8 Fundamentals of a Good Coatings Program
It might seem that any single one of these eight best practices would aid in better management of coatings assets – and they can. But coatings are quite complex, and ultimately require a spectrum of tactics to achieve program success.
There are eight core elements necessary to maintaining a successful coatings program. These are not new concepts. They have been presented as various metaphors, such as the spokes of a wheel, or pillars supporting a structure. If even one structural aspect is not present and not functioning properly, the wheel would crush or the building would collapse. All elements are required for success.
1. Accurate Understanding of Conditions
It all begins here. We must understand the environment in which the coatings will have to perform in order to protect that valuable asset. A complete understanding of those conditions is necessary to select the right coatings system for that service environment to provide the expected service life. Think about temperature ranges, chemical exposures, humidity levels, and any “upset” conditions that may occur during both normal and abnormal operating environments.
Very often, it is a lack of complete understanding of the environment that results in an unexpected and premature failure of that coating system.
2. Knowledge-Based Standards
“Lessons Learned” is the best description of knowledge-based standards. We probably learn more from our mistakes than from the good decisions we make. Ultimately, by learning from our mistakes and not repeating them, we make better decisions. Knowledge-based standards capture the good decisions we make from lessons learned and retain them so that those mistakes aren’t repeated again. In that way, best practices are utilized in building specifications for future work.
These standards compile all of the various service environments that can be expected within a coatings program and provide guidance on the coatings systems that can be expected to perform acceptably in that environment.
3. Requirement-Based Specifications
A coating specification should always be written based on the unique situation where each asset resides. This specification incorporates the two preceding fundamentals—lessons learned from the knowledge-based standards, and a complete understanding of the service environment—to achieve the successful installation of a coating system that will provide the desired life cycle expectancy.
Thinking about the question, “What service life is expected?” always reminds me of an experience early in my career that clearly defines this concept. While working in Asia and traveling through Hong Kong, I visited a facility that was constructing a tiered golfing range. With most of my experience up to that point in the arena of high-performance coatings systems, I was shocked to see alkyd coatings being installed over mill-scale intact structural steel. Understanding the service environment (sea coast and high humidity), I asked why a high-performance system including abrasive blasting was not being installed. This system could only be expected to last a few years maximum in that environment.
Then the requirement aspect was explained to me. The driving range was to be only a temporary structure of two years. It was being built to generate revenue on the property until the construction of a high-rise building started in two years. The specification writer had considered the life cycle requirement and made a good economical decision for a two-year service life. Conversely, it would have been a poor choice if the expectation was a 15-year service life and the specification writer had not incorporated that decision. (For further explanation of this concept, see this interview article with Louis D. Vincent: Coatings Specifications, Good, Bad or Ugly.)
4. Qualified Materials
All coatings materials are not created equal. We learn which materials can perform to our expectations through historical use and qualification testing. There are numerous qualification standards for coatings materials used in various industries. Many coatings systems from various manufacturers have years of in-situ history, and it can be accurately predicted how they will perform in various service environments.
The use of new coatings materials will require some level of qualification testing to ensure that their selection will provide the expected level of service. Only after qualification (whether through historic in-situ performance evaluation or a properly structured testing program) should materials be considered for installation on assets within the coatings program.
5. Trained and Qualified Personnel
Protective coatings are one of the few materials that arrive on the job site unassembled. The surface to which they will be applied requires cleaning and preparation of some type before any application of the coating. The coatings themselves typically have to be mixed in specific proportions and then installed by technicians to the correct wet film thickness with special attention to the environmental conditions at the time of installation. They then have to go through a curing process to achieve the special properties that will allow them to perform in their service environment and provide the expected performance.
Beyond the training and qualifications of the applicator, it is also important to consider the qualifications of the specifier and coatings program manager. There are various industry certifications for Protective Coatings Specialist (NACE International and SSPC) through the applicators themselves. Experience and training counts toward a successful installation of coatings systems.
6. Quality Control and Assurance
Inspection ensures that the coatings systems are installed as they were specified. Emphasizing again that coatings arrive at the job site unassembled, the following practices are necessary for success:
- Quality control (QC) performed by the contractor
- Quality assurance (QA) performed by a third-party inspector
Even still, the best intentions may result in failure of the installed coatings systems. There is great possibility for error during the installation, but good QC and QA reduce that potential substantially.
7. Ongoing Evaluation and Maintenance
After the coating is installed, maintenance shouldn’t be forgotten. When a lining is installed, typically special additional efforts, such as holiday testing, are implemented to ensure that the installed lining is 100% holiday (pinhole)-free and installed as specified. However, atmospheric coatings typically rely on mostly visual testing to verify the continuous film installation. This isn’t a 100% accurate tool. Very often, holidays and missed spots will manifest within the first year. Early maintenance efforts can correct these problems and stem the flow of additional coatings degradation.
If early maintenance is practiced, typically further maintenance efforts will decline for a significant period of time until the coating starts to reach the end of its designed life. At that point, effective and consistent application of maintenance coatings may provide many additional years of service.
To plan and schedule maintenance, periodic structured evaluation should be performed on the coated assets to judge the performance of installed coating systems, and to schedule maintenance work as necessary to ensure continued performance. The scope of these surveys can vary depending on the risks associated with the respective assets should there be damage from corrosion or from the age of the installed coating system.
A structured and continuing performance evaluation program and maintenance schema can extend the designed service life of coatings significantly.
8. Data Management Systems
To make good decisions, it is imperative to have good information. Some of the data that allow a coatings program manager to make good decisions include, but aren’t limited to the following:
- Installed coatings systems specific to the asset
- Exposures and service environments
- Coating systems that are qualified to be used
- Current condition of coated assets
- Size (square footage of coated assets)
- Cost of surface preparation and coatings installation specific to asset and location
- Costs of applying work to various assets with diverse coating systems
- Estimated costs associated with deferring work
- Contractor performance
If the above information is contained within an easily manageable expert system, work packages and asset integrity budgets are easily planned for periods up to 10 years. Such a system can also provide financial information on the probable consequences of not doing maintenance work.
These spokes of a wheel or pillars of a building all form the requirements of a successful coatings program. These individual aspects may seem to stand on their own accord, but the reality is that they are all required. The absence of a single aspect will ultimately result in a coatings program not performing to its full potential.
I want to thank Kyle Greenfield and Steve Pinney for originally introducing me to the concepts and building blocks of good coatings asset management.