Take a step-by-step approach to floor problems

A step-by-step approach identifies floor problems, causes and effective solutions.

By Tara W. Crowley

The word "quality" often is misunderstood by many people, regardless of profession, education, geographical location or marketplace. This includes the industrial marketplace as it relates to plant floor problems.

The question of quality is best approached using some of the common definitions that literature on this subject has offered. As referenced in Wikipedia, the most progressive view of quality is defined entirely by the end user’s  evaluation of the entire customer experience. That’s the aggregate of touch points customers have with a company’s product and services, and is, by definition, a combination of these.

Another question is how to achieve it. Flooring product manufacturers achieve quality by adherence to a standard such as ISO 9001:2000. The International Organization for Standardization developed it so companies can compete in a global marketplace using identical quality requirements.

Manufacturers should seek a quality-management system (QMS) certified to the ISO 9001:2000 standard. They do this to better fulfill customers’ quality requirements and meet applicable regulatory requirements, while enhancing customer satisfaction and achieving continuous improvement of its performance in pursuit of these objectives.

On the plant floor

The ISO 9001 standard is of significant help in applying a quality approach to an existing floor problem. Specify 9001 or a similar quality standard when choosing companies that will be addressing your flooring problem. They should show demonstrable proof that they’re focused on the standard, not just on some glib, loosely defined definition of quality.

Understand exactly whose customer you are. End users often rely on contractors to resolve problems and might unknowingly remove themselves from the manufacturer’s customer-satisfaction process. Contractors lacking a QMS might be unable to provide a quality approach to problems when the manufacturer isn’t directly involved in the project. Manufacturers with an established QMS shepherd end users through a quality process that helps them recognize, dissect, prioritize and identify the actual floor problem.

These manufacturers typically provide a trained installer and follow-up to verify installation effectiveness. Manufacturers have the in-depth knowledge of the problem identification and root-cause analysis process that comes from training and experience in meeting their QMS requirements. Your supplier’s purpose in using a quality approach is to help you address problem causes and potential problems while removing knee-jerk reactions and unjustified assumptions.

A quality approach (also known as “Corrective and Preventive Action” in the ISO standard), typically involves seven steps you should be looking for and be able to identify:

  1. Problem identification
  2. Immediate action
  3. Interim action
  4. Root cause identification
  5. Solution implementation
  6. Follow-up verification
  7. Preventive action

Problem identification

The manufacturer should help you prioritize floor problems, which are multidimensional and based on certain criteria:

  • Impact: The seriousness of the current situation – its effect on your goals.
  • Urgency: Health or safety threats; deadlines (legal, regulatory, contractual); complaints, returns, reputation or market share; costs (corrections, adjustments, rework).
  • Trends: The consequence of leaving it alone – probability of remaining stable, getting worse or becoming recurrent.

Some floor problems occur during design and construction where chemical and physical abuses often are overlooked. A few years later, the following problems of an unprotected or insufficiently protected concrete floor might then arise:

  • Physical destruction: Impact from falling drums, power trucking, wheeled traffic, heavy loads, fork lifts.
  • Chemical attack: Spillage, bacterial build-up, leakage, penetration and thermal shock.
  • Worker safety: Unevenness (defects, holes, depressions) and slippery surfaces (hot oil, grease, continuously wet).
  • Environmental: Pollution leaching through concrete.
  • Compliance issues
  • Loss of work time

Immediate action

Also known as the Band-Aid approach, immediate action isn’t necessarily applicable to every problem. It might include shutting down an area to maintain worker safety or product quality until the root cause can be identified, or it might require shutting down production altogether.

Interim action

Take temporary measure(s) until the problem cause can be solved, such as installing metal floor plates to cover damaged areas; eliminating potential health, safety and welfare hazards; or repairing the floor with a concrete repair kit until you can implement a long-lasting solution.

Root cause identification

Discover what can be changed to make the problem go away forever. It’s the most critical step. If your supplier gets it wrong, the solution will most likely be wrong.

The quality approach to decision-making saves you time and aggravation, and precludes the quick result that leads to preconceived solutions based on assumptions instead of facts. Perfect planning and execution can’t make up for a wrong initial decision. An thoughtful root cause analysis eliminates jumping to conclusions, wild speculation, more possibilities than probabilities and inefficient investigation.

Your product supplier needs to coordinate your problem-solving team to better analyze the floor problem root cause. A typical team includes the product supplier, along with top management in your organization. This includes an operations supervisor who has knowledge of practices and the authority to direct the workforce, along with a manufacturing engineer with knowledge of facility equipment and authority to modify tooling and work methods. Lastly, another important member of this team is a trained installer, recommended by the manufacturer, who has extensive knowledge of the product being applied and years of application experience.

It’s also a good idea to include an independent quality engineer who has the inspection and testing knowledge and expertise for proper substrate analysis. In the absence of such an engineer, the installer should perform the testing and inspections and, therefore, should have the expertise and knowledge to use the most current test standards, such the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards, the standards of choice for a diverse range of industries.

Among the many considerations to address during a root cause discovery are substrate properties – concrete, tile, wood, steel, bituminous covering or an old coating system that needs to be replaced. The substrate’s properties and its treatment are highly dependent on the nature of the substrate. For example, compressive strength of a concrete floor determines how it supports shocks and impacts that can delaminate the flooring.

