Why it’s a Mistake to Reuse Old Coating Specs: Lou Vincent Q&A
Coatings expert Lou Vincent says the devil is in the details for coating specification writers. In this exclusive interview, he explores a common error that can result in premature coating failures and put assets at risk of corrosion.
Past president of NACE International Louis D. Vincent has 57 years’ experience in the coatings industry and is a well-known teacher and renowned author of reference manuals that have influenced corrosion professionals for decades. Vincent’s background spans sales, marketing, technical service, manufacturing, R&D, failure analysis, consulting and executive positions with several international coatings manufacturers.
Over the past six decades, the development of coating specification best practices has marched in step with the evolution of protective coatings, informed by lessons from the field across the spectrum of industries impacted by infrastructure corrosion. This interview is part of a continuing series exploring the details of "What Makes a Great Coating Spec."
Q: Why would coating spec writers reuse old coatings specifications from previous projects?
A: Unfortunately, this happens much too often. Whether it is a project manager or an engineer with a third-party engineering firm, the reasons are hard to justify.
It is easy for a project manager or coatings specifications writer to say, "We have used this specification many times and it works." So rather than taking the time and effort to research the potential differences with this project from the ones on which this specification was previously used, he/she simply takes out a bottle of white-out or cranks up the edit function on their computer and changes the name and location of the specification but leaves everything else essentially the same as before.
Prior to the proliferation of computers I referred to this as the Xerox Syndrome. Copy and paste, and voila, a new specification and he/she did not have to pay an engineer to write it. An engineer with a third-party engineering company might use this to inflate his billable time. He can bill for a normal amount of hours for such a task, yet only have to invest a small portion of time actually writing the specification.
Q: Is specification writing costly?
A: It can be. If the project is large and has several different facilities within the project, the specification may require expertise from chemists, structural engineers, civil engineers and coatings specialists, etc.
However, it does not have to be costly if the person or persons writing the specification use the available expertise within their company and do the proper research on site conditions where the project will be built or where it will serve, before actually writing the specification. There is nothing wrong with using an old specification as a template to make sure all the critical surfaces are considered while writing the specification for the new project.
Specification writing is only expensive when it is not done properly. It should be considered as an investment, not as a cost.
Q: So, the reused spec might be for a similar infrastructure but in a very different service environment?
A: Therein lies the fallacy of simply editing an old specification instead of creating a new one.
For example, a specification for a fertilizer plant written by an engineering firm specifically for a site in the southern United States (that will be built by a fabricator in the U.S.) will have a high probability of facilitating a successful project with a predicable service life for that facility.
However, if that same owner decides to build an identical fertilizer plant in a foreign county that will be open for bids by fabricators in countries such as Korea, Brazil, China or Germany, the specification writer must take into consideration several factors that are very different from those of the plant designed and built in the U.S for a manufacturing site in the U.S.
Q: What factors are affected by site-specifics?
A: Every single aspect of the project must be investigated to avoid costly surprises.
The following are several conditions that must be taken into consideration in order to create a "site specific specification." This list is not complete; the list must also be site specific in order to take into consideration local constraints to a successful project.
- How different is the climate in the proposed new site compared to the one at the previous site?
- How different are the construction practices of the fabricators that will be invited to bid on the project?
- How skilled is the workforce of both the potential fabricators and the potential contractors that will be invited to bid on the installation of the facilities?
- Which coating manufacturers have truly global manufacturing and service facilities both in the potential fabrication location and the final site?
- What is the quality of steel that is readily available in the potential fabrication sites?
- What is the availability and quality reputation of subcontractors for such items as compressors, generators and other essential subcomponents of the facility that will be assembled at the site?
- What are the environmental and worker health regulations at both the fabrication site and the final facility site and how will that affect the choice of materials and contractors?
Q: Can you tell us about a typical case where reusing an old specification contributed to poor coating performance?
A: Pipelines to transport both crude oil and natural gas are common in various parts of the world. Quite often these involve the use of solvent-free high-build epoxy coatings on the girth welds and/or flange joints of pipe that was originally coated with fusion bonded epoxy (FBE) in a production facility in one part of the world and transported to another part of the world for final installation.
These girth weld epoxies have an excellent track record in climates that have a fairly warm temperature on an annual basis. Failures have occurred when the pipe was formed and coated with FBE in the USA or the Far East and the final installation was in a country that had sub-zero weather conditions throughout the fall, winter and early spring.
The 100% solids (solvent-free) epoxy simply would not cure below about 40°F (~5°C). In some cases, portable tents had to be constructed over each girth weld so the coating could be heat cured with hot air from portable propane-fired heaters. In some cases, the epoxy was replaced with specially formulated 100% volume solids polyurea coatings.
More in the "How to Write a Great Coating Specification" series:
Coatings Specifications, Good, Bad or Ugly: Lou Vincent Q&A
Who Participates in Selecting Equal Coating Products?
Condition Survey - The Backbone of a Good Coating Specification
Defining Service Requirements & Environmental Factors for Coating Specification
Defining Client Objectives for Coatings Specification
Methods & Pitfalls in Selecting Coating Systems for Specification
Tightrope: Identifying Limiting Conditions for Coatings Specification
Problems Caused by the Lack of Clarity & Definition in Coating Specifications
Writing Safety Into Your Coating Specification