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Resurfacing a floor is for more than just looks

June 21, 2004
Resurfacing rationales go far beyond good looks

I recently visited a showcase facility just two years after a complete renovation. The grounds are impeccable, the offices lean but lovely, the manufacturing and warehouse areas brightly lit and spotless. But the materials the facility handles are heavy, and even at its young age, the floor is hurting, especially in high-traffic forklift areas around scales and storage. The coating shows wear and spalling, and the almost-new exposed concrete not only looks bad, but is being damaged by exposure to hard wheels and pallet nails.

There are many reasons to coat and maintain an industrial floor. It can increase sales, improve product quality, improve worker comfort and safety, and reduce maintenance costs in both the short and long run. Though some consider floor protection frivolous, you can calculate the payback it's likely to be shorter than you'd expect.

And of course, it looks fabulous.

When all you need is love

Depending on your competitive situation, just making floors look good can pay off by impressing existing and prospective customers. Your company may win new orders or at least not lose as many to the sharp facility down the road."Five or 10 years ago, suppliers and manufacturers were cutting their deals in the boardroom," says John Beck, president, Progressive Building Services, an independent flooring installer in Grand Rapids, Mich. "Now they're out on the production floor. Buyers want to see production areas and how they're maintained, and suppliers are getting new business by impressing them with clean, well-lit production areas."The impact of a good-looking floor is significant. "About 90% of the perception of a building is based on the floor," Beck adds. "If people see a nice floor with traffic markings and striping, they feel the whole building is well-maintained."
Let it be?But in our industrial world, most of the time good looks aren't enough. In fact, they can backfire: any attention to aesthetics might be seen as wasting time and money. "I call it the Wal-Mart syndrome," Beck says. "If the place looks too good, customers think you must be charging them too much. So companies fire their secretaries, let the weeds grow and ignore aesthetics." But Beck says that doesn't mean they can neglect their floors. "They used to coat the floor to make it look good," he says. "Now they resurface for functionality and product quality."There are functional considerations for every industrial environment. Obviously, food, pharmaceutical and electronics facilities need smooth surfaces and easy cleanup for sanitary conditions and product quality. But other operations, from chemical plants to machining to assembly, can benefit from smooth, sealed floors."Dust is an issue, and not just in clean rooms, in electrical assembly and all high-tech industries," says Mike Jewell, vice president, marketing and technical services, Stonhard (www.stonhard.com). "Concrete is dusty it's the nature of the material. It affects operational efficiencies and costs."These days, chemical processors and machining operations have to be concerned about liquids permeating an unsealed concrete floor and entering the ground. "Companies are responsible for environmental cleanup of their sites, and coatings can keep chemicals from seeping into the floor," says Mark Paggioli, director of marketing, Dur-A-Flex (www.dur-a-flex.com). "Some people are becoming more aware of that."Floor coating can reduce utility costs. A light-colored, reflective floor helps get the most from existing illumination, allowing plants to install lower-wattage bulbs or avoid an otherwise needed upgrade to higher-output fixtures. Good lighting can increase operator effectiveness, comfort and safety.The insulating effect of a thick floor coating can lower heating bills, and the higher surface temperature increases operator comfort at a lower ambient temperature, Beck says. 'If you're trying to heat an eight- or 12-inch-thick slab of concrete, a 1/4-inch overlay makes the building more comfortable.Not only can a sealed floor be kept cleaner than bare concrete, it is also easier and less expensive to clean. Beck says many companies have found they can justify floor renovation on cleaning costs alone, calculating reasonable paybacks based on a 50% reduction in cleaning man-hours. There's at least a similar reduction in the use of cleaning supplies compared to the amount you need to use on rough and porous concrete."It's very easy to clean and saves time and money for our sanitation crew," says Chuck Bouchrouche, president of Bagel Boy, a bagel manufacturer in Lawrence, Mass. Antimicrobial coatings can prevent bacterial and fungal growth, odors and staining in food processing areas.In plants where the floors are seldom swept, much less sanitized, the damage inflicted on bare concrete by material-hauling equipment may be returned in kind. "A rough floor beats up equipment like forklifts and towmotors," says Mark Cline, vice president, flooring, Preferred Inc., Cleveland. The damage can extend to personnel. "Plants are trying to get more into small spaces, so they're using more Raymond lifts. On a rough floor, operators can be hurt by shocks and bouncing."Worker safety and comfort are major considerations in floor finishing, and avoiding just one severe fall can pay for a lot of floor coating. Surfaces selected and textured for slip resistance offer secure footing both wet and dry.In the interest of safety, it's worth mentioning that there are fixes for slippery floors even if you can't spend the money to resurface. "Despite tight budgets, people are still slipping and falling," says Christina Molnar, vice president, business development, at SlipNot (www.slipnot.com). "Many customers are looking for cost-effective solutions. Our new expanded metal line for retrofit lets you put a non-slip surface on existing stairs, steps and other surfaces."
Eight days a week

Excessive product scrap provided motivation and justification for floor resurfacing at the Indalex aluminum extrusion plant in Elkhart, Ind. The combination of high temperatures, heavy forklift traffic, and impacts from dropping 2,000- to 8,000-lb. aluminum dies made the floors a rough ride for finished parts. "We were running at 8% scrap, and 1% of that was directly caused by dents and banging from floor problems problems that translated to $280,000 off of my bottom line," says Pat Meyers, owner.

