market segment manager for transportation wash, Schneider Electric,

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