Danos, Graco, and Tesla NanoCoatings recently worked together to develop a functional non-slip deck coating for offshore clients.
Their work, which was profiled in Materials Performance (MP) magazine, explains how a coatings applicator was able to overcome many traditional challenges through the use of an innovative protective coatings pump design with a new single-coat carbon nanotube non-slip deck coat slurry.
In this podcast episode, Danos' Scott Soto, Graco's John Lihwa, and Tesla's Joe Davis explore lessons learned from their collaboration, as well as future opportunities when using the system. See below for a complete transcript.
Ben DuBose: I think a good place to start our conversation, before we get into the coating, the technology, the application, all those angles — I think a good place to start is to let each of them introduce themselves and to give you a little bit more information regarding their bio and their history in the industry. Scott, let’s start with you.
Scott Soto: Good morning, everybody. My name is Scott Soto. I am a project manager with Danos. I also do bidding/estimating with them. Been with Danos for about 8 years and been in the coating industry since 1985.
BD: John, we’ll go to you.
John Lihwa: Thank you very much. My name is John Lihwa. I’m the business development manager with Graco’s high-performance coatings and foam group. I’ve been with Graco in various roles for a little over 13 years now, starting off in engineering, product management, sales, and now business development. All within our applied fluid technologies division. My focus, my group’s focus right now is on protective coatings equipment, spray foam and polyurea equipment, and surface prep equipment. Thanks.
BD: And finally, you, Joe.
Joe Davis: Thank you, Ben. Thanks for the opportunity to do this with you. We’re excited about this. As far as my experience and background, I’ve been in the industry now for about 30 years plus an dealt with industrial coatings in some way, shape, or form, whether it’s the chemistry side of things or the inspection side of things. I currently serve as the vice president of product and application engineering for Tesla NanoCoatings. I’m NACE Level 3 coating inspector, an O-CAT technician, also certified through SSPC which all is the same now under the AMPP umbrella, and I serve as an instructor for several different organizations on topics related to corrosion and economics.
BD: The way this conversation is going to go — or at least I think it will go — is that not everyone is going to respond to every question. Based on their biographies, you can tell our guests have lots of different interests and unique skill sets as it pertains to what they can answer. Some of these questions are going to be tailored to one person, and others are going to be tailored to another. It will just be a roundtable format, and this trio will jump in as it pertains to their levels of expertise.
I think a good place to start off — the article that they wrote in the April issue, again, “Nano Non-Skid Coating Provides Sustainable Offshore Safety Solution” — the article itself has a ton to do with the application of deck coatings in offshore environments. That’s the conundrum that this collaboration came together to solve. I think the appropriate place to start would be with a little bit of an overview of what some of the traditional challenges are with applying coatings in those types of environments. Scott, I’ll defer to you on this one.
SS: I appreciate that, Ben. Again, this is Scott Soto with Danos. Traditionally, when we’re offshore, we are faced with several challenges. One is real estate, and two is the actual level of corrosion on the decks themselves and what are the best times to attack these areas. With all the SIMOPS [simultaneous operations] issues that are involved with offshore daily operations, getting this real estate and being able to apply a good deck coating that’s going to give them the service life is very challenging with everything that goes on every single day.
BD: How did this partnership come together between three different companies? What were the initial goals for you all when you started down this path?
SS: Again, this is Scott Soto. Traditionally, like I said, we normally do a three-layer coating on a deck. Time constraints are very, very tough, and again, with SIMOPS. When we got partnered up with Tesla, basically we told them what we needed was something that would give us a quick turnaround to the customer but at the same time we could provide the corrosion protection that’s needed in an offshore environment. Working with them, and Joe being able to do what they do over there, they came up with a great product and we started doing the test trials with it.
JL: Scott, this is John from Graco. I think I’m going to jump in here for a second and talk a little bit about application equipment. With these types of deck coatings, it can be very different to have a traditional airless pump be able to spray these types of materials, because they usually have a lot of fillers and aggregate in them that can cause issues with clogging and packing out pumps and spray guns. Other traditional methods of application, either by hand using a roller or spraying with a pressure pot or something like that can be rather time-consuming because you don’t get the same rate of application that you would get with a large airless pump. Graco in the past came up with what we call our N680 mortar pump that’s designed to handle aggregate materials.
