Coating Inspection: Management and Failure Analysis

coating inspection

“Do it once, do it right” with a coating inspection

Problems can arise during the pre-treatment, application and curing phases of a coating job. Coating jobs that at first seem perfect can begin to fail. There are so many variables in any coating application, from the environment to the material itself, that getting a perfect job is a highly skilled task. This is why we need the coating inspection: we need trained and certified professionals on board at every step, testing and guiding the coating process, as well as making sure the coating job is maintained. Do it once, do it right; the cost of repairing a badly executed coating can be many times the cost to paint it in the first place.

Hire a trained and certified professional

A coating inspector (or paint inspector) is someone who has the formal training and certification to inspect coatings. Their knowledge is not just related to the qualities of the coating, but also the best environment and application for each coating in each setting. A coating inspector:

  • takes surface readings
  • calibrates and uses dry film thickness (DFT) gauges
  • uses wet film thickness gauges
  • is familiar with the standards applied to each coating
  • is familiar with all the contributing factors when applying a coat: humidity, temperature, pressure, cleanliness etc

…and more. They are a vital part of the coating process because they judge conditions before, during and after a coating is applied, as well as suggesting which coating best suits all the variables.

Coating inspection processes: before and after application

The coating survey

First of all you have a facility, infrastructure, asset or machinery that requires coating, or a coating job that needs refurbishing or evaluating. You want assurance that the job will be, at every step, only the highest quality. Therefore, your coating inspection procedure starts with a site condition survey. This condition survey will answer questions such as:

  • What is the substrate, and what is its condition?
  • Is there previous coating, and is it damaged?
  • Is there deterioration, such as rust or peeling?
  • To what degree is there damage, does it require starting again?
  • Are there any environmental issues which need to be taken into account?

Any problems that might be found, or maintenance required, needs to be dealt with.

Writing the specification

Is your coating specification comprehensive, does it allow for no misunderstandings between engineers, coaters, contractors, and managers? The specification needs to clearly describe the owner’s expectations for their project, aesthetically and structurally. A well-written specification contains as much detail as is required to make these expectations clear, in plain, unambiguous terms. It is a template, and thus needs to be as accurate as possible for the finished product to turn out as planned.

Some manufacturers actually have specification services that they provide, so that every step of the process is overseen by someone who knows the coating products inside out.


Is the coating conforming to the expectations outlined in the specification? An examination of all coatings needs to be carried out, to check that properties such as thickness, corrosion and fire damage all conform to the specification. Corrosion costs the US nearly $500 billion  a year in replacing and repairing damaged assets, so having a regular coating inspection can catch the problem before it goes too far.

Failure analysis

It happens. Coating projects fail, damage happens, or corrosion wins. In this case, the coating inspection has one goal – to find the culprit. Like a detective, they will gather and analyze information about the coating, its environment, its usage, its application process and thus uncover the reason behind the failure. Once found, they outline the best way to deal with the issue and how to prevent it recurring in the future.

Coating inspection courses and certifications: NACE and SSPC

While there are a couple of programs available for coating inspection and application training, the NACE certification remains the most reliable. NACE International is the Worldwide Corrosion Authority.

NACE Certification

The NACE Coating Inspector Program (CIP) has been setting the standard for inspections in the protective coatings industry for over 30 years. The CIP is an international certification program that produces the highest caliber of paint inspectors. These come in Level 1, 2, and 3, with 3 being the highest. NACE also publishes a book outlining the use of coating inspection instruments.

SSPC PCI Certification

SSPC is the Society for Protective Coatings, and they run training and certification programs and bridging courses for coating inspectors. The PCI is the Protective Coatings Inspector program, and like the NACE certification there are 3 levels, which level 3 being the highest qualification.

Coating inspection instruments

The instrumentation is a vital part of a coating inspection and there are many options, including coating inspection kits, to ensure that readings and calculations are done correctly. A coating inspection kit includes the following instruments:

  • a thickness gauge
  • a hygrometer (for testing humidity)
  • a dewpoint calculator
  • a thermometer with surface probe
  • a wet film gauge

Inspection instrumentation manufacturers such a BYK and Elcometer also sell their instruments, if required as part of your coating management plan. If you would like more information about how to purchase coating inspection instruments, contact our experts by using the “request a quote” button.

Coating inspection companies in the US

Many companies operating in the US offer coating inspection services. The following are a small sample. NACE also has a handy tool on their website for finding a certified professional in your area. If you would like more information about the right company for you, please contact us!

US CoatingsOn-site survey with site-specific asset evaluation and recommendations. Specification consulting. OEM customized solutions.NACE
Bureau VeritasOn-site survey. Analysis of conditions, application methods, systems, and quality. Visual inspection of coatings.NACE
The Merrick Group IncOn-site survey. Ensure coating specification and quality adherence and application.NACE
CorrproOn-site survey. Ensure adherence to quality and specification. Project management. Failure analysis.NACE
SGSOn-site survey. Technical specifications and periodic quality controls. Failure analysis.NACE
Amerisafe ServicesCoating specifications. On-site survey. Management of coating projects.NACE

Need more coating inspection guidance? Our experts are here to help.

Use our 100% free quoting service and we can match your project to the best contractors and products for your needs. Let us connect you with the leaders in the industry.

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