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What to Expect From a Coating Inspector

With many of the goods and services we buy, quality is simply expected. It’s an aspect of good business that’s taken for granted. You’d expect a reputable mechanic to get your car running again, for instance, or that your favorite restaurant will keep serving up the kind of food you’ve come to expect. If the mechanic or restaurant lets you down, you simply move on to someone else.

But in many industries, achieving a high-quality result is too important to leave to chance. Moving on is not an option. The stakes are just too high to trust the workmanship to a contract and a handshake. In those industries, if the job isn’t done right the first time, it becomes extremely expensive — and potentially hazardous — to fix.

Those are the industries coating inspectors find themselves working in. The quality helps extend the life of the asset and prevents the corrosion that can lead to devastating structural collapses, expensive equipment failures, and downright dangerous working conditions. Coating inspectors are a part of this quality control, but what do they do?

Why Is a Coating Inspector Necessary?

Managing quality on industrial painting jobs is the responsibility of the asset owner and is usually very challenging. When an asset, such as a tank or bridge, needs to be coated, the owner can hire a painting contractor directly or indirectly through a general contractor.

While it’d be nice to be able to trust that a coating applicator’s work has been done right the first time every time, it’s not a smart or safe bet to make. Things happen. People make mistakes. A specification can be misinterpreted and even crucial details have a way of escaping notice. That, again, is where your coating inspector plays a crucial role in ensuring the coating is applied correctly.

Of course, the painting contractor wants to make sure the job is done right and will often use one of their own to provide some quality control (QC) for the job. This employee of the painting contractor is in charge of verifying that aspects, such as of surface prep, coating application, adhesion, and other details, are in line with all of the demands made of the job as stated in the specification.

The paint contractor’s QC, though, is also driven to ensure production stays on track. Additionally, some coating companies don’t use a QC inspector. They rely on the applicators to ensure the requirements of the specification are met. So how does the asset owner know that the job was done right the first time? A responsible asset owner will want to take that next step to verify the high quality of work performed by an industrial painting contractor. That is where a third-party inspector comes in.

What Does a Coating Inspector Actually Do?

A third-party inspector, or quality assurance (QA) inspector, works directly for the asset owner, or general contractor, and corroborates the findings and measurements of the painting application company. This position acts as a vital check to ensure that no corners were cut and that all aspects of the project were followed to spec. Not only should this help extend the life of the asset, it should also help prevent the expensive and potentially dangerous consequences from a premature coatings failure.

A QA inspector should:

• Examine the total painted surface of an asset in search of signs that the substrate was properly cleaned and prepped ahead of painting. Bubbles, bumps, chips, discoloration, or other irregularities in a painted surface may be the result of particles or solutions left on the substrate before painting.

• Check joints between asset parts or areas where water could collect and stagnate as these are likely starting points for corrosion. Discoloration, chipping, or flaking of paint in these areas or on other painted surfaces may indicate the substrate has corroded beneath the coating.

• Use non-destructive testing (NDT) methods such as ultrasonic waves, electromagnetic waves, thermography, and lasers to see whether coatings are performing as intended or that they were applied correctly. NDT methods allow inspectors to accurately assess the dry film thickness (DFT) and bonding properties of a coating to ensure proper application.

Protecting Assets

A QA coating inspector is far from a “gotcha” position. Coating systems are complicated, and a myriad of factors — from ambient conditions to application methods — make the business of applying them even more complex. So it’s helpful for trained, experienced professionals to work together to achieve a final product that matches the project’s specifications.

The bottom line is that it is important for asset owners to make sure they’re in control of the quality of their coating, both to guard against a careless application and to ensure that a complicated process goes off without a hitch. And, of course, QA coating inspectors do more than just prevent a catastrophic failure. They provide owner’s peace of mind by ensuring the coating protecting their assets will have a long life and serve with distinction, hopefully saving them time, money, and frustration in the long run.

About the Author:

Michael Harkin is a NACE and Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) coating inspector and current president of FeO, a QP5-certified coating inspection and consulting company. Prior to FeO, Harkin served as an Army soldier and a Marine Corps officer. For more information, contact: FeO,

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