Thursday, June 10, 2010

Water Jet Contractor AK Services Faces Nation’s Toughest Water Jet Challenges Head On

If one word could describe the amazing water jet feats accomplished by water jet contractor AK Services, it would be “MONUMENTAL,” and the all caps are no exaggeration.

Known coast-to-coast for its can-do reputation, this Boston-area contractor has completed some of the nation’s toughest and most historically and environmentally significant water jet surface preparation and mobile cutting projects. Its impressive resume includes removing radioactive concrete from an infamous Hanford Site nuclear waste basin just 400 yards from the Columbia River in Washington state, repairing the Queen Elizabeth 2’s (QE2) damaged hull after she ran aground near Martha’s Vineyard, and rehabbing the leftfield seating steps at Boston’s historic Fenway Park.

AK Services’ other water jetting feats include cutting 3,500 lineal feet of steel during a bridge construction project in California, waterjetting 90 percent of the road surface on Boston’s Central Artery, and removing PCB-contaminated caulk from a pumping station situated directly over the city’s drinking water supply.

AK Services entered the ultra-high pressure water jet industry in 1992, a spinoff of the former Aqua Kleen which specialized in using high-pressure water to clean Navy vessel oil tanks during the Navy’s 70s-era conversion from black oil fuel systems to cleaner distillate fuel systems.

AK Services first ultra-high pressure project involved blasting away 20,000 square feet of lead paint from a Coast Guard vessel’s engine room and bilge while another crew simultaneously removed the ship’s engines for replacement. The project involved removing every speck of paint from tiny nooks and crannies and working in extremely confined spaces among numerous pipes and other obstacles.

AK Services President Patrick Canonica recalled how he immediately ordered his first Cummins diesel-powered Jet Edge ultra-high pressure water jet intensifier pump after winning the Coast Guard bid because water jet was the only way to safely remove the lead paint with the engine crew present.

“Had they sandblasted it, they would have had to shut it down and cocoon it and create a hazardous work area,” Canonica said. “With water jet, the big advantage is you don’t have to provide containment because it puts the lead into an aqueous state.”

By the end of the lead abatement project, AK Services had three Jet Edge diesel-powered water jet intensifier pumps, and has since amassed an armada of water jet pumps and water jet cutting, surface preparation and hydro lasing systems that includes 12 Jet Edge intensifier pumps. In addition to lead and other hazardous material abatement, AK Services now provides a wide variety of mobile water jet services, including surface preparation, coating removal, water jet cutting, hydro lasing and hydrodemolition. It works in pressures ranging from 17,000-psi 80-gpm high-volume for hydrodemolition to 55,000-psi 4-gpm for water jet cutting.

The company liked its Jet Edge equipment so much, it even became a Jet Edge distributor.

“Our Jet Edge pumps keep running and running,” Canonica said. “They are 30 years old and they run in top condition. They are contractor-friendly, reliable and easy to maintain. The key is keeping the hydraulic oil clean. We have 9,000 hours on one of our Jet Edge’s Cummins engines. It is a terrific engine.”

Saved from the Crash by a Crash

AK Services’ rise to the top of the water jet industry did not come without its fair share of obstacles. Just as the company’s business began to take off, Boston’s shipyard industry came to a screeching halt, almost killing the young company, but fate intervened and several unchartered rocks off of Martha’s Vineyard became the company’s savior.

In August 1992, the QE2 was just returning from a Nova Scotia cruise when she ran aground south of Cuttyhunk Island near Martha's Vineyard, severely damaging her hull. The shipyard hired AK Services to water jet the toxic inorganic tin surface from the ship’s hull because it was deemed the safest method for its removal.

“The bottom looked like a claw had ripped it apart,” Canonica recalled. “We had to take it down to bare steel and then the shipyard welded plates to fix it. We also cleaned the oil tanks. It was a true rescue mission for our young company.”

AK Services branched out from the shipyard industry, taking on more and more challenging construction industry projects as its reputation gradually spread across the country.

In 2003, bridge contractor Kiewit found itself in a major bind as stubborn bedrock mangled 13 of the steel footing pilings it was driving during construction of the 1.7-mile northbound Benecia Bridge, which spans the Carquinez Strait linking Benecia and Martinez, Calif.

Kiewit hired AK Services to cut out the damaged pilings to make way for replacements. This dangerous project required AK Services’ workers to be lowered in a basket down a 12’ diameter caisson 150’ feet below sea level. They used water jet cutting bugs on tracks held in place with suction cups to cut the 3” thick steel at an angle, resulting in an actual cut of 4 ½”. AK Services ran two shifts for nine months, cutting a total of 3,500 lineal feet of steel.

Hanford Site Radiation Cleanup

AK Services has played an important role in the massive environmental cleanup project at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford Site in southeastern Washington.

Once home to nine nuclear reactors that produced plutonium for the Manhattan Project and for the nation’s Cold War nuclear arsenal, the Hanford Site is considered the most contaminated nuclear site in the U.S., and is the site of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup project.

In 2009, the Department of Energy celebrated the removal of the site’s notorious K Basin East Fuel Pool, a 120’ L x 45’ W x 20’ D 1.2-million-gallon basin which was used to store 1,100 tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel and radioactive sludge just 400 yards from the Columbia River. The radioactive waste was stored under 20’ of water, and the basin’s concrete walls and floor had absorbed radioactivity from the water. The Department of Energy’s contractor determined that hydro lasing with an underwater ultra-high pressure water jet system would be the most effective and safest way to remove the contaminated concrete without exposing the radiation to air.

