We asked five experts — contractor, inspector, investigator, manufacturer, and specifier — to answer a few questions pertaining to the past, present, and future of the coatings industry. This is a continuation of the round table discussion in the January 2017 print issue. Thanks again to our contributors!
What do you think has been the biggest change in the coatings or contracting industry over the past 15 years?
Malcolm McNeil, president of McNeil Coatings Consultants, Inc., believes that the biggest changes have been “the advances in coatings technology, surface preparation equipment, and application equipment, the availability of numerous sources of training for the applicators, and more use of third-party inspectors for quality control and assurance on coatings projects.”
Phil Scisciani, owner and coating specialist for the contracting firm Specialty Coatings & Consulting, Inc., sees “the emergence of polish concrete in the market place — both good and bad,” along with “the improvement of grinding equipment for concrete preparation,” as the biggest changes.
What do you think will be the biggest change in the coatings or contracting industry in the next 15 years?
Murphy Mahaffey, director of international sales for Polyurethane Machinery Corporation (PMC), said “The trend towards application technology training will continue to grow, requiring a combination of skills in applicators.”
As for Marc Chavez, technical director at the Seattle office of Perkins + Will, he has a “fervent wish for early trade sub involvement! The chemistry will take care of itself.”
McNeil hopes for “More coatings technology (water-borne) and robotics for application. Also more regulatory restraints.”
Scisciani mentioned a desire for “a non-yellowing resin system with excellent chemical and abrasion resistance with no VOCs [volatile organic compounds] and odors.” He’d also like to see “an organization for resinous flooring, similar to CPAA [Concrete Polishing Association of America], to certify contractors and to write guidelines for application.”
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next 15 years, and how does this differ from the past?
“I think a major challenge will be adequate training for applicators to keep up with the technological advances in coatings, application equipment, and safety regulations,” McNeil said. “This has been a challenge in past years but it will become more critical in the future. Also, I think more regulatory restrictions will make it more difficult for contractors.”
Chavez noted challenges in sustainability, or as he referred to it, “the whole green thing.” “Especially for corrosion and antifouling, we need good products but what makes those products work is usually toxic or a heavy metal. My sci-fi brain is looking at ‘paint-on’ biologics that keep the bad biologics off the material, and anticorrosion coatings that can ‘bind’ themselves up (to become less harmful compounds) if and when they separate from the substrate.”
How do you think we can overcome the challenges in the industry?
D. Terry Greenfield, principal consultant at CorroMetrics Services, Inc., thought this was a “tough one.” “I don’t have the answer. How do you encourage folks to train and progress in the industry? There need to be incentives and perceived value to their lives.”
Scisciani wants the industry to “Form an organization of coating experts that have no influence by material manufacturers.” They will be the experts “to write guidelines for the selection and installation for applications.”
How have you seen safety changes over the past 15 years?
“Clients have implemented higher safety standards for their facilities, which have made the installer more safety savvy,” Scisciani succinctly said.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
Scisciani continued to suggest creating an organization, while McNeil would like to give “more attention to quality control and quality assurance on all industrial coatings projects.” And Mahaffey would like to see neutral materials/chemicals.
What are the biggest lessons learned in your career that can help others in the industry succeed?
It’s all about communication for Greenfield and Mahaffey. “Do what it takes to do it right and know when to say ‘no’ and walk away from a project that cannot be successful,” Greenfield said. “Always give people a true answer to their questions," Mahaffey said. “If you don’t know the answer, be honest, find the answer quickly, and follow up!”
What would you tell a new contractor coming into the coatings business?
Our experts suggested training, training, and more training! “Prepare yourself by getting as much training as you can and find a successful contractor who has years of experience in the coatings business to be your mentor,” McNeil said.
Mahaffey seconded: “Get all of the training that you can, pay attention to safety requirements, and use your suppliers as resources for information.”
What would you tell or ask experienced contractors getting ready to retire?
Passing along knowledge was a big theme in our experts' answers. But first a little fun. “I would tell him or her to forget about business and enjoy your retirement,” McNeil said. Mahaffey agreed: “I would tell them congratulations and ask them if I could buy them a drink!” While enjoying the company, McNeil would “would ask him or her ‘what do you think is the most valuable thing you have learned in your years in the coatings business?’” Scisciani would want to know about the retiree’s passions and goals.
Greenfield suggested that the person “consider mentoring or teaching those coming into the industry and pass along the good things you’ve learned…and warn them of the bad things.” He thinks that “retirement is highly overrated.”
What resources do coatings contractors need to be successful in this industry?
McNeil said success comes to those with “excellent business skills,” specifically “good estimators, reliable field superintendents, and well trained applicators.”
Training comes into play again here: “Training access for safety, material handling, and application” for Mahaffey, and “properly trained and supervised installers” for Scisciani. He also added “quality manufacturers” and mentors.
What are the most positive and most negative aspects of this industry?
People seem to make or break the experience for our experts.
“The most positive aspect is the availability of everything needed to be successful in the coatings industry. Also the people you meet and the friends you make,” McNeil said. “The most negative aspects are the resistance to change and lack of training.”
For Scisciani, the positive aspects include “quality manufacturers and materials” along with “prep equipment technology.” On the negative side are “false claims by other competitive industries.”
Chavez’s response was similar. He mentioned, “low bid, high change order and adversarial contracting procedures,” on the negative side but “the clear care and interest in good products and processes,” on the plus side.
What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
To McNeil, it’s “allocation of time and how to improve my skills in all aspects of my business.”
Mahaffey also relates to time: “Deciding where to put time and resources for the best return, while balancing short- and long-term goals.”
For Chavez, being a leader means knowing “when to fight for something and when to let it go, even if it means money.”
What is one mistake you witness people in the coatings industry making more frequently than others?
“Incorrect application parameters leading to rework or failure,” Mahaffey said. His solution: “Specific types of coatings should be researched before application.”
McNeil’s notes were similar: “Violating safety rules and regulations.” He continued, “Another serious mistake I see contractors making is trying to go from commercial contracting to industrial contracting without getting the proper training and experience to be successful in the new venture.”
Do you have any particular anecdotes that you’d like to share?
Greenfield shared his wisdom regarding the effects of failures. He said, “None other than there always seems to be enough time and money to do it a second time…unfortunately.”
Scisciani’s observations included a note about coatings failures, too. “The thing that bothers me the most about some contractors in this industry is the deception that is being done by inexperienced people looking to make a buck. I have seen more of this in the residential market: contractors take payment up front and then provide a substandard service or none at all.” Some of this can be attributed to garage coatings that do-it-yourselfers can buy in big box stores. “I get more calls from people that have done it themselves…a year later.”
Doing each job right the first time, whether with training, an association, leadership, etc., can mean the difference between a short career in coatings and a successful one.