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Beans, Bugs, and Coating Solutions at Baked Goods Plant

Photos courtesy of Aquablocx LLC
Vendor Team

Safety Equipment Manufacturer
3M Center
St. Paul, MN 55144
(888) 364-3577

Aquablocx LLC
Coatings contractor
P.O. Box 370
Orange Beach, AL 36561 (855) 502-5629

Carhartt, Inc.
Safety Material Manufacturer
5750 Mercury Dr.
Dearborn, MI 48126
(800) 833-3118

Castagra Products, Inc.
Coatings Manufacturer
5750 Mercury Dr.
Dearborn, MI 48126
(800) 833-3118

Graco Inc.
Equipment Manufacturer
88 11th Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(612) 623-6000

When one of the world’s largest producers of baked goods had two problems on their hands — a corroding ice machine and beetles entering their flour room — their solution was Ecodur 201. The producer, which wishes to remain unnamed, called Aquablocx, a Tennessee-based company that specializes in repairing storage tanks (e.g., water, grain, chemical, oil, fuel, and wastewater) of all shapes and sizes using a plant-based coating material.

Aquablocx sent manager, Ed Harnage, and three other crew members to the site to complete the projects. Both jobs, which were completed over two solid weekends in May 2014, were slightly challenging, given all of the safety regulations that come with working in a food plant. 

According to Harnage, “Anytime you are working with a food manufacturer, it brings added challenges. There are a lot of people watching and overseeing to make sure all safety and FDA [Food and Drug Administration] requirements are met. These days, with the threat of poison, Homeland Security is even involved.” Despite the added hoops, the team emerged successful. 

A Chilly Situation
Harnage often uses a four-person crew because it is effective and efficient, and he did the same on this project. Each member has an important role to play: One team member does the prep work and masking, one works outside in a trailer overseeing the pumps and machines, one member handles up to 200 feet (61.0 m) of hose, and one applies the coating.

The crew got to work on the 10-foot-long (3.0 m), 6-foot-tall (1.8 m), 6-foot-wide (1.8 m) ice machine first. The machine was aluminum and had no previous coating. The space was room temperature, but the equipment was cold, causing condensation and corrosion.

“The outside of the machine was quite corroded because of too much moisture,” said Harnage. “We initially cleaned the inside of the ice machine to see if that was the answer, but there was still condensation forming on the outside and leaking onto the floor.” 

The machine was shut down for a day to get a better understanding of the problem and ultimately to fix it. Fitted with sheet metal on the outer surface, it had a thick layer of insulation between the exterior and frozen inside. Luckily, nothing was rusting through to the inside. With a plan set, they were ready to get to work the next day, which was dedicated to surface prep and coating.

The crew cleaned the outside of the machine, finding all of the areas where the sheet metal was rusted, and replaced those spots. Next, they maneuvered around many electric and water connections — disconnecting them when possible and masking others so that they remained free from overspray. They used a grinder wheel to do the surface prep. Once all of the surfaces were inspected and determined to be clean, dry, and tight, they sprayed Ecodur 201, which was applied at approximately 40 mils (1,016.0 microns), using a 3,500 psi (24.1 MPa) dual-component pump manufactured by Graco. 

The coating, which is manufactured by Castagra Products Inc., has fast application and fast curing rates, making it a favorite in the industry for tank coating. It does not need a primer and is a single application process. Once the coating job was inspected, the machine was put back into service.

The White Stuff
As one might guess, raw flour is shipped to the baked goods plant in trucks. But the trucks also brought some unwanted visitors: beetles. The bugs were coming through the concrete block between the mechanical room and the flour room. The general manager of the plant tried to fix the problem himself, installing fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) wall boards. Unfortunately, the boards were no match for the bugs. 

Enter Harnage and his crew. Instead of working inside the flour room, they worked in the adjoining mechanical room, because the flour room was, well, full of flour. “The way Ecodur 201 adheres, you can apply it from either the positive or negative side,” explained Harnage. “It is unlike other products where you must use the positive side.” 

With 22-foot-tall (6.7 m) walls, the team used a motorized scaffold lift to get the job done. “Safety is a top priority for us,” said Harnage. “We have weekly safety meetings and have been certified in CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] and confined spaces, as well as climbing and fall protection, which came in handy for this project.” 

The team members, who wore safety harnesses with shock-absorbing lanyards, were hooked to overhead beams. They also wore gloves, hardhats, safety glasses, steel-toed shoes, spray suits, and respirators.

To begin, they used a wire brush to abrade the surface, and then they spray-applied the walls with an average thickness of 40 mils (1,016.0 microns) of Ecodur 201. 

“This was our first time doing FRP board,” said Harnage. “But I had no question it would work. [Ecodur 201] is about the stickiest stuff I’ve ever seen. It’s like coating with Elmer’s glue!” 

Harnage’s presumption was correct: The flour room’s puzzle was solved, and the coating sealed the room tight.

The Castor Coating
“Because Ecodur is NSF-61 compliant, we often use it for work in the food industry,” said Harnage of the National Science Foundation (NSF)/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standard for Drinking Water System Components. “With this material, we don’t have to shut down the plant. Everything is pretty much business as usual, which makes it much easier for the company.” 

Had the Aquablocx team used an epoxy or another solvent-borne chemical, the food plant would have had to contain the area and move employees. Ecodur 201, on the other hand, is plant-based, which means it has no volatile vapors. It uses castor bean oil instead of petroleum oil, making it natural and odorless.

“At one point, castor beans were illegal to grow in the United States because castor seeds produce ricin, which is highly toxic and used to make Anthrax,” Harnage said. “Our CEO worked with Texas A&M to develop a low-ricin castor bean that they have been able to grow in Texas.”

According to Castagra’s website, they chose to work with castor oil because of its complexity, which aids the creation of a robust, stable plastic. In internal applications, and under normal atmospheric conditions in commercial buildings and schools, it should likely last well in excess of a century, making it an excellent candidate for asbestos encapsulation. 

Harnage recounted an interesting experience during the project: “At one point, the plant manager came in and told us to let him know when we were going to start spraying because he wanted to watch.  When we told him we were already halfway done, he was astounded. ‘No way!’ he said. He’d been walking up and down the hallway all morning thinking for sure he’d smell it when we began.”

Done and Dusted
“A year later, everything is perfect,” Harnage said. The beetles are gone and so is the corrosion on the ice machine. The food plant was so pleased with Harnage and the rest of his Aquablocx crew that they hired them for four more projects.

“When you have a great crew like I do, you figure out what needs to be done, get out, and execute,” affirmed Harnage.

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