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Guest blog: Reducing the potential effects of metal corrosion through correct design and maintenance

By Richard Besant, Director, Powdertech Corby.

Powder coating architectural metalwork provides protection and colour. Here, Richard Besant, Director at Powdertech Corby, explains some of the terms that are often bandied around to quantify corrosion in order that the specifier, manufacturer, installer and end user all appreciate some of the key points. 

The importance of process

The relative cost between one colour and another may not be a major cost driver whereas, in the long term, using the correct powder coating process is. It is certainly worthwhile budgeting for the correct process to be applied.

Corrosion is a complicated subject. Guarantees often mention corrosion alongside colour and gloss, but it is a more nuanced element and requires serious consideration. As I often say to customers, “It’s no use asking for a great colour if it’s all peeled off and laying on the ground in five years”. This is the first point I make when specifying metal finishing.

Know your project corrosion category

Approved architectural powder coaters will have access to powder manufacturers’ databases of locations and related corrosion data. For example, you will be able to get information on corrosion levels affecting a hotel in Brighton or a car park in Bradford from forty years of project experience and environmental monitoring. A simple questionnaire confirming the location, elevation, distance from the seashore, prevailing winds and other factors will enable your powder coater to confirm the availability of a corrosion guarantee and the process required to achieve it.

Balconies and balustrade designed and powder coated to suit environmental conditions. 

Corrosion categories are becoming more frequently used. Look for notations C1 to C5 which define the corrosion features of that particular environment. The relevant standard is BS EN ISO 9223 : 2012, annex C of which describes categories C1 to C5. The categories are defined by the first-year corrosion rates of standard specimens of exposed copper, steel, zinc and aluminium. In practice the corrosion rates can be estimated using the description of the environment.

Category C3 Outdoor is described as “A temperate zone with medium pollution (SO₂) or some effect of chlorides (Cl) , e.g. urban areas, coastal areas with low deposition of chlorides…….”.

From this we can see the key determinants of the corrosive categories are pollution, measured by the atmospheric concentration of sulphur dioxide (SO₂) and salt, measured by the atmospheric concentration of chlorides (Cl). When combined with elevation, wind direction etc.  the specifier builds up a picture of the atmosphere.

Coastal locations are those closer than 2000 m to the shore. Land-locked Bradford and coastal Brighton may have the same ‘C‘  category depending upon the actual distance from the shore to the building in question in Brighton. The cut-off point is usually 2000 m, i.e. a building that is more than 2000 m from the shoreline is not generally considered to be coastal in the UK.

Knowing the corrosion category gives us a start point for the specification of the powder coat finish.

Harsh conditions for metal is a coastal environment

Understand Qualicoat class meanings

It is worth noting that use of either Qualicoat class 1 or Qualicoat class 2 products has absolutely no influence on the corrosion resistance of the system. The performance properties of a more expensive Qualicoat Class 2 powder relate to the retention of colour and gloss NOT corrosion.

In most UK locations a single coat of polyester powder of average thickness 60 microns will give excellent longevity. An increase in SO₂ or Cl (higher pollution or shorter distance to the sea) will require a thicker ­­­­single coat film or perhaps a primer coat beneath to further protect the metalwork. Discussing your needs with your powder applicator and powder manufacturer (preferably an approved applicator / manufacturer partnership) will result in the best practice.

Ensure a thorough pre-treatment

Lying beneath the colourful topcoat is perhaps the most important part of the powder coating – the bit that you don’t see – pre-treatment. For best results in final coating it is worth budgeting for chemical pre-treatments that are approved to powder coating standard BS EN 12206 or Qualicoat specifications. The treatments will change dependent on the corrosion category. You may hear of two types of  pre-treatment, Chrome VI and Non-Chrome. Performance-wise there is no difference between the two however Chrome VI maybe withdrawn from use.  

Small design details will play a key role

An attractive, functional design is important but must address the corrosion category and powder coating process in order that its lifespan is not compromised. Specific design details are key; namely the bends, folds, welds, gaps, edges, material gauge, recesses and fixing points of an architectural fabrication. For instance, sharp edges are corrosion origination points so need eliminating. Similarly, if material needs to be coated all over to achieve corrosion resistance then the design must allow for this to happen. Your powder coater can provide helpful advice on all these issues.

Low maintenance is not ‘no’ maintenance.

Finally, it makes sense to specify and design a system that supports a low maintenance solution. This can be achieved by spending time (and money) at the start of the process so that the cost can be quantified. For example, ensuring no water traps where chlorides (salt) can build up and initiate corrosion, will add a known cost, whereas the future cost of repair and replacement is unknown. Design with access for cleaning is also important. Low maintenance is not ‘no’ maintenance and your maintenance plan will generally be a simple regular washing routine.

I hope that I have persuaded you that knowing and understanding the corrosion ‘rating’ of your environment, discussing pre-treatments and paying attention to design elements are essential stages in your powder coating selection. Once this framework is set you can select colour, texture and sheen with confidence that the finish will look good for its guaranteed period and often longer.

Aluminium facade powder coated to meet the demands of a city environment at Enderby Wharf, London. 

About the author: Richard Besant is Director of Powdertech (Corby) Ltd, a specialist architectural powder coater, established in 1988 and a leading industry supplier. Powdertech is a member of CAB (Council for Aluminium in Building) and ALFED (Aluminium Federation) and Richard is a member of the committee for EN 13438 – the European standard for powder coating on galvanised steel.