Dave Zilber served as Chairman of the Mega Rust Naval Corrosion Conference beginning in 2011, when the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) took over responsibility for the conference from the U.S. Navy. In this role, he led the conference Planning Committee and acted as a liaison between the U.S. Navy and industry on developing corrosion control discussion topics and focus areas. He is a retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander and Surface Warfare Officer. He has been a Defense Programs Manager at 3M Company since retiring from the Navy in 2003.
Corrosionpedia spoke with Mr. Zilber at length about Mega Rust 2015 and the U.S. Navy corrosion industry to gather his excellent insights.
What are some key trends for the corrosion industry that came out of the 2015 Mega Rust conference?
Primarily, the technical program was split into two broad segments. We requested government presentations on specific things, such as emerging new coatings or new processes that we wanted to make sure the government got out to the industry. The other half were people from academia and the industry who submitted to the technical program to present on their corrosion technology or solution.
One key bit of news for the corrosion industry is that the Navy now has a good handle on the condition of their tanks and voids. The tanks and voids have been a very large cost driver and very big question mark for many years. They have put a hard press on assessing the entire Surface Fleet and the carriers, and they reported success in gaining a better understanding of the condition of these structural components.
The Navy now plans to shift their attention to other trouble areas and use the same methodology to assess ventilation plenums, engine exhaust ducts, areas around the uptakes and air intakes, places that are very difficult to get to.
There’s also more attention on corrosion control above the waterline, what we call "topside" on ships. This includes the deck, the bulkheads, antennas and combat systems—all of the various equipment that is constantly exposed on the exterior of ships.
Another important issue was brought forward by a few of the Admirals we asked to speak on the last day: We don’t have a formal Fleet-wide corrosion control program in place. We have safety programs and damage control programs, but there isn’t consensus that corrosion control is a ship-wide activity. (Related reading: Corrosion Knowledge Management versus Corrosion Management: An Essential Tool for Assets Integrity Management.)
I find this troubling because in all of the different areas where corrosion occurs on a ship, those areas are assigned to every department and division on that ship. Prevention and correction is truly all-hands responsibility. So far, there isn’t agreement among the Admirals that a formal corrosion control program is necessary.
That is one of the key reasons we try to get the admirals to come to Mega Rust. We want them to hear from their Navy colleagues and the corrosion industry, and maybe change their minds. We see the need for senior leadership to get corrosion control guidance out there to the entire Fleet.
Do you see assessments being an influence in establishing a Fleet-wide corrosion program?
The assessments certainly play a part by showing the Fleet the importance of knowing their current material condition and prioritizing their corrosion control efforts. The assessments are controlled by two different organizations. For the aircraft carriers, people under Naval Air Forces run that program and train sailors to do those tank inspections. On the Surface Fleet side, which is the majority of the ships, it’s handled by SURFMEPP, the Surface Maintenance Engineering Planning Program. The assessment methodology developed for tanks and voids will be expanded out to other corrosion problem areas.
Knowing the condition of ship components allows maintenance planners to better determine what they’re going to focus on during future maintenance periods. The more they can predict and control, the more funding will be available to fix other things. There are fewer surprises when they get into a shipyard. The assessments are designed to help them identify as much as they can, so they can make good decisions and reduce unscheduled work growth.
This is maintenance work that will be contracted to a shipyard or contractor, and is not necessarily what the crew is going to do on board.
There’s a whole component—what we call the ship’s "work package"—for every maintenance period. Those are the jobs the crew should be able to do themselves. That all gets brokered out in the planning for a "maintenance availability". That is the term they use for the interval when a ship is taken off operational status and is available for larger maintenance work, whether at a Naval base pier, or at one of the maintenance shipyards.
But the crew’s piece is a big problem because they still don’t have the right training, the right tools and they often don’t have sufficient funding to get them there. And that’s a problem that keeps carrying over in our discussions at Mega Rust and other meetings from year to year. We’re not really seeing that come around yet.
Would you say a lot of this comes down to budget?
Budget is part of it, but as we discussed at this year’s meeting, some of it is making the right budget decisions. The money may be there but it’s going to the big-ticket items or higher visibility fixes with higher priority status. So when there is funding, it doesn’t necessarily trickle down to the sailors to get the right tools and materials to do their piece of the corrosion control work.
Some of it is a budget prioritization and some of it is the lack of a formalized program. For example, where we like to compare the damage control program to a potential corrosion program is in equipage lists—materials that are approved for the sailors to have on the ship. The list breaks it down to different toolkits with national stock numbers so they can buy these pieces out of the federal supply system. Nothing like that has been set up for corrosion control tools. And, there isn’t anyone in Naval Sea Systems Command who is responsible for small tools and kits for corrosion control. Whereas damage control does have this kind of oversight.
It is also a cultural difference. We had presentations this year by people on our Fleet panel who come from the Aviation community. The Aviation community is extremely disciplined in their corrosion control and maintenance tool systems for a lot of reasons. Good maintenance impacts safety of flight.
We don’t have that same kind of culture in the Surface Force. Even though they know that corrosion degrades equipment operation and corrosion can cause structural strength reduction in a ship, they don’t have a sense of urgency the way Aviation does about the risk of an aircraft falling out of the sky.
We wanted Naval Aviation Enterprise sailors and leaders to speak this year so the Surface Fleet could get a feel for best practices on the Aviation side that possibly could be put into place to make corrosion control better on their ships.
But this will require a culture change and a higher level of accountability around corrosion control that doesn’t really exist at this point. Small steps have occurred, but not the complete follow-through that is necessary. This again points to the need for more formalization of a program similar to damage control to help move this along and ensure for the future that the ships can get the right tools, the right materials, and have more formalized guidance and training on how to do it themselves. This would allow the crew to correct problems as they see them, not wait until they come into a maintenance availability.