Scott Keilbey, Tnemec's director of sales for the water tank market, and Mark Thomas, vice president of marketing, recently joined our podcast series to discuss the coating manufacturer's 2020 Tank of the Year program.
Topics included the challenges and opportunities involved with the coating of water tanks, both from an asset owner's perspective and for a contractor. Other subjects include a brief review of this year's winners and an overview of why fluoropolymer coating systems are a popular choice for these environments. See below for a complete transcript.
For more information, contact: Tnemec, (816) 483-3400, www.tnemec.com
[This podcast was recorded in November 2020.]
Ben DuBose: Mark, good afternoon. How are you?
Mark Thomas: I’m great. Thanks for having me.
BD: Absolutely. Glad to have you on. We’re also joined by Scott Keilbey, director of sales for the water tank market at Tnemec. Scott, welcome to the podcast. How are you?
Scott Keilbey: I’m fine, and thank you again for having me and Mark for this broadcast.
BD: On today’s show, we’re going to be talking about the coating business for water tanks because Tnemec just wrapped up their 15th annual Tank of the Year Contest. For anyone who hasn’t seen yet, the 2020 winner is a tank in Destin, Fla. We will be talking about that job in just a little bit. Before we get to that, if you could, please tell us some more background about the contest. With this being the 15th year that you’ve done it, what are, effectively, the goals of this and what benefits have you guys seen this having brought to the industry?
MT: Ben, this is Mark. A little background on the Tank of the Year contest. In the ‘90s and into the early 2000s, we were seeing a trend toward more elaborate and creative paint designs and schemes on the exterior of these elevated water tanks. It was really in 2005–2006, with the painting of the Rosemont tank in Illinois, near O’Hare Airport, that we had a group of water tank committee members within Tnemec that said, “We really ought to do something to help celebrate and promote some of these beautiful tanks that are being painted.” So that was the origin of the Tank of the Year contest. That was in 2006. I think the first year, Rosemont tank was the winner, and we had about 34 entries.
The goal of the contest is to celebrate the creative uses of protective coatings. Obviously, a water tank is a vital infrastructure piece. It’s utilitarian. Coatings can kind of be utilitarian if it’s just for the corrosion protection and the immersion service. But then you leap toward more creative uses with a lot of these elaborate designs and different murals. So that was really the point of the Tank of the Year contest, was to show the creativity and that hometown pride that a lot of these communities have in their water tank.
BD: To start off, tell us a little bit more about the 2020 winner. As I mentioned, it’s based out of Destin, Fla. I know it was selected by your panel of water tank enthusiasts. You can go into that, if you want, as far as the judges, the criteria. Just generally speaking, explain what those criteria are and what it is about this particular tank that stands out.
SK: This is Scott, and I’ll try to answer that question, Ben. The water tank committee is probably the most secretive committee within Tnemec. That’s supposed to be a little bit of a “kidding aside.” We have, I would call it, a broad selection group or selection criteria for selecting the tank of the year. Mark already mentioned most of those — creativity, the uniqueness of the design, and the story behind the tank and the design itself always enters into that selection process.
Most importantly is utilizing the most sustainable solutions and the best performing products for these very unique designs in the community. Destin — the owner is Destin Water Users. Poly Engineering did the engineering on that, and the project engineer, Ms. Beth Brant was project engineer. Very enthusiastic people, as you can see.
If you’ve seen the design, I think it speaks for itself. The tank fabricator, and it was unique in a lot of different ways, not only the mural that was coated on the tank, but it wasn’t a normal contract that you would see in a brand-new built water tank. The tank fabricator was Phoenix Fabricators out of Indiana. However, the painting process was taken out of the tank fabricator’s contract and was contracted directly with the owner. American Suncraft out of Ohio did the painting, with the exception of the actual mural itself. Very well-known local artist, muralist, Mr. Eric Henn, did the mural, and he has actually done two other tanks in the area that have made the water Tank of the Year contest and been one of the previous Tank of the Year winners.
BD: In general, what are some of the big challenges that come from coating water tanks? What are asset owners thinking about when they’re considering — or what should they be thinking about, at least, when they’re considering all the various coating technologies that are out there as potential solutions?
SK: This is Scott again. I’ll take a shot at answering that. From an owner’s standpoint, it’s asset preservation, first and foremost. The owners have to make an informed decision on coatings that last the longest, both from a corrosion standpoint as well as an aesthetics standpoint. They have to do all that by fitting it within a budget. The budget, we try to work with them and help them, coming up with what is certainly going to fit within the budget, but not only today’s budget but the longest-lasting service. What we promote and always talk about is the longest service life yields the lowest life cycle costs and, of course, the most sustainable solution.
