Follow us on Twitter Follow us on LinkedIn Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram Visit the TPC Store
Search the site



Safway Services


Comment |

How About a New 95:50 Rule?


By Robert Ikenberry

I think we should have a new way of looking at quality.

We don’t have to settle for “just OK,” and we don’t have to go all the way to budget-busting perfection. There is a sweet spot of quality and efficiency in most things. Rather than looking for black or white, we should be looking harder for that “best gray.”

The 80:20 Rule

Most of you have probably heard the old, conventional wisdom of the 80:20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle. It essentially says that if one is talking about the best possible results, you can get about 80 percent of the way there with 20 percent of the effort that “perfection” would take.

Pareto Principle
© / Marek Uliasz

The 80:20 rule suggests that 20 percent of the invested effort is responsible for 80 percent of the results obtained.

Another way to look at it is that the last 20 percent keeps getting incrementally harder to improve. Ultimately, it takes 80 percent of the total effort to get thru the last 20 percent.

I don’t know about your practical experience with this in real life, but I’ve been an armchair astronomer since the time when many amateurs ground their own telescope mirrors. Now, if I understood the process properly, figuring a telescope mirror (that is, the process of polishing the surface to remove imperfections and/or modify the curvature to achieve the required shape) definitely took 80 percent of the effort to do the final 20 percent, certainly from the standpoint of how much glass you were taking off the mirror blank.

Craftsmen who put the finish on Steinway pianos probably know a bit about sanding, painting and polishing repeatedly to get to a goal of near perfection. I think they would tell you that the difference between a “commercial” gloss black finish and the endlessly deep, show-every-fingerprint, jet-black, high-gloss finish on a concert piano is the result of lots more effort.

Aspiring for Better

So if the 80:20 rule is true, and if we agree we don’t want to settle for just 80 percent of the best there is, and we’re willing to do at least something more than 20 percent of what it takes to get there, we should aspire for better as a society.

telescope mirror and lenses
© / WestWindGraphics

My experience figuring and polishing a telescope mirror demonstrates the concept that it took 80 percent of the effort to do the final 20 percent, certainly from the standpoint of how much glass you were taking off the mirror blank.

But how much more?

The laws of diminishing returns say that at some point extra effort just isn’t worth it. Where is that? Lots of times specifications seem to say, perfection is the only acceptable result.

White Metal blast requires that all visible rust, debris and paints are removed from a steel surface. And government seems to say public resources like water and air have to be clean to the limits of our detection (which with modern analytical methods is now in the parts per billion or trillion, not merely parts per million).

We often seem to be setting ourselves up to require perfection, even with the gross inefficiencies that last few percent requires.

On the other hand, there are some who say we should just go back to not really caring about it (cleanliness, quality, efficiency, environment, whatever “it” is that we’re talking about), do the 20 percent effort, take the 80 percent result and call it good.

Finding ‘Near Perfection’

I think there’s a practical middle ground. Let’s call it the 95:50 rule.

blast cleaning
© / kimtaro

For just half the effort of perfection, we may very well be able to get 95 percent of it. That sounds like a pretty good bargain.

I think the painting industry was always aware of this and, actually, was ahead of the curve:

Commercial blast cleaning is the equivalent of 80:20 (not quibbling about a few percentage points here), and White Metal blast is practical “perfection” in cleaning steel surfaces.

The need for a more realistic “Near-Perfection” was why Near-White blast cleaning was invented.

Most of the time, even with quality-critical coatings, Near-White is good enough (even though Commercial blast definitely isn’t), and it’s a lot less effort than true White Metal.

So let’s take a lesson from our industry and advocate for a Near-White Metal quality goal in our collective efforts.

Can you think of areas where this approach can improve overall quality or make realistic improvements more attainable?


Robert Ikenberry

Robert Ikenberry, PCS, has been in industrial painting and construction since 1975. Now semi-retired as the Safety Director and Project Manager for California Engineering Contractors, Robert stays busy rehabbing, retrofitting and painting bridges. His documentary on the 1927 Carquinez Bridge was the pilot for National Geographic’s Break it Down and an episode of MegaStructures.



Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Surface preparation

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/22/2016, 8:19 AM)

Robert, I appreciate your points - but I have a problem with the blast cleaning example. This is a problem I recently encountered in the field. White Metal, Near-White and Commercial (SP 5, 10 and 6 respectively) all require the cleanliness you described for White Metal: All visible rust, debris and paints must be removed. The only difference between the three is the amount of staining allowed. If there are visible chunks of rust, debris or paint - you don't even have a Commercial blast.

Comment from Robert Ikenberry, (9/22/2016, 12:26 PM)

Tom, you are, of course, exactly right. Sometimes in a blog, brevity is selected over accuracy. Sorry if that was unclear in this case. For any of the blast cleaning levels mentioned, the only contaminants that can remain are staining. Per the standard: "Staining shall be limited to no more than XX% of each square inch of surface area and may consist of light shadows, slight streaks or minor discoloration caused by stains of rust, stains of mill scale or stains of previously applied paint." The XX% of staining allowed: SP-6 = 33%, SP-10 = 5%, SP-5 = 0%

Comment from Bob Dahlstrom, (10/4/2016, 10:04 AM)

Robert, I agree... as technology improves there is no reason why we shouldn't take advantage of it and improve quality. Let's continue to replace human judgement with science.

Comment Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.

Industrial Vacuum Equipment Corp.
Hurricane Vacuums
& Dust Collectors
Vacuum and dust collector hose, filters and related accessories.

SABRE Autonomous Solutions
Imagine having an operator that takes less time to output more work
Once trained, a single operator can easily manage multiple SABRE systems.

Tarps manufacturing, Inc.
QUALITY MADE IN AMERICA —Available near you!
CLICK to get a behind-the-scenes look at how Tarps Manufacturing makes the highest-quality tarps right here in the USA — available nationwide.

SAFE Systems, Inc.
SAFE Systems'
Blast Lights &
Deadman Switches
Halogen or LED blast lights available with our NEW urethane bumper. Switches available in many colors for color coding your hoses.

Premium products for your blasting needs
Ready to use steel grit abrasives developed specially for air blasting applications.

HoldTight Solutions Inc.
Clean surfaces simply don’t rust, and no other product cleans like HoldTight®102.
HoldTight®102 is a wet blasting additive that decreases the water’s surface tension, allowing it to get into the profile of the surface and remove ALL contamination, including salts, acids, abrasives, light oils, and greases. HoldTight®102 leaves behind no film and evaporates with the water, providing a surface that is thoroughly clean and ready for coating, rust-free for up to 72 hours.

Absolute Equipment/Grand Rental Station
We have Tier 4 Equipment including Air Compressors & Generators for Sale & Rent! Your job may now require Tier-4. or Call 412-931-6655.

Novatek Corporation
Dustless Coatings Removal
Novatek Corporation, Dustless Coatings Removal Strip, clean and profile all dust free! Comply with new lead standards. Contact today: (866) 563-7800

Graco Inc.
Graco EcoQuip 2: Experience the Difference
While others claim their equipment is the same, none of them compare to Graco’s EcoQuip 2™ Vapor Abrasive® blasting line. Visit to learn more.

Total Enclosure Sail System, Inc.
Environmental containment and weather protection system.
• The Sail System™ environmental containment and weather protection system is strong, durable, reusable, efficient and cost effective. Sail System™ provides class I containment for bridges, water towers, ground tanks, drydocks and more.


Technology Publishing Co., 1501 Reedsdale Street, Suite 2008, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

TEL 1-412-431-8300  • FAX  1-412-431-5428  •  EMAIL

The Technology Publishing Network

Durability + Design PaintSquare the Journal of Protective Coatings & Linings Paint BidTracker

EXPLORE:      JPCL   |   PaintSquare News   |   Interact   |   Buying Guides   |   Webinars   |   Resources   |   Classifieds
REGISTER AND SUBSCRIBE:      Free PaintSquare Registration   |   Subscribe to JPCL   |   Subscribe to PaintSquare News
MORE:      About   |   Privacy Policy   |   Terms & Conditions   |   Support   |   Site Map   |   Search   |   Contact Us