Three Phrases to be Wary of When Procuring Corrosion Mitigation Services

Three Phrases to be Wary of When Procuring Corrosion Mitigation Services

Master Class on Corrosion, Volume 1

I’m increasingly finding that most of my peers are either retired, having too much fun to retire, or are nearly there.

I’ve been at this for more than 40 years and still have much to learn and, fortunately, fall into the category of having wayyy too much fun to retire.

I have found over the decades that, if there is one overarching challenge in procuring corrosion mitigation services, it’s the reliance on vendors who have a proverbial “dog in the hunt.”

That is, all vendors are managed by people, and all people have similar needs: They need to eat, feed their families, and make a living, and they also want to be good at their jobs.

If your job is selling paint and coatings, or applying paint and coatings, you may not be inclined to, or experienced in, advising your client as to how they should best manage their assets and corrosion mitigation practices. That’s not your job. Your job is to sell paint, apply paint, erect scaffolding, supply blast grit and line up inspectors, lighting, waste removal, etc.

For example, if you walk into a Ford dealership, looking for an SUV, what are the chances that your salesperson is going to recommend a Chevy, Range Rover or Toyota?

The chance is zero.

Recommending the perfect SUV for you is not their job. They’re not going to ask questions like, how many people are in your family, what’s your budget, will you be towing, if so, how much, will you be going off-roading, etc,. Their job is to sell you a Ford SUV, so it’s certainly not in their best interest to recommend a different model.

Owners must understand that while the very large, powerful and exceptionally sophisticated coating suppliers are paragons of excellence, their job is to sell paint – not to do what’s in your best interest.

In fact, selling paint is their core function.

Digging deeper, public firms have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to maximize profits, with no obligation whatsoever to do what’s in the best interest of asset owners.

They are exceptionally good at providing suitable services, products, and specifications, but are not inclined or obligated to provide optimal solutions.

But Chicago Corrosion Group is. Our only mission is to do exactly what is in the best interest of the owner, even if it means doing nothing at all as my next anecdote illustrates.

A few years ago, I spent about 6 hours reviewing a coating project overseas only to determine that no coating was required. Our vendor-neutral, client-centric review saved our client nearly $1 million, much to the chagrin of the appointed coating company, coating contractor, scaffolding firm, waste disposal company and third-party inspectors.

Owners must advocate and actively seek out optimal solutions, otherwise, they are at the mercy of well-intended, competent, but contrarily incentivized vendors. Think about it for a moment. Pick a vendor, any vendor. The more money you spend, as the owner, either initially or over time, the more money they make.

Another stunning example occurred when I was invited to speak at a conference on elevated water tanks – you know, those 50’ tall tanks that look like golf balls on tees that you might see when driving along the highway in your new Ford SUV.

I was presenting on corrosion within the tanks and mitigation solutions, including paint/coating selection combined with impressed current cathodic protection systems.

I had completed my presentation and was listening to a nationally-recognized engineering firm. The CEO explained that when they performed a condition survey of the paint on the tank interior, they automatically specified removal and replacement of the paint system if it was older than 15 years.

I was stunned.

My hand shot up so fast that I almost dislocated my shoulder.

“Don’t you check the condition of the paint system before recommending removal and replacement? What if it’s in good condition?”

He said, in as smug a fashion as one can imagine, “No, if the paint is that old, it’s shot and needs to be replaced.”

I followed up with, “Why do you need cathodic protection in addition to tank lining?”

Mr. Smugly: “Oh, it’s a belt and suspenders approach.”

From my presentation we gained a client who was considering removal and replacement. Our job was to come up with an optimal coating system for his elevated water tank. The standard spec at the time, if memory serves, was a three-coat system at something like 15-18 mils DFT.

I called up the tech guy at the coating company, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hey Mike. So, I’m looking at your spec. What if we went with a white or near white blast with a 100% solids NSF-approved coating at 40 to 60 mils? What kind of service life would we expect?”

There was a very long pause and a bit of hemming and hawing.

Mike: “Hey Warren. So, we have a standard spec for elevated water tanks.”

Me: “Right. But Mike, wouldn’t a 100% solids last much longer? I’m guessing, more than 20 years?”

There was a very long pause.

Mike: “Yes, but that’s not the industry standard.”

When I pressed further, Mike finally said: “Warren, do you want me to lose my job? The company doesn’t make money by recommending systems like that.”

And there it was.

Owners must advocate for optimal, or settle on, and hope for, suitable.

So what are owners to do?

Without writing a book on this problematic dynamic within the world-wide corrosion mitigation procurement process, I offer you three phrases to be very, very wary of:

Phrase 1: IT’S A BELT AND SUSPENDERS APPROACH:

I’m a huge NASA nerd and try to find a way to weave NASA stuff into my blog whenever I can. Why? Because some of the most competent engineers and decision-makers in the history of mankind work there.

NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope last year. At 13,500 pounds it is the largest space telescope in the world and decades in the making. I followed its development, launch and placement in orbit neurotically. Why? Because it had 344 single-point failure elements. For an agency where redundancy is everything (particularly for manned flights) this was a monumental risk. If any of these elements failed, the entire mission could have foundered.