From my perspective, I met Joe at Tesla through one of my colleagues, and we’ve been in touch, back and forth, on a couple other different projects. He started asking if we had a pump that I thought would be able to apply their new deck coating. Then we did some trials at Tesla’s headquarters and proved some success and were able to push that out to the field to Scott and Danos to come up with a solution that they can apply and meet those requirements that Scott mentioned, of being able to return to service in a quick turnaround time.
BD: Joe, I want to transition to you so that we can talk a little bit more about the technology of this. Explain the role of carbon nanotubes in the solution that ended up getting used for this collaboration. What makes them so intriguing for this particular type of application?
JD: Great question. Thanks for asking it. The carbon nanotubes — nano being the billionth the size of something — they’re very small. You can’t see them until you have tens of thousands of them together and it looks like dust. One of the properties with carbon nanotubes that we learned early on when working with this technology is their ability to self-assemble. They create what we call a quantum matrix, or a network. They assemble all these disparate pieces together and form this rope-like network throughout the entire coating matrix. That’s important because carbon nanotubes, some of the inherent properties that we’re also harnessing is that they’re a thousand times the conductivity of copper. They will translate electrons across this network and not have insulative oxidation problems that occur with the zinc metal itself.
The zinc that we have in here begins to donate the electrons for the corrosion protection, which was one of the challenges Scott had asked us about, trying to address. We found that we needed to have a very sustainable way of moving those electrons so that if there was a damaged area, the cathodic protection would kick in. That was the first property that we were trying to harness, was that self-assembly and the conductivity. The other one is carbon nanotubes are the strongest and stiffest material that we know on Planet Earth, and the chemical bonds are actually stronger than diamonds. What you get is a very high tensile strength of the coating to the steel, which is important because on these platforms, they’re moving huge containers and pieces of equipment that will impact the floor and create a lot of gouging potential and cracking just because of the weight of some of this.
As we were working on some of these materials in the initial rollout, once we had the equipment identified, we did some recent testing here with products that had been in service now with the application we talked about in the article. And we were getting in excess of 2,980 pounds psi, and it was glue failure, so we were unable to remove the coating from the steel to which it was put on. That’s really what the nanotubes are bringing to this product, is just super durability and along with that, cathodic protection.
BD: Joe, as a follow-up to that, what’s the chemistry involved when it comes to the combination of the carbon nanotubes with the epoxy resin? How does that work, and what are the properties that you're looking for in regard to that combination?
JD: Another good question. When Scott first approached us, we kind of scratched our heads because what he was asking for was something that didn’t exist in the industry. You're talking a product that can go down 40–50 mils, has non-skid in it, and has cathodic protection. Typical zincs, if you get above 4–5 mils, they mud crack and come off. When you first look at this request, you have to stand back and say, “Is this even possible?”
What we had to dive into on chemistry aspect is to find durable resins that provided the ability to be functionalized with the carbon nanotubes, and I explain that in the article in the magazine, what functionalization is. It’s inextricably binding the CNTs within that resin so that they can’t come out. We also had to find resins that would allow for that high build of 40–50 mils along with allowing the mobility of the carbon nanotubes to self-assemble and then to of course provide some level of flexibility. They couldn’t be too hard and brittle; otherwise, when stuff gets dropped on it, it would be coming off. Finally, we had to make sure that the surface of it was providing a non-skid, safe walking environment for the people that are out there.
BD: John, how does an applicator apply this technology to the substrate? What were the priorities, from your perspective, as you all were looking into the right system to actually apply this?
JL: Thanks a lot for the question, Ben. This is John with Graco again. I’m going to let Scott talk a little bit later on here about some of the other methods. I’m going to focus on the method that our three teams came up with to meet Scott’s needs for his particular application. Obviously, he needed a quick turnaround time with this material and return it to service fast. We focused on a pump solution or a sprayer that his crew would be able to operate on a platform offshore for these materials. Graco, traditionally we do a great job building airless sprayers that are pneumatic driven, so they’re ATEX rated, they’re explosion proof, they’re designed for these offshore-type applications.
We came up with a design for a mortar pump for our N680 sprayer that’s build on the same principles as these pneumatic airless sprayers, but is designed to handle the tough-to-handle particles and grit that is in these deck coatings, like Joe was mentioning before. It needs to have those non-skid properties for the people that are out there working. Those properties can make a coating very difficult to spray through a traditional pump. With the N680 pump, the pump blower itself looks like our traditional airless sprayer pump blower, but everything has been upsized in order to be able to handle these aggregates and other materials that are in these deck coatings that give them their properties.
