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SSPC 2014

SSPC-PA2: New Electronic Data Collection Solutions


Joe Walker
Elcometer

Advances in technology have lead to vast changes in Dry Film Thickness (DFT) testing methods.
These changes have not only improved the overall user experience and repeatability of
measurements, but also have necessitated changes in international standards. Traditionally,
industries used both visual and analog devices in conjunction with paper reporting systems to
ensure that QA/QC requirements were being met. In the early 1980's, the microprocessor became
widely available for application in portable test equipment. Manufacturers, in conjunction with the
technology industry, developed the first electronic inspection tools. With the advent of affordable
mainframes and the swell of PC availability and usage, instruments were, for the first time, able to
be linked in real time to DOS programs. The era of electronic Statistical Process Control (SPC) was
born. Due to physical and networking limitations, electronic SPC was primarily used in factories
and other large-scale production facilities. Gradually, the market demanded that data capture be
made more portable, and instruments with onboard memory and data download capability were
introduced which ushered in the age of inspection instruments with features heretofore only found
in computers.

To meet the demand for even more portable, powerful, and robust instruments, many instrument
manufacturers increased the speed, accuracy, and data processing capabilities for their bench top
instruments. As processors and chips became smaller, these features migrated into their lines of
hand-held test equipment systems. In conjunction with these advances, firmware and processor
upgrades were introduced, which radically enhanced reading rates, measuring ranges, and
calibration stability. It is these instrument performance enhancements and their subsequent effect on
inspection standards that prompted this paper.

In the spring of 2014 a new SSPC-PA21 standard is scheduled to be published. Despite the fact that
this is the second major revision in as many years, new technologies and techniques have been
introduced since the 2014 standard was revised and sent to ballot. Some examples include a
factory-calibrated coating thickness gauge with pre-defined surface profiles, as well as a scanning
probe designed to be slid across a cured coating while taking readings in real time. When these new
technologies are put into practice, dramatic improvements in overall inspection times and data
accuracy can be seen.

                                                                                                                       
1
 SSPC-PA 2, "Procedure for Determining Conformance to Dry Coating Thickness Requirements." (Pittsburgh, PA: SSPC, 2012).
 
 

SSPC 2014

This paper will compare and contrast the results of two inspections; one inspection taking place in
the field and one taking place on prepared panels in a laboratory setting. The same instrument types
and testing methods were used across both settings; the following table specifies both the
instrument type and data collection method used. In each inspection, there are three inspectors using
three different instruments (one conventional and two recently introduced) and transferring raw data
using three different data retention and analysis methods.

Corresponding Data Collection Method


Instrument Type
(meeting the requirements of SSPC-PA2)
Conventional Type 2 Gauge Paper-based system
Conventional Type 2 Gauge with Scanning
Real time data download from a Type 2 gauge
Probe (SSPC-PA2 data collection points pre-
into a software program with cloud capabilities
programmed in batch and sub batch files)
Post inspection data download from a Type 2
Fixed Calibration Type 2 Gauge
gauge into a software program

Figure 1

The following paragraphs briefly describe each instrument used in the comparison testing. The first
is the Conventional Type 2 Gauge. In the industrial protective coating industry, electronic coating
thickness gauges have traditionally been used as point and shoot measurement tools; each gauge
reading is a snapshot showing the thickness of the protective coating over the substrate below. To
accommodate for variation caused by substrate roughness and inherent variation in the spraying
process, SSPC-PA2 specifies that a predetermined number of gauge readings within a defined area
be averaged to produce a spot measurement. To ensure measurement accuracy, these instruments
should adjust the calibration to the surface profile, metallurgical composition, and shape of the
substrate. While these instruments are available in both basic models and memory versions, a basic
model was used in these tests.

The second instrument is the Fixed Calibration Type 2 Gauge. Although there are a number of
potential causes for erroneous DFT readings, the most common ones have to do with instrument
calibration.2 Recently, an electronic coating thickness gauge has been developed that is factory
                                                                                                                       
2
 Calibration adjustment errors have an effect on accuracy. In the author’s experience, there are two main causes for inaccurate
readings from a functional Type 2 gauge. The first occurs when an inspection is performed without access to the uncoated substrate
for calibration adjustment. A substitute substrate may be used; often, the substitute is a set of coated or plated metal plates. Coated
plates have a machine smooth substrate; therefore the impact of surface profile is an estimate. Furthermore, the magnetic properties
of the steel used for the coated standards is not the same as that being coated and requiring testing. This method can lead to
inaccuracy and diminish repeatability if the substrate being tested has a profile that is not accounted for. The second potential cause
 

SSPC 2014

calibrated to a variety of surface profiles. These profile calibrations are fixed and cannot be adjusted
by the user. They are stored in the memory chip of the instrument and are easily accessible via a
lookup table. To use this instrument, the inspector selects the appropriate profile calibration,
chooses the data collection mode, and begins taking gauge readings.

The third instrument is the Scanning Probe. For years, some electronic coating thickness gauges
have had the ability to work in an "auto repeat" mode. This mode allows the probe to take
continuous measurements without lifting the probe from the surface. The main drawback to using a
probe in "auto repeat" mode is the detrimental effect friction has on the probe tip as it is moved over
the surface. Friction causes wear that both reduces accuracy and probe longevity. A new scanning
probe technology that combines the "auto repeat" feature with a patented "zero offset" capability
has been recently introduced to eliminate the effect friction has on the probe tip. With a scanning
probe, a precision-milled, highly durable cap is fitted over the probe tip. The "zero offset" feature
allows the probe to, in essence, subtract the thickness of the cap from subsequent readings. This
replaceable cap allows the probe to be slid over the measurement area without causing probe tip
wear, loss of accuracy, or damage to the coating. When the cap is worn beyond the manufacturers'
specification, a warning appears in the instrument display, and the cap is replaced.

