This Engineer’s Search for A Corrosion-Free Steel Coating is Over
How Ken Wang battled with molecules and fought for funding to guarantee a non-flaking, corrosion-free steel coating—for life
Ken Wang relishes a challenge. He’s faced plenty in taking what he says was “an academic formula and transferring it to a production formula” to create a flake- and corrosion-free coating for steel—a quest that has lasted nearly 15 years.
From there, Wang, the CEO of Harber Coatings, piled on the requirements. It had to be able to withstand chemicals, mechanical impacts, high pressures and high temperatures—roughly 800 degrees Celcius high. In short, he created the InnoGuard Electroless Nickel coating that’s fit for the deep ocean oil and gas industry, because what’s tough enough for offshore is tough enough for any other application too.
Starting out in 2001, Wang faced his first hurdle: uncooperative molecules. Their behavior prevented him cracking the production-scale process conundrum. “The second-time coating rate would go slower and slower as you added more chemicals,” Wang says.
Watching paint dry is not only frustrating—it costs money. He also learned that size does matter—big time. Wang wanted a 45-foot-long tank—the largest in North America—to immerse products in so that entire tools and other large parts could be dunked in the molecular coating bath.
Challenges included: keeping the solution stable in large-scale operation; keeping the reaction even; and evenly heating the tank while ensuring continuous replenishment of chemicals during the continuous dipping of large tools.
Wang, a chemical and mechanical engineer, doggedly worked at those problems until his eureka-moment arrived. “The biggest success moment was the successful commissioning and production of the 45-foot tank production system in May 2015,” he says.
But the success was incremental. His team had actually achieved a flake-free solution six years earlier when they started to stabilize the mechanical properties. “It allowed us to offer a guarantee,” he says.
The coating is easier and cheaper to make than using solid alloy materials. It’s from a process, which generates an alloy of nickel and phosphorus at a molecular level, based on a chemical reaction in water.
The projected savings for the equipment owners come from lower production and re-fabrication costs, reduced worn-asset disposal and better pipeline protection. The tank’s large capacity means Harber Coatings can protect equipment that otherwise could not be coated, like large pipe spools, tubing, casing, slotted pipes, sucker rods, bottom pump barrels, pump rotors and polished rods.
“The fact we have been running 45-foot tanks successfully also means we can build much bigger tanks of different shapes to fit different future needs,” Wang says. Harber Coatings is looking at building wider, deeper tanks to coat large heat exchangers and pressure vessels. “Those are very expensive assets. Extending the working life by more than 20 times means a lot on cost cutting—fabrication, transportation, downtime loss, routine maintenance and environmental impact,” he says.
The process itself also cuts costs and waste and reduces Harber’s own footprint too—easily beating Calgary’s discharge regulation of 3 mg of nickel ions per liter of water.
From its two-guys-in-a-lab start, the firm is now going global. Wang’s goal is to expand into new countries/territories using the Calgary location as a training facility. Harber Coatings is now assessing the opportunities for setting up coating facilities in the Middle East and Russia.