From a contractor’s standpoint, there’s way too many challenges that we have time for in this podcast, but let’s just mention that this is a pretty sophisticated operation and the contractors have to know many different things. One contractor actually told me the easiest point is when you get to the point of being able to pull the trigger. Everything else up to that point takes a lot of work, preparation, training, to mention a few of those. You’re painting, for the most part, structures that are up in the air, so safety is first and foremost. You’re dealing with sophisticated materials that are multiple components. You have to make sure that you’re aware of the environment. All your environmentals can change within an hour of any application, which can affect the coating. Needless to say, it’s very sophisticated and a challenge from a contractor’s standpoint. They are unique unto themselves. Painting a water tank up in the air is a skill set and requires a lot of preparation from a contractor’s standpoint.
BD: No doubt. The Destin tank, of course, that’s right on the Gulf of Mexico, I know the Series 700 HydroFlon fluoropolymer, I believe, was the system of choice from you all as the manufacturer. Generally speaking, what are some of the benefits of a fluoropolymer system for that type of environment?
MT: This is Mark. I can answer that. HydroFlon was the topcoat selected for the Destin tank. We see a lot of these very decorative and colorful water tanks utilizing HydroFlon. The benefit of that is it provides the best color and gloss retention of any topcoat on the market. Fluoropolymer technology, in general, is extremely high performing, and it vastly outperforms even a polyurethane topcoat, which is kind of considered the standard finish coat for steel substrates. HydroFlon has been on the market for about 20 years. A lot of manufacturers offer a fluoropolymer technology like HydroFlon, but we’ve got case studies going back almost 20 years now with still very good color and gloss retention and no plans in the immediate future to have to repaint that by the owner. So as Scott was saying, it’s really extended those painting cycles out and saved the owner considerable cost in going back and doing an overcoat system after a few years. We’re really looking, with exterior topcoats like HydroFlon, at a 20, 25-year service life, which is fantastic and really does save the owner a lot of money in the long run.
The other thing with HydroFlon, obviously it’s a very elaborate paint scheme on the Destin tank. It’s absolutely gorgeous. But being on the coast and being in high UV, it’s going to take considerable weathering. Having a product like HydroFlon is going to keep that mural looking pristine for as long as possible.
BD: Out of the nearly 300 water tanks that were nominated for the 2020 contest, there was also a People’s Choice winner from Bossier City, La. That’s in the northwest corner of the state near Shreveport. Overall, there were more than 23,000 votes cast as far as your online voting. Tell us, if you could, a little bit, number one, about the Louisiana project, the chosen system, those types of factors.
Then, secondly, why you guys also have the People’s Choice component in the first place, because obviously you have your criteria, you have your judging panel that we discussed earlier. Yet the People’s Choice gives sort of a different realm to it, I feel like, in that it speaks to the industry at large and gives them an opportunity to weigh in. If you could, like I said, first off, just go into a little bit of what stood out with the Bossier City tank and the coating system. Secondly, talk a little bit, if you could, as far as the motivations for People’s Choice in the first place.
SK: This is Scott. I’ll jump in here and try to answer that. Bossier City is a fantastic story. I literally just discovered part of the story here recently. As you can see from the pictures of Bossier City, it’s, first of all, a patriotic theme, had tremendous community support. The support largely comes from the Barksdale Air Force Base and, of course, the theme around first responders. They’re very passionate about that. The engineering group was Manchac Group. CBI was the builder/fabricator. Southern Road and Bridge was the painting contractor out of Florida — all good Tnemec customers and supporters. The actual story behind the design and this first responder theme started with the hiring of the architect, Mr. Mike Swain. He actually sent me something that he wanted to make sure that I got as part of this podcast. If you don’t mind, I’d like to read this.
He said, “The Bossier City water tank graphics were intended to make the most striking, bold, bright statement embodied in the spirit of our community. Nothing captures the spirit better than the words of Lee Greenwood, from the song ‘Proud to Be American’” — of course, that we’ve all heard. I’m not going to attempt to sing the song here in this broadcast.
