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War on Corrosion: News from the Front

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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SAN ANTONIO—The U.S. military is gaining serious ground in the multibillion-dollar war on corrosion, saving millions of dollars and improving readiness in the process, experts reported Tuesday (Jan. 15) at SSPC 2013.

But, they added, there is still a long way to go in what the Department of Defense calls a $22.4 billion-a-year battle.

The conference’s Technical Program kicked into high gear Tuesday in San Antonio, with four simultaneous session tracks on the protective and marine coatings side, including a popular lineup of presentations on "Defending against Corrosion in the Military."


All branches of the service, including the Marine Corps' Corrosion Prevention and Control (CPAC) program, are fighting corrosion in many ways, on many fronts, with a variety of strategies and technologies.

While each service branch operates its own programs, every speaker emphasized the importance of corrosion prevention—through new materials, new designs, improved maintenance, and operational practices—as far more effective and less costly than attending to corrosion repairs.

The challenge, they said, can be getting the word out to others in their own branch.

Designing Out Corrosion

Building corrosion control into the design stage of military ships, weapons, vehicles and systems would go a long way toward minimizing problems later on, speakers noted.

Corrosion “is the single most expensive maintenance item we have,” the Navy’s Steve Melsom reported in his presentation, Corrosion Control Knowledge Sharing Network: Fighting the War on Corrosion from Multiple Fronts. “This is big business.”

Navy topsides
Naval Research Laboratory

Conventional single-component silicone alkyds, widely used on Navy topsides, are easy to apply (A) but have not held up well (B). The Naval Research Laboratory is developing a replacement.

Melsom said the Navy spent $2.5 billion to $4 billion on corrosion for the surface fleet alone. “It’s our biggest cost driver,” he said.

Meanwhile, he noted, budgets are shrinking, and the number of sailors available for blasting and painting is dwindling. New strategies and technologies are essential, he said.

Collaborative Approach

The Corrosion Control Knowledge Sharing Network (KSN) was founded in February 2011 by NAVSEA’s Surface Team 1 to bring a collaborative, holistic approach to slashing the corrosion tab, Melsom said.

The initiative includes members from the operator, maintenance execution, maintenance planning, engineering, R&D and program management operations working together to evaluate and mitigate corrosion issues facing the U.S. fleet.

Melsom noted some of the network’s initial efforts, which include:

  • Implementing improved coatings into the surface fleet;
  • Trying to push corrosion control up front in the design stage—a radical addition to conventional design-team priorities; and
  • Working with the ship’s force to bring corrosion awareness back to the sailors.

Marine Matters

Earlier, the Marine Corps reported major bottom-line gains in its corrosion efforts. An update on the Corps’ Corrosion Prevention and Control (CPAC) program, which led off the sessions, also made a compelling case for the multi-channel approach to corrosion control.

The CPAC program includes existing assets, new procurements, and research and development/engineering.

Presenter John Repp, of Elzly Technology Corp., reported that CPAC’s comprehensive approach had yielded significant improvement in the condition of the Marines’ existing assets since 2004. In that year, he said, the program developed a rating system of 1 to 5 for each asset’s corrosion condition. One was the best; 5, the worst.

The initial survey found that the vast majority of assets rated a 3 or higher, meaning that they needed at least blasting and repainting—and, at worst, had to be retired.

CPAC Metrics

CPAC's metrics show a major shift over eight years in the overall corrosion condition of Marine assets.

The latest survey, however, pushed the majority of assets into Categories 1 and 2, meaning that they were in good condition and could be maintained with minimal cost.

“Basically, we’re jumping an order of magnitude [in cost] every time we go up a step in corrosion repair,” said Repp.

He also said that USMC’s corrosion tab had dropped from $545 million in FY 2005 to $460 million in FY 2008—the only service, he said, to report a decline.

‘It’s Got to Last’

Echoing Melsom's theme, Repp said Marine program officials had been “whispering in the ear” of the procurement people, to factor corrosion prevention and control into new acquisitions.

“We tell them, ‘Yeah, it’s got to shoot so far, but it’s also got to last for X number of years,’” he said.

Relatively simple, low-cost steps are also having a big payoff, Repp said. These include:

  • Increased use of vehicle bedliner and underbody coatings,
  • Ongoing technical guidance on corrosion prevention and control;
  • Improved blast recovery systems;
  • Paint booth upgrades;
  • More emphasis on washing vehicles and greater availability of facilities to do so;
  • Controlled humidity protection measures; and
  • Greater use of equipment protective covers with Vapor Corrosion Inhibitors (VCI).

CPAC is also ratcheting up durability testing of vehicles by integrating corrosion inputs to better simulate actual operating conditions. These results can tip managers and maintenance personnel early on to critical degradation risks that might not otherwise appear until the system is in operation.

The program also works closely with the Army (which had to cancel its session Tuesday), “since we’re all working with ground vehicles,” Repp said.

The upshot of all these measures is reducing maintenance costs in some cases to “a couple hundred bucks,” said Repp. “It’s not something that’s eating our lunch.”

Navy Topsides

Later, Erick B. Iezzi, Ph.D., of the U.S. Naval Research Lab, Center for Corrosion Science and Engineering, reported on a promising Single-Component Polysiloxane Coating for Navy Topsides being developed by NRL.

NRL 1K Coating Test

The Naval Research Lab's new 1K polysiloxane coating is being tested on two active ships, including the USS Oak Hill. That test began in September 2011.

With 250 ships and 11 carriers, those freeboards and superstructures—everything above the waterline—total about 12 million square feet of surface area in need of coating.

The coating materials alone—excluding labor, staging and blasting—cost the Navy about $15 million annually, Iezzi said. The other factors increase the cost tenfold.

NRL's goal, explained Iezzi, is to develop a single-component successor to the silicone alkyds the Navy has used since the 1960s. Those coatings had a number of drawbacks (poor color, slow cure, low hardness and poor chemical resistance), but they were easy to open and apply.

NRL has been working for several years on a coating system that is now being tested on two active Navy ships. One coating was installed on the USS Oak Hill in September 2011; another, on the USS Hopper in October 2012.

The coatings still must undergo Environmental Protection Agency registration under the Toxic Substances Control Act and other qualifications to allow for larger demonstrations, Iezzi said.

High Stakes

All of the speakers emphasized the stakes—in cost, safety and military readiness—in the corrosion problem. Melsom noted that some relatively new destroyers had to be retired early due entirely to corrosion damage.

“So now, it’s an imperative that we maintain platforms for a longer service life,” he said. “Instead of a 20-year service life, we’re looking at 30, 40, 50 years plus.”


Tagged categories: Corrosion control coatings; Corrosion protection; Department of Defense (DOD); Marine; Marine Coatings; SSPC 2013; U.S. Navy

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