Steel Coatings Articles

Greatest Hits: Surface Prep Success

Although standards are written so personalities, subjectivism, and outside motivations can be minimized, there are still opportunities for variances in achieving the requirements of a given standard. There are a multitude of standards beyond those pertaining to or the inspecting of surface preparation. However, any standard could present difficulties causing all those involved unnecessary pain. Standards must be met prior to reaching the final accepted level of cleanliness; someone with key involvement in the project could interpret a standard differently than its true intent, those performing the quality control or assurance could lack knowledge, or those on the frontline could be unclear on the goal they are working to obtain. And that’s just the beginning.

To help strive toward a successful partnership and effectively obtain the proper surface preparation (or perhaps any standard) on a new or existing project, here are a few things we have found that add to our success.

Communication Is Key in Setting the Expectation

Communication between all parties, particularly those performing and inspecting the work, is an essential part of a successful project. Each party must understand the specifications and how the standards within those specifications are to be achieved, confirmed, and accepted. Everyone must also understand the scope of work so expectations can be met and agreed upon. The preparatory meeting is the perfect place to set the expectation of the project. Oftentimes, people just sit through meetings to check off a box that it occurred. The willingness to meet the customer’s expectation and ensuring it is communicated so the expectation is within the specification is what we look for in the preparatory meetings leading up to the start of the project. We strive for a cohesive understanding throughout the project at all hold points (inspections) and in between each step of preparation and application.

Inspection Ensures Expectations Are Met

There are several inspection tools/guides/standards written and utilized to ensure that surface prep is meeting the requirements of the specifications. Here are a few examples:

• Visual guides (e.g., ASTM D 2200-95: Standard Pictoral Surface Preparation Standards for Painting Steel Surfaces) are standards utilized by contractors and inspectors to determine the level of corrosion on the surface and what that surface will look like when the level of steel cleanliness is achieved. The Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) provides standard guides with photographs to reference before and after surface preparation takes place. Rust grades are given to levels of corrosion and photographs, citing the different levels of steel cleanliness achieved. These are used as visual reference points.

• SSPC AB 2: Cleanliness of Recycled Ferrous Metallic Abrasive tests the recycled abrasive (e.g., steel grit) for coatings, paints, scale, rust, and other foreign matter to ensure those materials are not being presented into the substrate during the blasting process.

• SSPC AB 3: Ferrous Metallic Abrasive tests previously unused abrasive material for the percent weight of non-magnetic matter and/or has an oil film.

• Blotter Test (ASTM D 4285: Standard Test Method for Indicating Oil or Water in Compressed Air) checks for air cleanliness to ensure no oils or water are being presented to the substrate through the compressed air used when abrasive blasting.

• SSPC Technology Guide 15: Field Methods for Retrieval and Analysis of Soluble Salts on Steel and other Substrates — Checking for levels of Chlorides, Sulfates, and Nitrates checks for cleanliness on substrate both prior to surface preparation and after surface preparation.

• Pressure Sensitive Tape Test (ISO 8502-3: Preparation of steel substrates before application of paints and related products) takes samples for dust on the surface of the prepared substrate prior to applying coatings.

• Surface profile is spelled out in the preparation standard and/or specification. A desired/required surface profile (roughness) needs to be achieved.

You can imagine the impact a misunderstanding of any of the above could have on a project. Entrusting another organization to understand, perform, and report appropriately is not a risk we like to gamble on.

Law of the Land

Knowledge of surface preparation standards plays an essential role in the success of what we do. It is our responsibility to know the scope of work and the standards outlined in the project specification. We must be experts on our industry requirements and we must be leaders when it comes to communicating these standards with others. We spend a great deal of resources educating our development and operations teams about the industry, as they play a role in every step of obtaining and executing a project.

Your onsite field leadership represents your company each and every day so it is imperative they have the knowledge and resources to make great decisions in the moment. It is just as important that your blasters and painters understand the standards and how to achieve them in the many environments our industry offers. Without the ability to achieve them in a Safe, Quality, Efficient manner within the decisions of leadership, the contractor would simply lose money every day.

Comparatively speaking, the standards are the “laws” of the coatings industry, much like we as citizens have laws to follow in our daily lives. To continue to be a positive part of the coatings society, we must know and understand the laws and how to thrive within them.

About the Author:

Josh Thomas began his career with Thomas Industrial Coatings in 1998, taking a hiatus from the family business to earn his Masters of Business Administration degree from Bellarmine University. He returned fulltime in 2011 to complete the Huey P. Long Bridge Project in New Orleans, La. Thomas is now the director of operations, where he is charged with completing projects safely, on time, and on budget by supporting the team of project managers in their daily management efforts. For more information, contact: Thomas Industrial Coatings,

This feature is part of a special anniversary series in 2017 in which CoatingsPro reflects on and updates the magazine’s most-read digital stories. See the original article from June 2016 here. To read the other articles in the Greatest Hits series, click here.

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