The other interesting thing is this pump uses larger-diameter hoses and an air-assist applicator to create the spray pattern. We’re using air to help atomize the particles to help create that spray pattern, where traditionally an airless tip would get clogged almost instantly trying to spray these materials. On that applicator, there’s also a method for the person who’s doing the applying to start and stop the pump, because we don’t want the pump to stall against pressure the way a traditional airless pump does because the material will actually pack out in that pump. We tried to come up with a solution that’s very similar to the sprayers that everyone’s using today in terms of operation, but designed to be able to handle these coatings and the environment that they’re being applied in. It also gives a much faster application time than some other traditional, hand-applied methods.
BD: What did you guys actually learn from the case study? Was there anything that surprised you guys about the findings? I’d like to get all three of your perspectives on this, if I can.
SS: If you all don’t mind, I’m going to jump in on this one first. I’m going to kind of piggyback on the last one. This is Scott Soto with Danos again. The applicator, utilizing this new technology that Graco’s come up with, is actually very familiar to them because they know the airless pumps. But with their new design and technology, this is going to allow the applicator to basically go in, mix everything up in one shot, and very simply put, do a one-pass system and lay down the mils that we need. Again, between John and Joe coming up with the technology, the materials, we are able to solve the big challenges for our customer. This is the greatest — I mean, it’s unparalleled to what’s on the market right now.
What we learned from this study is basically that we can go in, we can promise the asset owner, that when we say we’re going to come in and deliver a product to you and have a new deck coating within 24 hours, as long as we’re uninterrupted, and once they deliver this real estate to us we can get in there, we can get out, they can have a new deck coating system in there that’s going to protect the asset for 15, 20 years, and it’s money saved, labor saved. There’s so much cost savings in this that I think we’re just on the tip of the iceberg with it.
JL: This is John from Graco. I’ll jump in here, Scott, because one of the things that jumped out and surprised me was, after Scott and the team at Danos did a demonstration with Tesla’s new deck coating and the N680 pump, I was surprised at the feedback that I received from Joe and Scott on how quickly the applicator picked up the technology and was familiar with it and comfortable with spraying the coating and handling the coating and the application equipment.
SS: Yeah, John, and I’ll say that again. Sorry, I didn’t mean to jump in on anybody. Just on the application process. Traditionally, when we’re using mortar pumps, aesthetically you don’t really get something that looks pretty, so to speak. But with the new Graco pump and the material and the way it flows through it, you can literally lay down a beautiful pattern, and you can see it in the magazine in the spray pattern. Again, the mils are consistent. You don’t have highs, you don’t have lows. Once the applicator gets the one-pass system down, he can lay down the mils required to the spec, and when it’s done, it looks like you did this from a machine or a factory. The customer gets not only the quality, the corrosion protection, but they get the aesthetic look of it as well. Again, the asset protection with the material is unparalleled to what we’re seeing right now in the industry.
BD: Joe, we can finish up with you.
JD: This is Joe Davis. Yes, I’ll just touch on that. Kind of where I was going to go was the same as where Scott went there, in that, when we first started with the equipment, John and I, that technology is designed a lot for other types of slurry mortars, where maybe you come back with a trowel or something else once you transfer the material onto the surface. But John had the foresight to bring a new, innovative head that Graco was working on, and we actually worked and played around with it, configured it to such where you actually do get a phenomenal spray pattern, which it does look like it was probably applied by machinery versus a person. That was a big surprise, that we could get something that looked that good and had that even of a film build for the applicators. I guess the other thing, just being affirmation, this installation that’s in the article was done about six months ago, and the coating has gone through two hurricanes, very heavy vehicle traffic over that for the entire period, freezing temperatures, and when they were evaluated by the asset owner after six months, there was no physical damage to the coating and no rusting coming through at all on this. Which shows that that application was even, smooth, and it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. That was a great affirmation of the technology.
BD: Definitely sounds like it. We usually finish up these podcasts with a rapid-fire series of personal questions. The idea is to tap into each person’s unique levels of expertise. In this particular episode, because we’ve got three panelists, that might take a lot of time to speak to each of you about two or three different subjects. So I’m going to do one off-the-wall question, not so much about this project, but just about your time in the industry. Perhaps we’ll be able to shed some light on your experiences and also provide something to learn from for our listeners. As far as this question, what I think a lot of listeners would want to know, what advice would you give someone that’s starting in the industry? Scott, we can start with you.
