Through the looking glass22 May 2016
Geoff Binks has dedicated 50 years to a major polymer coating and composite manufacturer. NEI asked him about his experience in the industry and the maintenance sector.
Geoff Binks was born and raised in Harrogate, a UK town in North Yorkshire famous since Victorian times for its spa waters. He joined Belzona in 1965 direct from technical college, where he studied chemistry.
Belzona, also based in Harrogate, had been started to market metal repair products. The company had been launched a decade earlier, in 1952, as Northern Metalife specialising in the flame spraying of steel with zinc to provide corrosion protection. Harrogate is still the company's headquarters and hosts manufacturing, a multilingual technical support department and training facilities. But now its support service network stretches worldwide, including Miami in the US, where Belzona has an advanced testing laboratory, training facilities and multilingual support for North, Central and South American markets.
When he joined the company Binks first worked in R&D on a broad range of products, particularly Belzona Metals. He was involved in radical development in 1968 with the introduction of the first Belzona Super Metal formulation. The company's key innovation was the use of polymer additives.
In the early 1980s Binks joined a newly formed technical service department, the Molecular Engineering Department (MED), and was responsible for field visits, inspecting and supervising applications and delivering in-plant training. Binks was involved in all aspects of Belzona's business, and as a result, he eventually became technical service coordinator, acting as a link between chemists, engineers, sales and marketing.
Binks now provides global technical support to Belzona customers, distributors and staff.
NEI: Your career started in the 1960s. Can you describe some of the standard industry practices of that time in terms of repair and maintenance?
Geoff Binks (GB): First of all polymer repairs were almost unheard of. We had to show people exactly how the polymer works, changing from a liquid to a solid state.
Health & Safety was not a priority at the time. This was the same throughout the industry as well as in our laboratory where pranks were commonplace. There was little personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves or eye protection.
NEI: Can you share some of your favourite pranks?
GB: I will not go into too much detail but one prank involved polystyrene drinking cups being attacked with solvent leading to loss of containment.
NEI: How has the Belzona brand evolved over time?
GB: We always say that Belzona does not corrode, which is of course true, but there was a time when Belzona Metals could corrode. Back in the early 1960s we used iron powder in the polymer, which was liable to rust, before silicon steel alloy was deployed into Belzona Metals in 1968.
The number and variety of products over the years has increased dramatically, with product ranges such as the Belzona Magma and Elastomer systems being introduced. Our old motto used to be "Total Maintenance Capability", which meant that we endeavoured to have a product for every problem that may face a customer. So we ended up with a diverse offering of repair and protection materials covering a broad range of substrates and operating conditions.
Additionally at the start Belzona was mainly sold in small quantities as pack sales. Now we get increasingly involved in large- scale projects, sometimes requiring several tonnes of Belzona materials. For example we recently did several jobs on renewing worn and damaged pumps with Belzona erosion- corrosion repair systems.
NEI: How has the power industry changed over the last 50 years?
GB: Power has always been one of our key industries as we successfully addressed issues of abrasion and corrosion. But the power business is now rapidly changing for us, as coal-fired power plants are being phased out globally. The challenge for the future will be to identify common issues in gas fired and renewable power plants that Belzona can address.
For the nuclear power industry we continue delivering solutions to the problems found in cooling water systems and water treatment plants among others. For example, we have developed a complete system which addresses erosion, corrosion and cavitation. This system was applied onto a cooling tower recirculation pump impeller at a US nuclear power plant in 2009. To avoid replacement, the damage was rebuilt with a paste grade epoxy, then efficiency enhancing smooth hydrophobic coating applied atop with a layer of a cavitation resistant elastomer added on either side of the vanes. This combination significantly extends maintenance-free periods and prevents the costs and issues associated with part replacement.
For the water treatment plants we specify a range of chemically resistant coatings and mortar repair materials. In May 2007 we carried out a project at a UK power plant where a competitive bund coating had failed and led to deterioration of the underlying concrete. For this sulphuric acid containment bund, we specified our most chemically resistant coating which withstands high concentrations of this acid up to 98%. This project was completed within five days and currently remains in service. Even after some acid spillages our coating remained intact. It is noteworthy that we test all chemical resistance of our materials for a period of 12 months to ensure their suitability for accidental and long-term immersion.
NEI: What are your career highlights?
GB: The biggest highlight of my career was being involved in the development of the first Belzona Super Metal in 1968. This set the standard. It was corrosion resistant, easier to mix and apply and had better physical properties, particularly adhesion and heat resistance, than other materials available at the time. This product has remained one of our best sellers and is synonymous with the Belzona brand. After working on product development for many years, my job evolved through technical service and technical writing at the same time the Molecular Engineering Department (MED) was created.
One of my responsibilities at that time was managing the Belzona Slide Library, an impressive collection of 100,000 or more 35mm slides, vital in the creation of literature and customer presentations. This led to my involvement with marketing, working on creating technical and sales literature, particularly "Know How in Action" as well as our audio-visual (AV) presentations, the precursor to today's videos. AVs with titles such as 'Dr Belzona', 'The Unconventional Alternative' and 'Simply the Best' were the key tools used by consultants.
I guess another highlight would be the opportunities I have had to work in so many different areas of the business, which has allowed me to meet many different people from many different industries and led to some, but not excessive, global travel.
NEI: What does the future hold for repair and protection against erosion and corrosion?
GB: As heavy industries are beginning to decline and planned maintenance increases we will need to continue to adapt and ensure we target emerging markets and industries. Most of our current customers probably only use 10% of our product range, so there is always potential there.
*Geoff Binks is technical service coordinator at Belzona with more than 50 years' experience, all with Belzona.