Another consideration is the substrate moisture level. Most flooring systems have low vapor permeability and act as a barrier to moisture. Vapor pressure buildup often destroys the surface treatment. Calcium chloride testing reveals the presence of moisture emissions in the slab, as well as osmotic groundwater pressure. If moisture can’t be prevented, you’ll need a vapor-permeable system.

The substrate’s current environmental exposure and usage are relevant to effective root cause research. Analysis might include inspection and testing for dirt, oil or chemical contamination; concrete defects and damage; ground movement or settling; structural or substrate failure; oil or hydraulic fluid penetration, or form-release agents in concrete; alkaline silicate reaction (ASR), which causes cracking and expansion in concrete slabs; and improper design or construction of the substrate on which materials are applied. No test can reveal everything that should be considered deciding about floor coating or resurfacing system installation. Test results only provide a snapshot of the slab condition at a particular time.

Solution implementation

After completing a successful problem diagnosis, the manufacturer must decide on a product and its application to preclude recurrence of existing floor problems. Information developed during steps 1 through 3 are used in pursuing corrective actions. Other sources might include employee inputs and management observations and needs.

After identifying the root cause of the problem and specifying the solution, focus on proper surface preparation. It must be sound, dry and clean before applying any product to ensure optimum substrate adhesion. The preparation methods depend on the type of floor coating or resurfacing system being applied. Choices include:

  • Vacuum shot blasting: The most popular method, it’s 98% dust-free, thus environmentally friendly.
  • Scarification: Aggressive, for severely eroded floors.
  • Milling: Removes badly damaged concrete.
  • Grinding: Removes the skin of a fresh concrete substrate or old paint layers.
  • Chemical preparation: Typically, acid etching.

The function and resistance of a floor coating provides a variety of solutions depending on the resistance required. Take into account the floor coating properties once the substrate and usage have been analyzed and documented.
An important floor coating property is its abrasion resistance. Generally accepted classifications for usage are:

  • Light traffic: Pedestrian and hand truck usage.
  • Medium traffic: Fork-lift trucks, wooden pallets, crates.
  • Heavy traffic: wheeled machinery and equipment, heavy-duty fork-lift trucks and metal pallets, crates.

Another important property is chemical resistance. Industrial floors can be subject to chemical attack from acids, oxidizers, alkalis, salts, organic compounds, dyes, solvents of all sorts, fuels, oils and greases.

The manufacturer should encourage you to consider the future (short-term versus long-term occupancy, lease or own, changing conditions, crucial factors overlooked, spin-off effects and side-effects).

Once the product and application are defined, the manufacturer should furnish a Material Specification Guideline to document the project scope, current floor conditions, problem diagnosis, the root cause and the solution that prevents recurrence. No two concrete floors are alike. Don’t be tempted into comparing and expecting the same solution and outcome as what appears to be a similar-looking floor elsewhere or in a different industry.

Follow-up verification

The manufacturer should follow up after project completion to verify its effectiveness and to ensure the result meets your needs and satisfaction. All too often, after the floor resurfacing system is installed, end users forget the product name and the company that installed it. Look for a manufacturer that remains with you throughout the project. You want one that partners with you to provide ongoing support and technical assistance that maintains the condition of your flooring and prevents potential problems in the future.

Preventive action

This ongoing support program addresses the final piece of the “Corrective and Preventive Action” process. Thought must be given to preventive actions that help remove the causes of potential floor problems to prevent their occurrence. Preventive actions must be appropriate for the effects of the potential floor problems and should be relevant to the performance of your industrial floor. Some typical data sources used during discovery might come from the results of your facility’s problem diagnosis considerations, industry analysis, lessons learned from past experience, results of self-assessments and daily operational use.

Consider applying a protective floor coating or resurfacing system in the absence of an existing problem because concrete, by nature, is always in a state of deterioration unless it’s protected from environmental conditions. Eventually, an unprotected or insufficiently protected substrate can break down from exposure to its environment, its usage or from passage of time.

The manufacturer’s support program might provide you with suggestions about preventive actions, such as protection against wear and damage; protection against chemical deterioration; reduction of maintenance and cleaning costs; cleaner work environment (limited dust release from wear); decreasing injury rate from slips, trips and falls; prevention of static charges using conductive coatings and more efficient workflow using directional markings. Awareness of these possibilities can help you discover opportunities for improvement in protecting and maintaining your facility floor.

The issue of quality, as it pertains to a QMS standard, involves thoughtful analysis on the part of the manufacturer from the initial diagnosis of your floor problem all the way through solution implementation and follow-up, which ultimately results in fulfillment of your requirements.

Often we find that the term “quality” is used rather loosely, so the next time you hear a manufacturer or contractor use this term to identify itself as “top quality” in providing products and service, you’re armed with the knowledge to put them to the test. And remember, quality is as you define it. You have every right and expectation as the customer to achieve your desired outcome.

Tara W. Crowley is a RAB-certified QMS Lead Auditor for Garon Products Inc. in Wall, N.J. E-mail her at twcrowley@garonproducts.com.