As an industrial flooring installer, you’re going to be called upon to offer solutions in harsh environments with aggressive chemicals. Along with wear from heavy traffic, they’re the two major challenges that define work in this field.
Luckily for you, epoxies have excellent overall chemical resistance and wear resistance, and don’t mind getting their hands dirty, so to speak. However, effective protection doesn’t end there. There are many other factors that determine how long industrial epoxy flooring lasts.
How many years can you expect? Because of the aggressive, highly variable nature of industrial conditions, it’s hard to give an exact figure. By following the guidance below, however, you’ll give the system you choose the best possible chance of performing well and lasting as long as it can.
Here are four factors that will give you the best chance of winning the battle with industrial flooring:
Much of this comes down to knowing the limitations of the industrial floor coatings you use and staying within those boundaries. Testing how a coating copes with chemical exposure usually involves making a small sample of the product and immersing it for a few months. The chemical resistance is expressed as a percentage weight change of the test sample over time and can be positive (gain weight) or negative (lose weight) depending on what reaction takes place.
Some tests will also check for changes in hardness, with softening of the film indicating poor chemical resistance. When fully cured, two-pack epoxy floor coatings typically reach between 60 and 80 on what’s called the shore D scale of hardness. While this is quite impressive, an aggressive chemical can quickly make a mess of that if resistance is low.
These chemical resistance figures are usually posted somewhere on a technical data sheet and they’ll have a big say in whether or not an industrial floor coating is suitable for the job at hand.
Surface preparation with industrial epoxy flooring is often far more complicated than hitting the floor with a simple grind, especially when aggressive chemicals are involved.
Take for example a concrete floor we did a few years back for a battery manufacturer. After stripping back the mushy surface to what felt like firm concrete, a pH test with litmus paper was conducted to see if chemical contamination was still present. Aged concrete has an alkaline pH of 8-9, so if these tests showed a much higher or lower pH, then the surface would need to be further stripped to expose the uncontaminated layers beneath. Alternatively, the floor could’ve been neutralised by rinsing with water or a solution of opposite pH, however this approach can be wasteful, time consuming, hard to control and very inconsistent.
Once we were happy there was no residual contamination, our focus turned to re-building the floor. Unless the entire floor has been removed to an even and acceptable height, the next step is to re-level the surface. It’s essential in these situations to use a chemically resistant levelling product rather than rely on the industrial floor coating alone for protection. An important consideration when re-levelling is the contouring of the floor. What drainage is required? How do I ensure there are no areas where pooling can occur? The design of the floor and its drainage mechanisms will play a big role in prolonging its life.
The mistake often made here is failing to understand the complete set of service conditions required for the industrial epoxy floor. The coating may very well be resistant to certain chemicals, but what else is going on at the same time? What temperature and concentration are the chemicals at? Will the floor be required to handle heavy traffic directly before or afterwards? Is there a chance another spill could happen immediately? When it comes to industrial epoxy floors, it pays to have a full understanding of the service requirements.
If procedures to manage accidents are of a high standard, the industrial epoxy floor will benefit as a result. Ask the client what their spill and containment procedures are. Do they have a clear process that looks to dilutes spills and minimise exposure through quick clean up? Are spill kits ready for use and easily accessible? If all these things are in order, then the industrial floor coating won’t have to shoulder the burden of a spill all on its own.
The chemical resistance and wear resistance data you see on an industrial floor coating technical data sheet is usually obtained through laboratory tests conducted on carefully prepared samples in controlled conditions. How these results translate into field performance of the industrial epoxy floor will depend on many things; some you have little control over, such as site conditions and weather, and others you have complete control over.
If an industrial epoxy floor coating is to be used at 2:1 by volume, for example, try to get as close to that as possible. The best way to use correct ratio is to mix full kits, however if you must split them, measurement should be made accurately with a calibrated jug or bucket. Ratios shouldn’t be estimated by sight as this is too much guesswork. Alternatively, you can ask the manufacturer to provide a weight ratio and mix the components by measuring weight on a set of scales.
A complete, thorough mix gives the industrial floor coating every chance of fully hardening. Giving the product time to fully cure before returning to service is also ideal, although not always possible. As a rule of thumb, most two-pack epoxies used for industrial flooring will reach close to full cure within 7 days at 25oC/77oF, so if the available shutdown time is much shorter, then a faster product might be a better choice.
In reality, the components of two-pack epoxies will never fully react out. Blockages, migration and other forces prevent a small fraction of epoxy groups from ever cross-linking with the curing agent, which leaves a film more vulnerable to attack.
A way to minimise this is through the application of heat. Increasing the temperature helps the components move around with more freedom and react out more completely. It’s hard to get the entire floor area up to the kind of temperature needed to make a real difference here (over 60oC/140oF), however it’s a useful thing to know if you’re doing work on processing equipment that can be heated, or you want to ensure a particular section is fully cured by hitting it with a heat gun.
The temptation with a tight schedule is to speed up the hardening process with accelerators. These additives work by triggering a different curing mechanism instead of the standard epoxy/amine reaction. The result is a faster cure in the industrial epoxy floor, however it also results in a higher percentage of unreacted hardener that can compromise performance, especially when it comes to chemical resistance.
The theory behind applying two coats or more with industrial epoxy flooring relates to minimising two common points of weakness in the film – pinholes and holidays.
Briefly, pinholes are burst bubbles that leave tiny craters with a central “throat”. Holidays, on the other hand, are areas of insufficient coating thickness that generally occur on sharp edges, however they can also occur on flat areas if application misses a spot, so to speak. Pinholes and holidays compromise the flooring system by leaving the substrate exposed and applying at least two coats reduces the probability of this happening.
The risk of applying onto a rough surface in an industrial environment is the possibility of thinner films on the peaks, ridges and edges offering less coverage and therefore less resistance to the aggressive conditions. On the other hand, re-levelling or re-building any rough areas first creates a smooth surface, which allows an industrial floor coating to form a more even protective film across the entire area.
This information has been adapted from our epoxy handbook - “Finally, real answers for real contractors – Industrial Flooring”.
Copies are available on the Support page.
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Real World Epoxies has formulated, manufactured and supplied high-quality industrial epoxy flooring systems and products for more than two decades. We stand behind our products because we only use proven, high-quality materials that we know will perform as expected. You can trust our industrial epoxy flooring systems for your epoxy flooring project.
Let us help you with your industrial epoxy flooring needs when you fill out one of our contact forms or call us on 1300 EPOXIES (1300 376 943).
To help build a strong resin flooring industry that sits alongside timber, carpet, tiles and vinyl as a mainstream flooring option.
To eliminate preventable failures
that hurt the resin flooring industry
and prevent it from reaching its full potential.