The contractor enlisted the help of AK Services, who partnered with S.A.Robotics of Colorado to develop an underwater hydro lasing robotic arm to blast away the radioactive concrete surface. The robotic system used 34,000 psi water jets to remove 7/8” of the pool’s concrete surface, which housed 98% of the radiation. The work was performed under vacuum, and the contaminated concrete was sucked out as it was blasted away.

In another Hanford Site project, AK Services cut several 2’ diameter vent holes into buried tanks that are holding radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project. This challenging project required them to cut through a carbon steel shell surrounded by reinforced concrete (total cut 18” thick) with a 55,000 psi abrasivejet.

AK Services Principal Owner Carl Franson noted that the company is currently working on yet another challenging project at the Hanford Site, cutting holes into 15” thick concrete tanks that also hold radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project so that the waste can be removed and vitrified for safe storage.

“The tanks have were built with a very small access riser and we are cutting a 55" diameter hole in the tank top to allow installation of a robotic arm to remove and transfer the waste to a vitrification plant that is under construction,” Franson explained. “We are using Jet Edge’s high-flow Permalign® cutting head powered by a Jet Edge diesel intensifier pump, and cutting at 48,000 psi. We are in the process of designing and building a specialty motion device for the project since the standard units are not compatible with the job.”

Hazardous material removal has become one of the company’s main services because water jet provides a safer and more environmentally friendly method for removing hazardous materials than traditional methods. In fact, when Boston’s water authority needed to have PCB-contaminated caulk removed from a pumping station, they hired AK Services.

Working under constant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supervision, AK Services used two specially engineered water jet crawlers to blast away and simultaneously vacuum the contaminated caulk, which was filtered out and properly disposed.

“This was in a pumping station over our drinking water supply so there was no room for error,” Canonica said. “The caulking was still resilient even after 50 years, but the water jet shredded it. The EPA was very pleased with the procedure.”

AK Services also has provided emergency waterjet cutting services to the petroleum industry, noted Pat Hickey, an NFPA Certified Marine Chemist and principal owner of AK Services. When a large petroleum distributor had a tank full of gasoline develop a leak in the floor, they contacted AK Services because they could safely cut holes in the floor to allow for the removal of contaminated sand under the tank.

“The tank was sitting on a 2’ bed of sand, which was surrounded with concrete,” Hickey recalled. “This sand became saturated in gasoline and they needed access through the floor of the tank in order to remove the contaminated sand. The combustible gas indicator had readings of over 100% of the lower explosive limit (LEL) in the area under the tank floor. A.K. used the abrasive jet cutting process to safely cut six holes, 3’ in diameter in the 3/8” thick floor of the tank. One of the many advantages to this process is that it is not hot work and can be performed in atmospheres where conventional ‘hot work’ processes can not be employed.”

Freeways and Fenway

Concrete preparation has become AK Services’ largest source of business as water jet has become the favorable method for coating removal.

“The coatings are so sophisticated and hard that you can’t sandblast them,” Canonica explained. “The water jet just pulverizes them and it purges the chlorides from road salt out of the concrete, while sandblasting lets the chlorides work their way back out and damage the new coatings.”

AK Services also has demonstrated that water jet is one of the most effective ways to prepare road surfaces for placement of Latex Modified Concrete (LMC) wear surfaces. When the LMC wear surface on Boston’s Central Artery delaminated within a year of its initial installation and had to be replaced, the project specifications originally called for preparing the surface with shot blast, but Boston had very rainy summer that year and the steel shot was rusting on the roadway. AK Services was called in to prepare the road surface with waterjet because they could blast rain or shine. They built a custom 6’ wide robotic water jet system with two 6’ arms and equipped it with water jet spray bars from a Jet Edge Deckblaster system. They used this system to prepare the road surface for LMC on 90 percent of Boston’s Central Artery, the Logan Bridge and the Ted Williams Tunnel.

The system not only prepared the surface, but it also removed any grease and oil that had leaked from the construction equipment and purged road salt chlorides from the concrete, improving the adherence of the new LMC. It did this without kicking up hazardous silica dust and, unlike shot blast, did not leave any rust stains following a rain shower.

“The highway department found that the surface had 12 times greater adherence with UHP than with shot blast,” Canonica said.

In the winter of 2009/2010, the Boston Red Sox hired AK Services to remove 1-2” from the Fenway Park’s leftfield seating steps so they could be leveled and resurfaced as part of the stadium’s 2012 centennial renovation.

With only five weeks lead time, AK Services retrofitted a Jet Edge Deckblaster with a computer, spray bar and shroud so it could maneuver the lawnmower-like system along the narrow steps. With a 12-man crew and three souped-up Deckblasters, the company blasted away 8,500 square feet of surface. They strategically stationed their diesel-powered water jet pumps under the seating area to keep the steps warm enough to prevent freezing.

This can-do attitude and resourcefulness, combined with its willingness to specially engineer equipment, has helped AK Services build a thriving business that has grown primarily by word of mouth.

“You build on your reputation,” Canonica said. “As we have successfully completed projects, the word has travelled.”

More Information

AK Services, Inc.,, 617-884-9252 or 1-800-356-0349

Jet Edge, Inc.,,, 763-497-8700 or 1-800-JET-EDGE