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Ship Coating Inspection Goes Digital

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

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Navy researchers have developed a novel ship coating inspection process that is designed to be far safer, faster, cheaper and more accurate than current methods.

Underwritten by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) under the Paint Center of Excellence Program, the streamlined process developed by the Chemistry Division at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is expected to yield “impressive savings” for the U.S. Navy and limit the “highly subjective” results of the current process, researchers say.

 Naval Research Laboratory

 Photos: Naval Research Laboratory

Developers say the technology can replace the slow, dangerous and subjective process of personally visually inspecting a ship's hull and superstructure, as demonstrated by researcher James Tagert.

“Current methods of performing inspections of ship surfaces are slow, labor intensive and highly subjective,” said John Wegand, program team member at NRL's Center for Corrosion Science and Engineering Branch.

“These inspections require significant time-consuming manual processes to measure dry coating thicknesses, check color metering, as well as the visual inspection for corrosion damage and blistering below the surface of coating materials.”

Digital Imaging

NRL’s new process, which can also be used to inspect civilian vessels, uses two specified digital cameras with a coatings analysis software application developed by the NRL.

The process, developed by a team led by Paul Slebodnick and James Tagert, involves an image-collection protocol that provides detailed images of a vessel's structural zones as collected by a two-person team in only three days.

 Researchers use the AFTCAT approach to gather data
Researchers Kimberly Santangelo and John Wegand use the AFTCAT approach to gather data.

The images can be collected either pier-side or from a patrol boat 100 to 200 feet from the ship. Further advancements will eliminate the need for a patrol boat, and all images will be captured from the adjacent pier, the team reports.

Team members collect the image sets with the lightweight camera while walking perpendicular to the surfaces being inspected. The images are then uploaded to the NRL’s application, known as the Automated Freeboard and Topside Coatings Analysis Toolset (AFTCAT).

The application consists of a grouping of advanced image processing and data interpretation algorithms that are used to quantify the condition of the coatings.

One algorithm, the Topside Corrosion Detection Algorithm (TCDA), is used to automatically assess the extent of corrosion damage and coating degradation. Other algorithm prototypes assess color uniformity and the extent of coating failures from flaking, delamination and blistering as shown in individual images.

From 65 Days to 4 Days

Researchers compared the traditional manual and new digital approaches in head-to-head inspections of the USS Nimitz in 2009.

Manual inspection of the entire topside coating required a 65 man-day effort, with four additional weeks needed to complete the inspection report. The process involved both human visual inspection and physical measurements performed over a five-day period by five NACE-certified and S-CAT-trained engineers and technicians.

Six personnel lifts (two pier-side and four on barges) were required, as were eight to 10 ship personnel to support barge/JLG logistics during the inspection.

Using the new process and technology, the same inspection took less than four days and provided immediate access to more than 3,000 images of the ship's surface condition for in-depth inspection, researchers reported.

‘Greatly Less Expensive’

In the end, the team expects that the new process will require a team of two trained technicians to collect image sets over a three-day period. Logistical support will include access to an adjacent pier to photograph surface zones opposite the ship's Quarter Deck. An additional technician will be required to run the AFTCAT on the image sets and automatically generate and complete the inspection reports over two days.

 Coating non-uniformity is evaluated in digital images taken from 417 yards away
Coating non-uniformity is evaluated in digital images taken from 417 yards away.

In all, inspecting all vessel surfaces, including catwalk zones, on an aircraft carrier should take 10 man days, including generating the inspection report, researchers say.

“Our new method represents a quicker, more accurate and greatly less expensive alternative to the present inspection process now used,” said Wegand. “An added bonus is the system can be adopted for the inspection of civilian vessels with no change in procedures or protocols.”


Tagged categories: Blistering; Coating / Film thickness; Coating failure; Coating inspection; Corrosion; Marine; Marine Coatings; Quality control; Research; Shipyards; U.S. Navy

Comment from ivor williams, (1/4/2012, 11:50 AM)


Comment from Robert Cook, (1/4/2012, 2:45 PM)

On the surface this looks interesting (pardon the pun), but how does Topside Corrosion Detection Algorithm (TCDA)account for the back side of T-Bars & other flanges which are out of the vision area? Typically, these are in the worst condition. I would like to learn more. I hope John Wegand still knows how to contact me.

Comment from Dan Powers, (1/4/2012, 8:53 PM)

Robert Cook on the East Coast? Contact me if you can -

Comment from Jim harper, (1/5/2012, 12:24 PM)

Jim Harper Contact me as I have series of questions

Comment from ariel asido, (1/8/2012, 8:06 PM)

These Images only reflect the visual physical appearance of a coating system, which in these areas "freeboard and topside"

Comment from ariel asido, (1/8/2012, 8:14 PM)

Are often overcoated by ship's force without proper prep and even sometimes under less than recommended environmental conditions. Coatings analysis' require to be able to touch the coating, pick at blistering, distinguish surface rust from pinpoint rust? Etc.

Comment from john kern, (1/10/2012, 7:36 AM)

There are multiple points when assessing a coatings condition. This new assessment tool appears to be a good for visual but how can it assess the physical properties of the coating. As mentioned above, adhesion, cohesive and adhesive, resin deterioration, running vs substrate rust, blistering, flaking, delamination etc. If this system can reduce time spent for the physical properties then HOORAY! If it will be a tool that add time to the inspection process then the costs needs to be addressed.

Comment from Larry Stephans, (1/24/2012, 3:07 PM)

There has been work on similar processes for coating inspection of bridges using digital imaging. The challenge, as one contributor pointed out, is that accurately imaging and analyzing images of complex shapes in varying light conditions is very challenging. None of the currently published R&D that I am aware of has resulted in a producing a process that is economically feasible. I am glad to see this development, however, since I firmly believe that the imaging and computer technology is available or within reach to make rapid, reproducible coating inspection with digital imaging and analysis possible. At some stage this will revolutionize coating inspection, monitoring and documenting the aging of coatings, coating warranties,etc.

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