What should an owner look for in a quality coatings contractor?
Facility owners often ask what seems to be a simple question: “What should I be looking for in a qualified contractor?” Typically, owners have either experienced difficulty on one or more projects or, worse yet, they’ve had coating failures due to improper application or poor workmanship.
The answer seems simple, but really, it’s quite complex. Sometimes solving the problem requires a little self-examination to determine if the project that the owner is putting on the street is doomed for failure before the work ever begins.
From a broad perspective, there are four cornerstones of quality that, when assembled correctly, result in a high-quality coatings project. They aren’t listed in any order of importance, but each one plays a critical role in the success of a coatings project.
First, and most obvious, the owner needs to hire a qualified coating contractor. Second, it’s almost impossible to achieve the level of quality an owner is looking for without a well-written coating specification. Third, and often omitted, is the need to hire a quality-driven, independent third-party inspection firm. And last, but certainly not least, the owner must specify the use of quality materials on the project.
While listing these is easy, defining the attributes of each is a little more difficult. To do so, the Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP) members offered what their thoughts and ideas about the four elements were.
Qualified contractor attributes
When asked, “What are the attributes of a qualified contractor?” AMPP members offered a wide variety of answers, including that qualified coatings contractors:
- Have established quality control (QC) and environmental health and safety (EH&S) compliance programs.
- Focus on training and employ qualified craft workers and trained QC personnel.
- Have a successful track record of successful projects.
- Have and continue to make investments in current, available production equipment, such as blast cleaning equipment, abrasive recyclers, spray application equipment, water jetting equipment and dehumidification equipment.
The next question that is often asked while having this discussion is, “Okay, if those are the major attributes, how does an owner locate a qualified contractor? And is there an independent third party that will evaluate contractors to determine if they are qualified to perform our work?”
AMPP’s Quality Procedure (QP) Accreditation programs essentially provide the industry with a thorough and rigorous evaluation of a coatings contractor’s shop and field operations, focusing on quality process and the contractor’s technical capabilities. This allows owners to focus on evaluating a contractor’s ability to meet their project — looking to meet specific goals, such as a condensed schedule and the contractor’s expertise to perform specific operations.
What is a QP Accreditation program?
- QP is an official category of standards developed by the Society for Protective Coatings Committee in 1989 to elevate the coatings and linings industry.
- AMPP awards QP Accreditations to quality contractors and inspection companies that have the work history, processes, experience, knowledge, equipment and ethical practices to perform work that meets the requirements of the owner’s specification.
- AMPP assures compliance using comprehensive checklists with criteria audited in both the office and field operations by technical auditors.
- Audits are conducted to ensure that compliance is maintained by the contractor/inspection company to the established QP standard and to the audit checklists on an annual basis.
- QP Accreditation provides a proven way for facility owners to evaluate contractor and inspection companies’ capabilities to perform to globally recognized, industry-specific quality standards.
- AMPP’s QP Accredited contractors and inspection companies demonstrate the ability to complete projects in accordance with specifications, and they strive to be the best in the industry.
Currently, there are eight different QP Accreditations and three specialty endorsements:
- QP 1, “Field application to complex industrial and marine structures”
- QP 2, “Field removal of hazardous coatings”
- QP 3, “Shop painting accreditation program”
- QP 5, “Accreditation for coating and lining inspection companies”
- QP 6, “Contractor metallizing accreditation”
- QP 7, “Painting contractor introductory program”
- QP 8, “Installation of polymer coatings and surfacing on concrete and other cementitious surfaces”
- QP 9, “Standard procedure for evaluating the qualifications of commercial painting and coating contractors”
- QS 1, “Standard procedure for evaluating a contractor’s advanced quality management system”
- QN 1, “Nuclear coating supplement”
- QS-3 and AS-3 ITO, “Program for Accreditation of Employer Coating Applicator Training Programs” and “Program for Accreditation of an Independent Training Organization”
There is an accreditation for almost every kind of industrial coatings application that exists in the industry today, and additional accreditations are under development.
Review coating inspection
The second element that an owner must consider is often the one that many owners find the most difficult to accept. They must examine their own coatings specification. Self-examination can be an all-encompassing process requiring the ability to look at a guide specification or a project specification with a critical eye focused on improving the overall quality and extending the lifecycle of an industrial coatings system. Good specifications:
- Are clearly written. Say it once, say it right.
- Clearly state the acceptance criteria for key criteria.
- Surface preparation: Degrees of cleanliness and depth of anchor profile.
- Application conditions: Acceptable ambient conditions.
- Dry film thickness: Provide a range of acceptable thicknesses.
- Are written or reviewed by an AMPP-certified Protective Coating Specialist (PCS).
- Cite globally recognized industry standards, which have stood the test of time and provide universal construction language.
- Specify the use of quality materials (e.g., coatings, thinners, abrasives) that will provide the service life expectancy in the conditions of the service environment.
A well-written specification requires:
- Work plan acceptance prior to the start of production. Doing so allows the owner to see what the contractor’s or shop’s work plan is for completing the work.
- Pre-project submittals for review and acceptance, for example:
- Project-specific QC
- EH&S plans
- In-process evidence of contract compliance, signed off by the contractor’s or shop’s quality control systems (QCS).
- Hold point inspections at key intervals — at critical steps as the project progresses — for example, prior to and after surface preparation.
- Qualified craft workers
- Certified abrasive blasters and spray painter
- Ultra-high-pressure water jetting
- Independent, third-party coatings inspections
The third element is requiring a coatings inspection by an independent third-party coatings inspection company. Oftentimes, coatings inspectors are either employed by the project owner or hired by the owner as independent third-party inspection companies or independent third-party coatings inspectors. Quality inspection companies and quality inspectors should be globally accredited to AMPP’s QP 5 accreditation for Coating and Lining Inspection Companies and hold internationally recognized inspection certifications, such as AMPP’s Coatings Inspector Program (CIP) certifications. Specifying QP 5 is QA insurance for owners.
The fourth and final element of a successful coatings project is making sure to specify quality materials. Requiring the use of quality materials that are supported by specific testing for the project environment and manufactured by reputable coatings manufacturers is a key element to success. The specified coatings should have testing to prove that they will provide suitable performance in the service environment the structure will be built in. Reputable manufacturers provide detailed product data sheets and coatings application guides, safety data sheets, and, when requested, certificates of performance. This commitment to using quality materials extends beyond the protective coatings alone; it should include items such as abrasives, thinners, water used for wet abrasive blasting or water jetting, along with other material associated with the protective coating installation.
Specifying one of the QP accreditations for both the coatings application and inspection has proven to improve the overall quality of a protective coatings project and effectively reduce risk and improve safety. When you specify QP, you specify quality.
Dave Evans, director of QP and Coatings Credentialing and Business Development for AMPP, currently manages the QP accreditation program in addition to being heavily focused on business development. He has been working collaboratively across AMPP to drive greater momentum to its core coatings certifications and educational programs. For more information, contact: Dave Evans at email@example.com.
Originally appeared in CoatingsPro Magazine Membership News July 2022.