SS: I would say that if you start out at the bottom as a helper, learn the blast and paint industry from the ground up, the equipment, how it’s hooked up, how it works, how you repair it, and all throughout the day, every single day that you go through this, remember that just being a blaster-painter is not the only way you end up. Technology changes every day. People that you deal with changes every day. Coatings, liners, every single thing that happens throughout your career will boost you up into something greater. NACE, SSPC, now AMPP — like I said, there’s so many levels that you can go to, and there are so many mentors that you’ll meet along the way that will lead you up to a better place within this coatings industry.
BD: John, we can go to you.
JL: Thanks, Ben. Great answer, Scott. Don’t know what I’m going to follow up with that one. Once again, it’s John Lihwa with Graco. I guess the advice I would give is, Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just because a process is being done one way today doesn’t mean that there’s not a better way out there to do it tomorrow. I would say if you're looking to get something accomplished and somebody says it cannot be done, I wouldn’t just accept that as fate and just move on.
With this case study in particular, it seemed a pretty daunting challenge. But we came up with some unique solutions to get the job done. I’ve seen all kinds of blasters and painters in the industry who come up with incredible ingenuitive [sic], unique solutions to solve problems. I’m impressed every day with some of the things I see. Never stop learning in this industry. Scott mentioned everything is always changing, whether it’s equipment technology or coatings technology. So keep your eyes and ears open, always be open for something new, and keep learning.
BD: And finally you, Joe.
JD: Thank you. This is Joe Davis, Tesla NanoCoatings. I would say that the industry, as I look at it now, kind of is in a renaissance of sorts. The equipment is constantly changing and evolving and improving. Even the prep, the dry ice blasting, vapor blasting, waterjetting, everything is improving. Technology now, coating technology being one of them, is also improving and changing. I’ve often told people that everything that you thought you know about our industry is not quite right anymore. I think that’s a truism and becomes truer every day. Everything’s changing, everything’s improving, and to really grasp onto that and contribute to it is probably the best advice I can give to someone.
I think the other two guys summed it up very well, in that you want to question and you want to be involved, and you want to be able to contribute to success and to innovative solutions. That’s what I see happening, which has been kind of devoid of our industry in the last 80 years. It’s, to me, a very exciting time to be in the coatings industry now.
BD: The last question I have, and this is for all three of you: what are the next steps in this collaboration? Have you seen any interest in the technology from other asset owners? Obviously, we’ve been talking about one particular project for most of this episode, but I’m sure it could be applicable elsewhere. What’s going to happen moving forward with this process and with this technology? We can start with any of you, really.
JD: This is Joe. I’ll jump in and take it at least from my perspective on this one. Again, with John’s assistance, he’s already brought maybe the next 2.0, which is going to be a different gun potential to put this equipment down, which makes it even more user friendly for applicators. So as the interest is building, as you mentioned, we’re getting interest from sectors in all parts of energy and production and manufacturing that have a need for… a coating like this. John’s already forward-thinking and saying, Is there another way we can make this even easier at the deployment level? I’m looking at that as some potential next steps, and I’ll kick it over to you, John, for comment on that.
JL: Thanks, Joe. Once again, John Lihwa here with Graco. To piggyback onto what Joe just mentioned, looking at different spray applicators that make it even easier and more like a trigger gun, like a traditional airless sprayer would have. Also from our perspective at Graco, looking into pulling out a custom package part number specifically for Tesla’s deck coating as well — once again, giving applicators access to the right setup right out of the box without having to any kind of customizations on their level or from our distributors. Taking a complicated system and trying to simplify it as much as possible from our end.
SS: John, this is Scott Soto from Danos. I think, from our perspective, what’s next is we’re going to try to push this out. We’re going to promote it to all of our customers at Danos. We strive to solve all their challenges, and if we can save them money, labor costs, and I believe this is a product that’ll do it, every single asset that we work with on the forefront right now is getting a glimpse at it. Once we get all the materials out, and this article will help, this podcast will help — but I believe that this will go further into helping not only just our customers but other competitors’ customers once they see this new material and the new equipment to save money, save costs, and save time throughout the Gulf of Mexico, whether it’s land, offshore. This is just a huge opportunity to push this out. At Danos, that’s our main goal, is to solve big challenges for our customers, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. With great partners in safety like Graco and Tesla, we will continue to do that.
BD: Sounds great. I think I can speak for a lot of our audience when I say that we’re very excited to see what happens next because this is definitely a very — certainly, the article was unique, but I think, in general, what you guys are doing has a pretty clear benefit for the industry that I hope has a lot of success in the months and years ahead.