assuring quality

Assuring and Controlling Quality – A Conversation with Ken Trimber

ken trimber ktaWith more than 40 years of experience in the industrial painting field, Kenneth A. Trimber sees “poor compliance with the specification” as an ongoing challenge in commercial coatings work — despite the availability of well-written specifications and highly capable painting contractors. In the following interview, he delves into the causes of that problem, discussing strategies for improving the quality of commercial painting and how inspection helps building owners reap the full benefits of using high-performance coatings.

As president of KTA-Tator Inc. in Pittsburgh, Trimber’s main duties consist of corporate management with a focus on the technical side of the business. Apart from his work analyzing coating failures and building performance issues, Trimber’s notable achievements include developing cleaning and painting specifications for big-box store chains, a coating condition survey system and QA/QC inspection protocols.

Trimber is a past president of The Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) and a member of its Standards Review Committee, as well as the chair for several SSPC committees on commercial coatings, surface preparation, visual standards and containment. He is also a member of ASTM and NACE committees. He earned a bachelor of science degree in business from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and holds a number of certifications from SSPC and NACE.

As seen in Durability and Design, Winter 2017′ Issue

In his personal life, Trimber enjoys spending time with his wife, three daughters and two grandchildren, and caring for the horses on their property in the greater Pittsburgh area. He also enjoys deer hunting, both archery and gun — an activity in which his inspector’s eye for detail likely gives him an edge.

Quality inspection
Quality inspection requires standards and instruments like this moisture meter (left). SSPC is developing a number of standards to support inspection, including a standard for determining the moisture content of walls coming in 2017. A test area, as seen on this curtain wall (right), helps parties agree upon the necessary degree of cleaning prior to production coating removal.

D+D: What do you see as the most significant change in QA/QC for coatings over the past five years?

We’re slowly starting to see an increased awareness of the importance of paint and water repellent on buildings beyond aesthetics, and as a result, more interest from owners in assuring the quality of the installation. Paint is being recognized for its role in preventing the intrusion of moisture through walls, its value in creating an air barrier and its impact on the performance of the wall assembly by virtue of its physical characteristics (such as the number of coats, thickness and permeance). In order to fully realize these benefits, more owners seem to be embracing the need to verify that cleaning, painting and water repellent installation comply with the specification and manufacturer’s instructions.

D+D: How would you assess the training and education currently available in your field?

Training and educational programs specifically focusing on commercial cleaning, painting and inspection aren’t as widely available as programs for industrial painting. There have been advances over the last few years, however, through the training programs finalized by Master Painters Institute (MPI) and the standards development work of the SSPC Commercial Coatings Committee, the technical articles and other resources published in Durability + Design and the education provided at SSPC national conferences. In addition, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) and the Finishing Trades Institute (FTI) have developed training programs for their members.

accelerated weathering cabinet
An accelerated weathering cabinet (or QUV) is often used to determine a coating’s ability to meet established acceptance criteria.While training and educational materials associated with commercial painting are becoming more widely available, my impression is that the parties associated with commercial painting as a whole don’t fully recognize the benefits of continuing education — perhaps because they do not fully appreciate the sophistication and many challenges of commercial painting work.

D+D: How do you see the state of your profession in terms of the level of capability demonstrated in designing, specifying, constructing or installing?

There are well-written specifications and good painting contractors with excellent capabilities, but like any profession, there are also contractors that do the work with little regard for the specification or good painting practice. Some of this behavior may be unintentionally encouraged by owners, as there seems to be a lack of understanding of the costs truly required to properly clean and paint a commercial building.

Specifications are written around near-perfection, but the prices don’t seem to match. Full compliance with the specification may require $100,000 for a building, but work is awarded for half that amount. If owners don’t evaluate the quality of the work and require deficiencies to be repaired, the behavior, poor coating performance and inadequate pricing will continue.

D+D: How effective are industry associations and standards in improving QA/QC?

The development of consensus standards is increasing, in part due to the attention SSPC started paying to the commercial industry five years ago. A committee dedicated to commercial cleaning and painting was formed, and one of its goals was to develop standards that would be of direct and immediate benefit to the industry.

SSPC standards on flooring and for elastomeric acrylic coatings have already been published. In 2017, standards for the classification of pinholes and the inspection of moisture content in building walls will be published, and work is underway on moisture testing of floors and establishing the knowledge needed for the workers. SSPC is also providing educational opportunities at its national conferences. MPI has also improved the industry through its work in developing paint system specifications, training materials and inspector training/material certification programs.

commercial coating sample testing
Commercial coating samples are prepared for testing. New coating products are subjected to a series of tests, both internally and externally through organizations such as MPI and Green Seal.

D+D: What methods or tactics would you suggest for improving QA/QC and overall communication between specifiers, contractors and owners?

One way to address this on a project-specific basis would be for owners to mandate pre-construction mock-ups or test patches, where the contractor demonstrates the cleaning required for the project and applies all of the coats. This would help to ensure a complete understanding of the specification requirements and would also provide a visual representation of the expectations.

Another approach would be for owners to specify the use of SSPC-QP 9-certified contractors. When contractors are certified by SSPC, it gives the owner confidence that the contractors have been independently evaluated to confirm that they have the necessary programs and plans in place, and that they have demonstrated the successful completion of projects.

D+D: How well are suppliers meeting the industry’s needs in terms of service and product quality?