There were no belt and suspenders. Just a belt.

Allow me to provide you with an industry-related, real-world example – coating the interior bottoms of aboveground storage tanks (ASTs).

Some coating suppliers still recommend using fiberglass reinforcement when lining ASTs. If people are interested, I’m happy to write a detailed blog about this, but the basic concept is that, somehow, fiberglass will make the system better.

Many decades ago, we used fiberglass in AST bottoms because it was difficult to build up coating thickness without the use of fiberglass, and many of these older coatings tended to be brittle.

This is no longer the case.

I used to line the interior of underground gasoline storage tanks and was able to spray 100% solids epoxies on the walls and ceiling up to around 125 mils, without runs or sags.

Modern coating systems are flexible and durable, and don’t require the use of fiberglass for building thickness. The belt is more than sufficient. Adding those fiberglass suspenders does nothing but put more money into the pockets of the various vendors involved. The only case where I’ve heard that this “belt and suspenders” approach might be warranted is when using a vinyl ester resin system, as they are notoriously brittle, or if the tank has severe metal loss due to bottom-side corrosion.

Are there cases where a ‘belt’ coating system needs suspenders?

Absolutely!

We were working at a data center for one of the world’s largest insurance companies. They had a concrete sump system for cooling the computers that had absolutely no tolerance for failure. They could only take it out of service briefly, and only in cold weather.

The existing coating system was worn but intact, and only needed minor touchups. After the criticality of this sump was explained to us, we developed a specification for overcoating it. The cost of a failure during peak operations would cost them millions so, in this case, having a belt and suspenders approach was a no-brainer.

Phrase 2: WE DON’T OFFER A WARRANTY (OR ONLY A ONE-YEAR WARRANTY)

We were working at a large industrial site and were hired to evaluate an existing coating system that had failed within a year.

I suggested to the owner that they activate the warranty and contact the installation contractor and coating manufacturer.

The owner replied with two things that stunned me: First, that the work came with no warranty, and second, that they have a policy of not enforcing warrantees.

This initial failure analysis led the owner to hire us to develop our unique document we call a Request for Coating Compatibility (RCC).

Our RCC detailed all of the operating parameters of, in this case, the tank. We solicited coating recommendations from the top material suppliers in the country and were absolutely stunned to find that a number of them offered no warranty or, at most, a one-year warranty on their material.

Ultimately, we found a coating company that was willing to offer a 10-year warranty (and had data to support the anticipated longevity of the material) and we persuaded the contractor to offer a two-year warranty.

The owner was stunned and appreciative.

Calling all owners: protect your assets by advocating for warrantees, and then enforcing them.

Phrase 3: WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THIS WAY:

I was pitching a job for a major auto maker that had a vast array of ASTs, including several 25,000-gallon glycol tanks. They used these tanks to fill the new cars with antifreeze, and they painted the tanks every 7 years.

I explained that we could design a coating system that would last for more than 20 years at a similar initial cost.

When we were in a meeting with about 8 people, the chief engineer said something like, “No, we’re good. We’ve always done it this way.”

Dumbfounded, I asked “Why?”

“The coating company said that was a typical service life.”

I’ve run into this phrase with many old-timers (like myself), particularly contractors and often, they’re exactly on point.

We were providing oversight on a project for an aquarium where the contractor was getting ready to “hot-pot” a very thick coating system that had a pot life of only about 9 minutes. Hot-potting is when you preheat the two buckets of a coating, and spray it out of a spray rig very quickly. The alternative is to use a very expensive and complicated plural component system that pumps part A and part B of the paint into separate, heated lines and into a static mixer tip, so the coating only gets mixed at the tip.

The rep for the coating company was apoplectic, literally, yelling that you can’t hot-pot it. Having full authority of the project as the owner’s rep, I asked him to stand back and not get in the way as the mixing had already begun.

I had hot-potted coatings like this for decades. You need equipment in perfect working condition, a sharp crew, and a good man on the spray gun.

It worked like a charm. The old-timer was spot on. The supplier rep, to his credit, apologized and acknowledged the skill of the crew.

As an aside (in addition to knowing far too much about coating for my own good, I have an MBA,) I explained to the coating company rep that they needed to modify their specification and product data sheet to indicate that it can be hot-potted, opening up the market to hundreds of competent contractors across the country that don’t own the much more expensive and complex plural component systems.

It was a win all around.

WRAPPING UP

In closing, I would like to suggest that my observations are not new. Getting a second medical opinion is a common practice. And the more complex and serious the medical issue, the more necessary getting another set of eyes on the problem.

My undergraduate degree is in Journalism, and I wrote for a daily newspaper just outside of Los Angeles for several years. One of the mottos within journalism is, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

Owners –do your due diligence. Or give us a call and see if we can be of service.

Please share your opinions about anything in the post. Do you have any similar experiences, or have I missed the mark?

This technical blog is exclusively for your benefit. Please email me, warren@chicagocorrosiongroup.com about what you’d like to hear more about. Or send me your challenging corrosion mitigation and distress stories!

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