Epoxy opinion - test results, warranties and other damaging grey areas
The limited training opportunities raised in my last post makes it hard enough for fresh talent to enter our industry, but unfortunately that’s only half the battle.
Contractors just starting out also need to navigate through the tricky “smoke and mirror” landscape of the coatings world and, not surprisingly, only very few of them make it through. I’ve seen the same story unfold time and time again - new contractors emerge with hope and enthusiasm, only to quickly fizzle out because they are hit with half truths and empty promises at every turn. Failed jobs follow failed jobs and confidence levels plummet. In the end they have no choice but to pack up and exit, another victim of a ruthless industry that appears too willing to make a sale rather than help find a solution.
While all that sounds rather dark and gloomy, I honestly believe the prognosis for anyone starting a career in coatings is pretty bleak. With no recognised best practices, training or practical assessment, there are so many traps to fall into and so many people prepared to lead them into the fire. Just for a moment, consider the following three examples - all massive personal gripes of mine - and the impact they have on a contractor trying to find their feet.
Misleading test results
The nature of the work we do sees very few applications performed in ideal conditions with ideal preparation and ideal application. With this is mind, what do test results actually mean when it comes to performance in the field? More importantly, do the differences between these perfect test results and actual results ever get explained to a contractor who mightn’t know any better?
All of this dawned on me one day while conducting tensile adhesion tests and thinking about the relevance of the results I was getting. As usual the test conditions were very close to ideal - I was able to solvent wipe and abrasive blast every square inch of the metal substrate to class 2.5, apply the small patch of product carefully and allow it to cure without extreme temperatures, rain etc. Yes, the results I got were impressive, but would it be like that in the field? Could a contractor reasonably expect the same results? What would happen if the mix ratio was out or some solvent was added to help application in cool conditions? Would it still be good enough to do this job or that job?
The problem I feel is that these types of questions aren’t being addressed well enough by the industry as a whole and, in many cases I’ve heard, inflated test results are actually being used as selling tools to “prove” certain products are better than others; as if nothing else entered the equation. Very few manufacturers seem willing to explore what these test results mean on a project by project basis and it’s a big trap for naive contractors who have no choice but to take everything on face value.
Ignored product limitations
It’s a similar scenario when it comes to product limitations. The truth is every product out there has certain strengths and weaknesses, however I’m not sure every manufacture is willing to admit it. I call it the “she’ll be right” or “that’s just the way it is” mentality and can give you a couple of examples to demonstrate how this catches contractors out.
The first involves a polyaspartic coatingand I’ve heard similar stories a few times now. For those unfamiliar with the technology, polyaspartics have emerged as a very popular choice for applications requiring a quick turnaround due to their combination of speed, tolerance of low temperatures, high solids content and high build capabilities, among other things. They can, however, be unforgiving when it comes to additional coats and contractors have to work within strict re-coat windows to avoid intercoat adhesion problems. Unfortunately this wasn’t communicated to the contractor at the time and the “she’ll be right” answer given to the question of whether another coat could be applied several weeks later resulted in sections peeling off the floor.
In the second example, a contractor had only been in his business for less than a year when he was sold pigment pots to use in a clear product for a run of solid-colour floors. When he reported back to his supplier with colour separation problems he was told “that’s just the way it is” and that’s where the matter ended. He was never educated on why the problem can occur in the first place and never told that he’d be better off using a tintable floor coating rather than pigmenting a clear. As it turned out, the supplier didn’t have a tintable rollcoat to offer and that probably explains why he wasn’t too keen on suggesting one at the time!
The third area where new contractors can be extremely vulnerable is perhaps the biggest grey area in our industry - warranties.
It’s no secret that consumers like assurances and some manufacturers pounce on this by offering extended warranties that sound great on the surface, however contain so much fine print that you can almost guarantee whatever goes wrong won’t be their problem. A few humdingers stick out in my memory here, such as a fire fighting water tank atop a city high-rise that needed to be completely drained every year when such a task was virtually impossible, and, the extended warranty happily offered on the driven pylons of a bridge that could never be inspected anyway.
The specific danger for inexperienced contractors with complicated and confusing warranties is not fully understanding what they could be liable for in the event of a failure. With the water-tight nature of these documents, it’s often the companies that get to walk away unscathed while the unsuspecting contractor is pulled into the firing line.
As a final comment I just want to say the purpose of this post wasn’t to call out anyone in particular with regards to these practices, but rather to acknowledge they exist and highlight the damage they can cause to the most vulnerable members of our industry. If we are to grow and improve as an industry, we need to be able to attract and nurture new talent rather than slam the door in their face, so to speak. It’s a tough enough business as it is and not being open and honest in the three areas I’ve mentioned only makes it tougher!
Take care and keep smiling,Jack