Manufacturers have developed excellent coatings that are capable of providing long-term protection. With the number of choices available, specifiers need to be educated in the nuances of the specific products to make certain that the optimum product is being selected. In this regard, the technical representatives of the coating manufacturers are a valuable resource. Organizations such as MPI and Green Seal also conduct laboratory tests of products to verify a coating’s ability to meet established acceptance criteria.

D+D: What do you see as a surprisingly persistent problem in QA/QC, and why does it continue?

Poor compliance with the specification. Some may be intentional and some may be outside of the contractor’s control. Intentional disregard could be minimized with some oversight of the work, but inspection of commercial painting has been minimal and typically driven by color and aesthetics.

ultrasonic gage
A relatively new instrument, this ultrasonic gage offers a non-destructive way to measure the thickness of coatings applied to concrete and other non-metallic substrates.
defective sealant
Some contractors fail to fulfill specifications either intentionally or by not passing along the job requirements to the field crew. In this example, new paint was applied over defective sealant, instead of first replacing the sealant, as specified.

In the past, little attention was given to key performance factors, such as determining the moisture content of the substrate, the thoroughness of cleaning and the suitability of ambient conditions at the time of application and drying, as well as proper film thickness and freedom from pinholes. All of these will affect the long-term performance of the coating.

On the other hand, schedules may dictate that certain elements of the specification (like temperature restrictions) are purposely ignored because the building needs to be completed and, “it’s just paint.” For example, acrylics have been applied during the winter because a building had to open and any resulting deficiencies could be corrected down the road. It’s doubtful that the quality of concrete placement or steel erection would be treated the same way, but paint doesn’t seem to command the same level of scrutiny, concern or respect.

D+D: How have recent regulatory changes and business conditions impacted your work?

On the coating manufacturing side, regulations have affected the formulations of coatings used on commercial structures in order to meet VOC (volatile organic compound) restrictions and freedom from lead and other toxic metals. The industry has met these challenges, and many environmentally friendly products are available that provide good performance.

For maintenance painting, some owners are now requiring that the water from pressure washing be prevented from entering storm sewers. This adds additional challenges and costs to the projects.

D+D: What recent innovation in inspection instrument technology do you find most promising?

From the perspective of inspection instruments, other than upgrades to traditional equipment, two relatively new instruments have potential to improve the quality of coating installation. One is an ultrasonic instrument that non-destructively measures the thickness of coatings applied to concrete and other non-metallic surfaces. It provides a quick way to confirm the applied thickness without relying on coverage rates, wet film measurements or destructive tests.

Another newer “leak detector” instrument helps to determine whether or not the paint applied to cementitious substrates is creating a complete seal. This seal becomes more critical when a thin-film coating is serving as an air barrier on concrete masonry units (CMUs).

The instrument provides a way of determining, during construction, whether the paint film is adequate, and whether visible pinholes in the finish coat are a potential problem. A surfactant (a special soap solution) is applied to the surface, then a clear dome is placed over the test area and a vacuum is pulled. The formation of bubbles on the substrate indicates that the surface is not completely sealed. The information provided by this test helps to modify and perfect the installation process. The instrument may also be used to examine the continuity of air barrier membranes, transitions and penetrations, such as brick ties, as well as seams in roofing materials.

D+D: What technological development is currently needed to further improve the QA/QC field?

I don’t see an immediate need to develop new or improved technologies. The challenge is to fully utilize the materials and technology that already exist. D+D

2 thoughts on “Assuring and Controlling Quality – A Conversation with Ken Trimber”

  1. Moisture in concrete floors and coating adhesion was a topical at a recent group discussion of architectural speciifers I attended. Specifying a coating,or having an allowance, to provide a vapor barrier after the floor is moisture tested [just prior to installing the flooring] is one option; but rather costly at $4.50 a sf [Dallas Texas area rough numbers mentioned as being allowed for in one project]. An alternative method we’re interested in, but can’t find test data, is a crystalline admix like Xypex that reportedly would affect the cure, still allow for vapor transmission, but almost totally stop water transmission. It is around $1.10- 1.40 sf; and you’d get the improved water transmission reduction. BUT, the manufacturer doesn’t have any test data or historical data to support this direction. Does KTA Tator have any opinions or data to support or negate this direction. Most of us have the issue on slab- on grade, slab on carton forms, and elevated slabs. Any insight would be appreciated. Also if there are general products for the topical coating that should be considered- or that have shown repeated poor performance. one negative to the late topical coating is that the partitions will have been installed and the potential for continuing moisture at those transitions. Thank you very much.

    1. Jason Weslager

      Mr. Beeman,

      Thank you for your comment to KTA University. I passed it one to Kevin Brown of our Commercial Group (; 336-386-4000). He indicated that he does not have any direct experience with crystalline admixtures in floors, but ran across a report from ACE committee 212, Chemical Admixtures that may offer some guidance – ACI 212.3 “Report on Chemical Admixtures for Concrete.” There is a chapter on permeability-reducing admixtures (PRAs) which may address crystalline admixtures. One thing to consider is whether the admixture will cause the pH of the concrete to be higher and out of range for some coating systems.

      There are several moisture mitigation membranes available that can be applied underneath floor coverings such as Ardex or Mapei moisture control materials. Also, the manufacturer of the floor covering will typically have a recommended moisture mitigation membrane that is compatible with their systems.

      Regards, Ken

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