Jeremy Sukola, water and wastewater market manager at coatings, linings, and fireproofing manufacturer Carboline (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), spoke with us on a recent podcast to discuss key industry trends; feedback from the marketplace; and much more.
Discussion topics include lessons learned over Sukola’s distinguished career; education initiatives, technical development, and other resources available from Carboline to address market needs; advice for the next generation of coatings professionals; and how Sukola’s work as a NACE/AMPP education instructor has proven beneficial on many levels.
Read on for a partial Q&A transcript, and check out the full interview online at www.materialsperformance.com/podcasts.
Q: How has the protective coatings industry changed over all your time in it?
Sukola: I think one of the biggest differences is that when I started, I went through an apprenticeship program. This was out West. I went through an apprenticeship program, and that was a big thing, 25 years ago, to have the ability to go through that type of program. You would go to school after work and learn about the trade.
There have been some challenges with the painting trade over the last 20 or 25 years. We still have that option to get involved with a union shop, if we happen to live in a place where that’s available. There are a lot of places that don’t have that luxury, though. So as a technical trade, it’s gotten more difficult over the years, and I see and hear that from a lot of business owners that I’ve talked to. Being able to find skilled tradesmen, it’s a lot different.
I would say with technologies, equipment, and things like that, they’ve become a lot more complicated, particularly as the rapid return-to-service, high-solids lining systems have come out. You’ve seen a big change in application equipment, in addition to the equipment that we use for surface preparation.
The days of firing open a blast pot and going to town, those days are over in a lot of places. We’ve moved towards ultra-high-pressure waterjetting and other technologies that may have been relegated to niche markets 20 to 25 years ago. They’re more widely acceptable now, so there’s a technology shift in the industry.
And then, as I’m sure every other industry is facing, a lot of the folks that held all of this knowledge are starting to retire, and they’re starting to move on with their lives. So, we’re facing a challenge where getting young people involved is difficult. That knowledge gap is there, along with the concern about who we’re bringing up next in the coatings industry.
Q: Let’s talk about water and wastewater, specifically, What feedback do you hear from your clients in those businesses? Are there any trends or challenges that often come up?
Sukola: With water wastewater, the market is driven by funding. I think most people will agree that any time you see a discussion on infrastructure, it all comes down to funding. So, I think the biggest challenge is that we have a lot of systems that were built to sustain a certain-sized population. As the country has grown and cities have expanded, those resources and infrastructure built on the water and wastewater side have been stretched to a breaking point.
We’re doing a lot of band-aids right now and fixing what we currently have. It’s far more difficult to get funding to expand the treatment facilities or to add more storage capacity, things like that, in addition to the need to fix and expand infrastructure we currently have.
Regulatory concerns are really driving a lot of our efforts. If you operate a treatment plant, as far reportable spills and things like that, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations are difficult on the coating side. We’ve got some challenges there from OTC (Ozone Transport Commission) Phase Two environments, and when you get out into Southern California, with the VOC restrictions out there.
As far as other things coming to light, this discussion around PFAS (perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) is another concern. The water and wastewater industry is really being constrained on what they can fix and what they can expand based off of financial concerns, along with a lot of regulatory concerns.
It’s not an easy place to be right now as an asset owner or municipality, in terms of trying to get your arms around what your infrastructure looks like, what your needs are to fix it, where you’re going to find the money, and then being able to do what you need to do, within budget.
Q: As a manufacturer, what are some of the properties that you’re looking for in 2023, on the technical side, to try and address some of the challenges in the field?
Sukola: We’re always looking to provide our customers with fit-for-service products. So, when we talk about standard coatings and linings that we deal with, the epoxies range from standard polyethylene and polyamines for general use to novolacs and vinyl esters for severe service. Our aromatic urethanes, we use these as linings for tanks, pipe, secondary containments, and things like that. It really is driven by what end use the customer has.
We do a pretty good job of making sure that we’re not just giving a recommendation for a coating to sell a coating. We want to really dive in. When we get involved and give our recommendations, we want them to be based on the knowledge a customer provides to us about what their specific needs are for each project.
That may involve budgetary concerns, or it can be concerns about the life expectancy of a coating system. If it’s a new construction or maintenance, access, there are a lot of things that we have to keep in mind.
So, when we get involved with a specifier, owner, or contractor to provide recommendations for systems, it really is a holistic process. From beginning to end, we’re making sure that we have all the all the parameters that we want to get answered, and then making sure we support them through the application process.
Source: Carboline, www.carboline.com.