Maintenance painting

Dec. 18, 2006
An engineered approach to corrosion protection is the best way to secure management backing.

Like most engineering operations, a planned systematic approach to a problem results in the best use of time and money. It also results in the least operational down time and the fewest management problems. Corrosion protection, in the form of maintenance painting, is no exception. A properly conceived and planned systematic approach provides long term benefits that reduce corporate expenses and improve the "bottom line."

An engineered approach to maintenance painting does not  just happen. Like most other projects, it requires a considerable amount planning, preparation, and hard work before opening the first can of paint and triggering the first spray gun. This article provides an overview of the approach, with emphasis on obtaining management commitment.

Maintenance painting--overview

To survive in this day and age, large publicly owned corporations and most smaller ones must not only be responsive to the global market, but as well must be trim, efficient, and cost-effective. The well-rounded corporate management looks not only for strategic market opportunities, but for opportunities to reduce costs and to more effectively utilize personnel.

These managers approach corrosion protection and maintenance painting in a systematic fashion. Additionally, enlightened plant management supports the chosen approach and commits funding over the life of the plan for it to be effective.

This article shows how to develop an approach to maintenance painting, to obtain appropriate information, and to develop cost projections and recommendations upon which management can act. It is incumbent upon the maintenance engineer to do a thorough job in preparing so that the sound engineering principles this approach embodies gain the sympathy and resources of upper management. Remember, corporate management will not fund a conceptual approach to maintenance painting they do not endorse--the program, even if sound, will die.


For the systematic approach to maintenance painting to be successful, the following information and procedures must be developed.

  • an inventory of paintable items,
  • a coating condition assessment,
  • prioritized painting needs based on funds available,
  • the appropriate coating system for the items to be painted,
  • a comprehensive coating specification,
  • an appropriate coating applicator (in-house, independent contractor, or both),
  • a means to measure quality and regulatory compliance, and
  • record keeping to establish coating longevity, cost effectiveness, and system improvement.

While a book could be written with a number of chapters under each of thees sub-headings, we will make an attempt to conceptually discuss each of the above items:

Inventory of painted items

This is one of the most tedious, difficult, and time consuming tasks to be done. While there are a number ways to do this and variety in the detail required, the successful program needs a reasonably complete itemization of what is to be painted. This is best done by subdividing a plant or facility into subsections on the basis of building, floor, operating area, room, or bay. Each subdivision may require further subdivision until a small enough area is obtained. Then inventory the equipment, structural steel, pipes, motor, pumps, and fans within that area along with structural steel walls, windows, floors, and ceilings. Note any items that are unpainted or constructed from a material that does not require painting.

While this work is tedious, given proper preparation and proper data collection forms, an experienced team of two can assess most large plants in as little as two weeks and many facilities in a week or less.

The inventory can be done as time allows over a longer period of time if done by plant personnel. Alternately, the inventory can be taken after deciding to paint an area. Of course, if the area is to be painted immediately, it is not necessary to assess coating condition.

Coating condition assessment

It is relatively easy to assess coating condition for each of those items while conducting the inventory of painted items. The assessment provides a standard grading evaluation of the coating in accordance with a prescribed grading plan (see Table 1). This plan has 9 classifications and, with only a little practice, it is easy to evaluate the condition of the paint. The grading in the A, B, and C categories also determines the maintenance painting strategy to select.


After developing the inventory and assessing the coating condition on each of the painted items, prepare a maintenance painting prioritization schedule. Almost always, the items that should be painted first or have highest priority are never the ones that appear to be in the worst condition.

As long as there is no eminent structural deterioration, the coatings in worst condition should be allowed to deteriorate a little further since they require total replacement anyway. The coatings that are just starting to deteriorate should be scheduled for maintenance repainting first. The old adage "a stitch in time saves nine" applies here.

Surface preparation, usually by blast cleaning or power tools is the most labor intensive part of any painting operation. Consequently, schedule the maintenance painting operations either to minimize the costs of surface preparation or to renew a paintable surface before it deteriorates to the point that it requires extensive surface preparation. To the casual observer, many of the areas scheduled for maintenance painting would look to be in pretty good condition compared to other areas in the plant that may be considerably more deteriorated and seemingly require more urgent attention.

For this most cost-effective approach to maintenance painting to be successful, upper management must understand that either they must commit a greater sum of money at the inception to maintain the aesthetic quality of the plant or they must accept a more deteriorated appearance in some areas so that money normally spent in repairing these areas can be more cost effectively spent in areas that require only spot repair and a touchup instead of total removal and repainting.

Develop a long range budget

After prioritizing paintable areas, provide an estimate of the cost of remedial painting. Rank the areas needing maintenance painting according to the prioritization. Prepare cost estimates for remedial paint work to be done in at least the next two, and preferably the next five, years. A knowledgeable estimator can make the estimates on either a square foot or man-hour-to-complete basis. Paint estimating software assists an estimator in obtaining good budget estimates. Alternately, painting contractors and coating consultants can prepare the estimates, usually for a nominal cost. Be sure the estimate includes the mobilization, accessibility, surface preparation, paint application, and worker and environmental protection.

Establish a yearly budget after estimating the painting costs. Present to management the budget projection along with the perceived benefits and savings from this systematic approach to maintenance painting. An accurate budget is a crucial factor for future credibility.

Select the appropriate coating system

Selecting an appropriate coating system requires knowledge of the exposure environment, some knowledge of generic paint types, their corrosion resistant capabilities, and their application characteristics. After choosing the generic type of paint comes decisions about the surface preparation requirements, application techniques, coating thickness requirements, as well as drying and curing characteristics. For industrial painting, the coating system usually is defined as surface preparation, pretreatment (if any), and the application of a primer, intermediate, and finish coat.

Preparation of coating specification

Develop a relatively detailed specification that describes the scope of work, the type of paint to be applied, the surface preparation, and the coating application requirements. These requirements are the essential components of a technical painting specification. This information can be written "generically" or written in considerable detail to provide instructions and guidance to the coating applicator. The type of specification chosen often depends upon the specific job, the applicator (in house or contracted), and the sensitivity toward OSHA and EPA regulatory compliance.

Also, include contractual language besides the technical specification when using an outside painting contractor. While this is often "boiler plate" language, take care to ensure that it is updated to conform with current laws and regulations and that it is appropriate for the work to be done.

Select the applicator

Some plant facilities only use in-house painters while others only use contractors. However, many plants use a combination of both. As a general rule, the painting contractor does the more specialized work using more sophisticated coating systems or augments plant maintenance forces during a scheduled outage. There are advantages and disadvantages both to using in-house plant painters and painting contractors.

Attaining quality and regulatory compliance

Even with a comprehensive specification, you must have a means to ensure the work is done correctly and in conformance with the specification. You need to ensure conformance with regulations regarding worker safety and environmental protection. The level of inspection and surveillance ranges from a very thorough third party inspection to spot checking for quality and worker protection and environmental oversight. The extent of verification required depends on corporate philosophy, the nature of the work, and the hazards of non-compliance.

However, for management to endorse and fund a planned systematic maintenance painting program, all of the above items must be thoroughly considered.

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