Time Trial 1: DFT Inspection on Four Carbon Steel Cylinders

Three coating inspectors were asked to perform a DFT inspection according to SSPC-PA2 on four
large cylinders made of carbon steel. The cylinders were encased in three levels of scaffolding
which gave the inspectors access to the base and upper levels. Each inspector was instructed to
perform the inspection using the three measurement tools listed above and input their readings in
the recording formats selected for each instrument. The inspectors were timed from the beginning of
the inspection to when the data documentation was completed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
of inaccurate readings is user error. If the user does not have a thorough understanding of the calibration process, calibration
adjustment errors can be made which often result in inaccurate DFT readings.
 

SSPC 2014

Minutes  

Inspection Time Comparison 1, Field


 

Inspectors (minutes) Average


Method
1 2 3 (minutes)
Conventional 205 162 180 182.33
Scanning 24 22 25 23.67
Fixed 35 32 40 35.67

Figure 2

The fixed calibration instrument was, on average, 80% faster than the conventional test method.
The scanning probe was, on average, 87% faster than the conventional method. While these new
technologies are not explicitly accounted for in the most recent revision of SSPC-PA2, they not
only meet the requirements of the standard but also complete the inspection in a more efficient
manner. A review of the time study showed that most of the increased time required to perform the
conventional gauge inspection was due to the manual input of data onto the customer specified
forms. Therefore, another test using coated panels in a laboratory environment was justified. In this
test, both the data collection and data input times would be tracked separately so that a better
determination as to the efficiency of the instruments themselves could be made.

The inspectors noted that the fixed calibration probe and conventional probe, had to be lifted from
the coating surface after each gauge reading. Conversely, the scanning probe was able to slide from
 

SSPC 2014

gauge reading to gauge reading and only had to be lifted to move to the next spot measurement area
- thereby yielding a faster reading rate and, as a result, a faster inspection.

Time Trial 2: DFT Inspection on Six Coated Carbon Steel Panels

In this trial, the same three instruments and data output methods used in the field trials were
compared using coated panels with surface profiles varying from 1 to 1.5 mils. The panels were
divided into six sections and each instrument collected three gauge readings to obtain one spot
measurement per section. Times listed included time to calibrate, verify calibration, and program
the data collection mode to the instrument firmware where applicable.

Minutes  

Inspection Time Comparison 2, Lab


 

Inspectors (minutes) Average


Method
1 2 3 (minutes)
Conventional 30 25 40 31.67
Scanning 8 8 10 8.67
Fixed 17 10 20 15.67

Figure 3
 

SSPC 2014

The time to completion results are consistent with the results from Test 1 in that the scanning probe
has the largest effect on overall time of inspection, and both the scanning probe and fixed
calibration instrument are noticeably faster than the conventional method. The primary reason for
this was the inspectors using the conventional method had to take time to write each gauge reading
and calculate the spot measurement. The fixed calibration instrument is, on average, 51% faster than
the conventional method and the scanning probe is, on average, 73% faster than the conventional
method.

Repeatability and Data Output

Despite the fact that substrate profile was approximately 20% of the DFT, there was little
discernible difference in the results produced by each instrument when their results on the
laboratory panels were compared:

Panel (average of DFT sections and inspectors in mils)


Method Overall Avg. (mils)
1 2 3 4 5 6
Conventional 6.0 5.3 5.9 5.4 5.5 5.5 5.6
Scanning 5.6 5.9 5.6 5.3 5.2 5.1 5.5
Fixed 6.4 5.6 5.3 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.8

Figure 4
 

SSPC 2014

The results from the laboratory coated panel tests showed that there was little variation in the
overall thickness results between the three instruments. While there was some variation between
gauge readings and spot measurements, there were no outliers that could not be identified as normal
variations due to the substrate profile and film thickness.

The data also shows that the fixed calibration instrument, when factory calibrated to similar metal
and profile as the work piece, is as effective as those calibrated in the field or laboratory. This is of
interest because calibration errors have a marked effect on whether a coating application meets the
specification requirements.

Conclusion

The time and repeatability comparison tests in both the field and laboratory inspections clearly
demonstrate that using the scanning probe significantly reduces the time required to complete a
DFT inspection according to SSPC-PA2. Furthermore, the increased data collection has no adverse
effect on data accuracy. When any of the aforementioned devices are used in conjunction with
digital data collection and downloading, the savings increase exponentially.

In the protective coating application and inspection industry, as in every human endeavor, time is
money. The cost savings that can be yielded from a faster inspection are many. However, faster
reading rates, data integrity, and real time data analysis are only the beginning of the potential
savings. If an inspection can be performed quickly and the data analyzed efficiently, the cost of
remediation is reduced as the equipment and personnel needed to perform the work are likely to still
be in place or on site. The biggest savings comes from the contractor, inspector, and facility owner
having the ability to compile and analyze the inspection data in an efficient and collaborative
manner. To achieve this level of collaboration, it is essential that all parties have a thorough
understanding not only of the tools necessary to increase productivity in coating process, but also
the tools necessary to increase productivity in the inspection process.