"Regular epoxies did not hold up," says Jeff Berlew, president, Northern Industrial Flooring, Orland, Ind. (www.locl.net/homes/northern). "The first attempt wore too fast, leaving chewed-up floors with four- to five-in. holes in the concrete. The second showed failure after just two months."

"When you need a plant running around the clock like we do," Meyers says, "you can't have your lines shutting down again and again. Despite great warranties, I can't afford to honor them. It is frustrating to pay $80,000 for a floor that holds up for less than two years. Northern Industrial recommended reinforced epoxy, which has withstood the conditions at Indalex." Berlew says, "The reinforced epoxy resists abrasion and shock even skid nails won't scratch it. It just does not fail."

Paying more up front to reduce scrap and lifecycle cost made obvious sense. "There's a little bit of a cost premium, but not in the big picture," Berlew says. "You only do the preparation and labor once."

And, of course, if floor damage leads to shutting down an area for repair, you have to consider the cost of lost production. "In high-traffic, critical areas," Jewell says, "resurfacing can be justified based on reducing repairs to concrete."

You can work it out

Floor coatings range from thin to thick, epoxy to acrylic, water-based or solvent-borne, in myriad combinations of aggregates and layers. Each possible combination of materials and application techniques results in a unique compromise of properties and cost. There are few absolutes, but there are several interesting trends in coating materials you should know before discussing your requirements with your favorite floor professional.

One significant trend is the movement toward thicker coatings, also called resurfacers or toppings. One reason is that industrial floors in the predominantly brownfield United States tend to have the pitting, holes and other damage these coatings can fill. Another is increased recognition of lifecycle cost.

"People who were doing coatings are doing resurfacers," Beck says. With proper maintenance cleaning and touch-ups a 15- to 20-mil coating might last three to four years, he says. Resurfacers, which run from 60 mils up to 3/16 or 1/4 in., will last 15 to 20 years with the same kind of care. "They cost maybe $3 to $4 a square foot where coatings cost $1 to $1.50, but the lifecycle cost is lower. People are switching because they know what it costs to shut down."

Shutdown costs are always a consideration. Curing or drying speed can make or break a floor finishing plan, and there are now fast-curing acrylics and UV-cure coatings. "With fast-curing acrylics, within an hour of your final coat you can have a finished floor," Paggioli says.
"With UV drying, you run a light over it and bingo, it's dry," says Ken Hughes, vice president, marketing, Garland Floor Co. (www.garlandfloor.com). "Today it's not as durable, but it's improving all the time. UV-cure coatings are subject to yellowing as time passes." "All coatings yellow, some more than others," Hughes adds. "We're working on a coating that won't yellow. People want decorative floors, so that's important."

Methyl methacrylate cures quickly under damp and cold conditions, which makes it attractive for new construction and instances when floor coating comes late in the schedule, and you want to get the investment up and running. But these coatings have a strong odor. "In an operating plant, it has to be done off-hours or on a light shift," Jewell says. "Urethanes are not as fast but don't have the odor. In the past several years, we've seen urethanes take a stronger position with good resistance to food acids and thermal shock."

Concerns about VOCs and emissions have led to waterborne coatings that rival the performance of solvent-based stalwarts, but, according to Hughes, water is still not as good as solvent.

Here, there, everywhere

Different resin systems can be combined in layers to suit the installation conditions, as well as the ultimate application. "I like to finish with aliphatic polyurethane," Cline says. "Epoxies bond better to the concrete, but poly gives better wear, holds its color well, has a nice sheen, and we can put in non-slip additives."

But you don't have to go far to find fans of the tried-and-true. "Epoxy is still king," Jewell says. "For durability, cost and ease of application, it's a good value, and the others cost more. As I see it, it will hold that position."

If we're giving you the impression that coating chemistries are complex, decisions aren't straightforward, and the choices depend on your exact circumstances, we've done our job. It's worth evaluating your requirements and working through your options to get floors that really fit the needs of different plant areas. "Epoxy versus acrylic versus urethane, resurfacers versus coatings what are you using it for?" Paggioli says. "Traffic, chemicals, slip-resistance, smoothness and cleanliness you need to install the right coating for the environment. Then, of course, there's schedule and cost."

"A concrete floor tends to be the same everywhere," Beck says. "With the coating technology now available texturing, safety, ESD you're able to take a section and make it uniquely suitable for its purpose. The floor can be adapted to the manufacturing, not vice-versa."

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