He goes on to say, “The water tank graphics have bold colors that announce our support for our troops and first responders. Bossier City has long held ultimate respect for our police and fire departments, and the messaging here is ‘We support our first responders.’ Barksdale Air Force Base is the home of the B-52 bomber, and it certainly is an integral part of the community. Many locals have relations to the base, whether they are current airmen or the thriving retired military community. On a daily basis, all of us in the community are proud that our bases regularly see the B-52s flying over our city.”
Of course, then he mentions it and points out that, at the top of the tank, there’s a picture of a shadow of a B-52 on the top of that tank. Some of the pictures that you will see in various promotions of that particular tank, including the Tnemec calendar, show that picture. That picture was actually taken from a B-52 bomber flying over. Neat, interesting story. Obviously, the community behind it. This is 100% their doing, and whoever ends up with the most votes gets the People’s Choice award.
MT: This is Mark. Just to elaborate on that a little bit, that’s a perfect example of the excitement that gets behind the online voting for Tank of the Year. That tank in particular got over 6,000 votes, for a relatively small community, which is just outstanding. I think people got behind that design. It was definitely a point of pride for that region. We see a lot of that, where even small towns will get behind their tank. It speaks to the fact that these elevated water tanks aren’t just this piece of water infrastructure. They really are a symbol for the community. They’re a landmark for small towns and rural areas and even cities. I think that’s one reason why, too, you’re seeing more elaborate designs go on these, because they realize what a point of pride that can be for the entire community.
So the People’s Choice award, whoever wins that in the online voting, automatically gets included with 11 other tanks that are chosen by this internal committee within Tnemec. People’s Choice is almost an automatic bid for Tank of the Year consideration. Sometimes it ends up being the People’s Choice award and the Tank of the Year. But in this case, we had Destin obviously as Tank of the Year and Bossier City as the People’s Choice.
BD: I know that, in general, 2020 was an odd year with COVID. Did that impact the contest at all? I’m curious if you have or have had roughly the same amount of interest in the program this year. Also, looking ahead to the 2021 cycle, are you guys still seeing the same type of interest and demand for Tnemec materials, these types of water tank coating projects? Talk, if you could, about the market dynamics of everything that’s happened with COVID in 2020 and what it means for the program and for you guys as a manufacturer entering 2021.
MT: Ben, this is Mark. I’ll answer the first part. I can address how it affected the Tank of the Year contest. Luckily, it really didn’t have much of an effect. I mentioned in 2006 we had about 34 tanks submitted. That quickly rose up, and depending on the year, we have 275 to 350 water tanks submitted. It’s just a fantastic program. People really do get excited, and they don’t have to be on the scale of the Destin tank to enter. Any tank that’s submitted with Tnemec coatings is part of the contest. We really didn’t see a drop-off. We had about 275 tanks this year, which was kind of right on our average. We had over 20,000 votes online, which was kind of in line with previous years, so luckily COVID didn’t really have a negative effect on the contest.
SK: This is Scott. I’ll try to add on that. I would echo exactly what Mark said. This year, I don’t see that the COVID affected it at all. Let’s hope that, in the future, it won’t have an effect on it also at all. As far as the 2021 outlook, there’s a lot of things that might affect the overall water tank market, but, obviously tomorrow [Election Day 2020] is a very important day. Whether the infrastructure package gets passed by the future Congress or not might have an impact on it.
But largely, I don’t see, and I think from most of the tea leaves that we’re reading right now, that it’s going to have a major impact on 2021. Whether it might have impact beyond 2021 still remains to be seen. One thing you have to remember is these tanks aren’t just designed, bid, built, painted, and up to Tank of the Year contest in just a few weeks or a matter of months. Most of the pipeline for the majority of 2021 is already in place. If it hasn’t been bid, will be bid here shortly. Those things you can measure by just the activity around them. The activity going forward is the real question here. But 2021, we’re pretty optimistic that everything will continue to be as good as it’s been this past year.
BD: As we wrap up the podcast, for anyone wanting more information about the Tank of the Year program or just Tnemec in general, what’s the best way that they can get that? Either or both of you guys, you can feel free to toss out your website or any other promotional materials that are available, if people listening have further questions.
MT: Ben, this is Mark. I can answer that for you. If you want more information on the Tank of the Year contest, you can go to www.tankoftheyear.com. That’s part of the Tnemec website that has information about the contest itself, the winners this year, even some past winners. Also has some information on the products that were used on some of those tanks. You can also request one of our Tank of the Year calendars. That’s an annual ritual that we go through with printing and handing those out to customers. We’re happy to send you one. Or you can also find your representative at www.tnemec.com and request one from them.
BD: Sounds great.