Lydia Frenzel Talks Waterjetting Challenges


Dr. Lydia Frenzel is a recognized authority on surface preparation and has been working with waterjetting in the industrial coatings industry for more than 30 years.

She has co-chaired the SSPC/NACE committees on water blasting since 1985, and founded The Advisory Council, a network that deals with emerging technologies and their social and economic effects. She earned her doctorate in chemistry from the University of Texas and accepted a faculty position with the University of New Orleans.

She is a member of the SSPC Surface Preparation Steering Committee and a member of 12 other SSPC technical committees related to surface preparation, coating application and inspection. She is a two-time award winner of the SSPC Technical Achievement Award in 1996 and 2012, and she is a member of the Technical Advisory group at NACE for ISO Surface Preparation Committees TC-35, SC 12 and 14.

In addition to her continued work in the industry, Frenzel and her husband, Charles, write novels under the pen name L.C. Frenzel, including a series entitled "Ennea Chronicles," which Frenzel describes as a great read for all ages.

Frenzel spoke with PaintSquare News about how the industry has responded to waterjetting over the years, and discusses some of the challenges that are still faced today.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PaintSquare News: When you first got into waterjetting, how did you start and what kind of acceptance in the industry did you see early on?

Frenzel: I got really involved in antifouling paints and early research to make them and look at their degradation in the water. I was known as an industrial paint person and so I did consulting in that area as well as being a university professor.

My husband, Charles, and I had a company and did consulting in that area. We ran across a person from Butterworth who had an office a couple blocks from our place in New Orleans. Butterworth led us into the waterjetting world, first with pressure washing and then with cleaning pipe. I spent about 10 years in the pipe yards trying to convince them to get the salt off with water. The pipe yard managers didn't know what to do with a woman beating their pipe with a hammer, looking at the varnish fall off.

At that time, all of the companies were family owned; they weren't public corporations. I had a lot of people help me. It was fun because this was a very small, closed community. The owners were eager to find new applications. The application into coatings came about because of pipe yards and a lot of salt; ships were breaking up because of corrosion.

In the 1970s, when this was happening, No. 1 we were moving into more environmentally friendly painting methods. I thought it was time to move away from sandblasting because sandblasting left mountains of waste. We used waterjetting to protect your assets, to make the paint/varnish last longer. It worked, but no one believed their eyes.

The first time, 1985, SSPC had a meeting where they actually had talks by individuals, I talked about waterjetting (WJ). We were, of course, the last speech on the last day after the last break. So, you can imagine how many people stayed around.

"We knew from the beginning that [waterjetting] was a secondary surface preparation, that it removed material and returned to the original substrate. Sometimes that is downright ugly, but you weren’t going to use it for new build."

We talked to an audience of two to five people and we talked about the fact that abrasive blasting didn’t take salt off. No one believed us. Enough people thought about the talk: The marine sector started using WJ in Europe for coatings repair. It’s a matter of wanting to be environmentally responsible and adopting sustainable technology—those are terms that have come up over the years. We didn’t really talk about sustainable technology in the late ’70s early ’80s; today it's a buzz term.

What’s the biggest challenge that the application of waterjetting faced over the years?

I think the biggest thing that I have been surprised about is the resistance to change. I thought people wanted to manage their assets and that didn’t turn out to be the case. They would discard the pipe and buy new. It has been amazing to me just how the U.S. coatings industry has institutionalized abrasive blasting.

We knew from the beginning that [waterjetting] was a secondary surface preparation, that it removed material and returned to the original substrate. Sometimes that is downright ugly, but you weren’t going to use it for new build. Every time someone wants to stay with sandblasting they will say, "Oh, waterjetting doesn’t make a profile."

It's comfortable to stay with abrasive blasting. Other countries have changed and adopted WJ. The U.S. is just, as usual, hung up on the status quo and I never expected that. I did not. Of course, you have to buy—or lease—new equipment. Of course you have to train people. As an industry, we would rather push back against regulations than make a change.

How has the waterjetting industry tried to make up for that resistance?

SInce 1985, the waterjetting companies have built better equipment, made new nozzles, invented new PPE and done everything they can to help facilitate adoption of WJ. They’ve been very supportive and every time I turn around they’ve got some new device. They’ve built all sorts of equipment and ways of manipulating so that [workers] can clean tanks and inaccessible areas with a remote extension.

The challenges are the same as they were 30 years ago. I still get the same questions. I have to tell you, the waterjetting suppliers are really kind of puzzled about the negativity.

So, do you think more education is the answer?

I have found that the waterjetting industry is very supportive and the paint and coatings industry is just like a little jelly blob: You push at it and make a dent and it comes back.

I have developed a sense of humor. I don’t want to give up.

"Every once in a while, we get someone who will take the time to try waterjetting. They work with the companies involved and do it right. It's a great feeling when a plan comes together."

In terms of education, of giving people more data and successful field cases, we’ve gotten into the world of digital thinking where no matter how many facts you put forth, people don’t change their opinion. It’s a matter of people having an opinion and a belief in a myth. The story that is told most often becomes a fact.

What kind of myths, or “designer facts,” does waterjetting encounter the most?

I think the designer fact that I hear most is that it can’t make a surface profile. That’s a designer fact. WJ was never designed to make a surface profile. It was designed for maintenance, for projects that have already been profiled. I’m very careful when someone calls up and they want to use waterjetting, I say, “Is it new build? Nothing’s been profiled? Then it’s not appropriate.” Then, they will use that statement as an excuse to never use WJ.

The designer fact is that we have to use tons of water. Nowadays, there are many companies that give you systems for taking out the solids and recycling the water. In fact, the Navy funded a recycle system back in 1994 where you could run the waterjetting system all day, taking paint off the side of a ship, and maybe you would lose 50 gallons a day of water. That was a very impressive demonstration.

People think waterjetting is not safe. The safety record gets better with waterjetting. But when you have an accident, it’s a bad accident. Accidents only happen few and far between. Many accidents are described as a brain fart; i.e. cleaning the face shield with WJ while wearing the shield. You hear of accidents and they’re bad. The WJ industry works to adopt engineering solutions to keep accidents from happening.

What about costs and the rest of the market?

The problem of buying equipment and retraining people is an initial obstacle. The contractors who make the switch find that they end up with a payback. They have a lot less waste disposal cost.

In terms of penetrating the market, the first 10 or 15 years we got very good penetration. Then what happened? I could see we got a little complacent. We started getting a pushback from the abrasive blasting equipment and media suppliers. Also, the WJ suppliers leased equipment to companies who didn’t know how to use it.  Without training, they used a lot of water like they were abrasive blasting; it was inefficient.

What keeps you doing this now?

Every once in a while, we get someone who will take the time to try waterjetting. They work with the companies involved and do it right. It's a great feeling when a plan comes together.

But I am worried about the new generation who hear half-truths. It is hard to learn on your own and have the discipline to study. I recommend everyone go to the WJTA-IMCA meeting (Oct. 25-27) in New Orleans, and kick the tires at the demos, attend the boot camp talks and engage the safety panel expert discussion.

This is a fun business, but it’s a very serious business and I’ve had lots of people who have helped me along the way to become "The Water Witch of the West."


Tagged categories: Lydia Frenzel; NA; North America; Surface Preparation; Surface preparation; Waterjetting

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