For nearly 30 years, I’ve watched, fascinated, as technology in the coatings industry has advanced.
The best minds in the business have brought us intumescents, optically activated pigmented coatings, nanotechnology, flouropolymers, flexible ceramics, self-healing coatings, and materials smarter than we are.
Testing equipment today is remarkable in its durability, precision and ease of use. Safety technology, such as multi-gas meters and better fall protection systems, has improved by leaps and bounds. So have application technologies.
Yet, when it comes to document management, we remain stuck in the disco days.
The Paper Chase
First: I’m working with a large company that has hundreds of facilities around the globe. Like most companies, this one has developed libraries of reference documents, standards, guidelines, specifications and other documents to try to capture the complexity of corrosion mitigation.
The data are superb, and undoubtedly critically important. Trying to use them is a different story.
To begin with, these documents are frequently so complex and try to accomplish so much, that they are often difficult to navigate, comprehend and comply with. By necessity, they reference other documents and agencies (SSPC, NACE, ISO, ASME, BSI), which compounds the challenge to any engineer trying to understand and apply the guidelines effectively.
I recently reviewed a 60-page standard that referenced a document more than 300 pages long.
Second: I had a meeting a few years ago with a client that has multibillion-dollar entertainment facilities around the world. The painting maintenance cost at certain facilities was significantly lower than at others.
But there were no means of communication among the facilities, so the information was never transferred.
The common denominator here is a lack of easily accessible and searchable information.
Some 30 years ago (the early 1980s), I recognized the need to develop a custom database for my coating company. I distinctly remember one afternoon, black from abrasive blasting, driving one of our trucks back to the office and being on the phone with a software company.
The database I ended up building was invaluable, and we used it extensively for decades. The initial cost was substantial, but the ongoing costs were small, and the value incalculable.
Now, imagine that a refinery engineer needs to coat an LNG tank and add passive fire proofing to the legs.
Instead of downloading 15 documents and shuffling through hundreds of pages of paper, she goes to our web portal.
She pulls down a menu and drills into the system to find out what has been working well around the world.
She can review coating recommendations, current specifications and standards, project videos and photos, comments from company engineers, and contact information of vendors and other engineers.
And when she has identified exactly what has been shown to be optimal, and which system she wants to install, she clicks a button and is emailed, faxed or prints all of the relevant documents. The hours wasted paging through outdated and/or lengthy documents are gone.
Smarter and Smarter
When properly designed, implemented and managed, the system would get smarter and smarter.
If there is a critical change in the industry—a better coating or practice, a change in standards, regulations, safety issues, anything—you don’t have to wait five years for the next edition of a document or an addendum.
You change the data instantly. Which is better: getting optimal information in five years or five minutes?
Where We Are
We here at CCG have created the conceptual framework for such a system, but there have been no takers.
One client said he saw the value of the concept. In fact, he called it “brilliant” and said it would save the company millions.
But his superiors, he said, would argue that all of the data are already available and that there is no value to making the information easier to access or update.
I tried to explain that all Google does is to make accessing existing information easier, but I didn’t get anywhere.
Perhaps it’s the simplistic old paint-is-just-paint mindset that still fails to understand the complexities of the 21st-century coatings business (and the consequences of bad decisions).
Or perhaps owners are relying on the major coating companies to provide such information.
I think the most likely explanation is that it’s difficult to prove an ROI on such an investment—even though anyone can intuitively see the benefits.
The only change I’ve seen in document and information management is that we’re emailing instead of faxing.
When is our industry going to catch up to the rest of the world and go truly digital?
This question has haunted me so much recently that we are going to make “Information Sharing” the theme of Engineered Corrosion Solutions 2015.
ECS is a conference I developed last year with one simple goal: to bring owners together with state-of-the-art solutions for corrosion remediation. Last year was a one-day event. Next year, the conference will run April 8 and 9.
The event will feature world-class vendors and industry leaders speaking about the fundamental issues pertaining to corrosion and remedial options. The conference draws attendees from virtually every market, from amusement parks and zoos to nuclear power, petrochem and water.
Last year, we focused on some of the economic consequences of improper coating identification. This time, we will focus on the challenge of fast and accurate information sharing, via smart devices and Internet-based systems.
Hope to see you there—with your phone, tablet and/or laptop.