Coating Consultant or Inspector, Where do you draw the line?
In all of my years working in the industrial coatings industry I have displayed many titles, coatings inspector, transportation technician and a few more and the question I come across most is concerning two titles in particular; what is the difference between a coatings consultant and a coatings inspector? A past employee of mine raised this question while working at a food processing plant. My firm was hired on to perform routine coatings inspection, ambient conditions, mixing procedures, blast inspections on support beams and DFT's (dry film thickness) readings. From time to time there was also the need for more in depth inspection and consulting, there's that word again; consulting. What does that word mean and why is it important to the industry? A consultant should be able to investigate beyond the basic inspection level. They should be able to determine causes of failure, identify trouble areas and recommend remediation techniques and procedures. On this particular job it wasn't an issue because I was overseeing the job but I can't help but wonder how many coatings inspectors take on the role of coatings consultants and find themselves in hot water. My client was concerned about delamination on an existing wall that had been coated using a faulty resin based coating, a system my inspector wasn't familiar with, and the client wanted recommendations and replacements for the existing coating. I'll spare the coating details since this is about the inspector not the product. I received a call soon after the start of the project and took steps that many criticized. I didn't step in and take over, I didn't micro manage; I took this as an opportunity to teach and strengthen my company through employee growth and education.
“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” –Richard Branson
I didn't take the wind out of the inspectors sails, I gave him the knowledge to be a consultant and to take this new challenge head on. My inspector still did his job and monitored ambient conditions and all of the other routine inspections but any time I had to "consult" he was right there with me. I asked his opinion on many things and took his opinion very seriously. Half way through the job I was able to leave with the confidence that my inspector/ consultant could handle this particular job. Does this mean that my inspector was able to handle every job, every situation? No but if a similar situation pops up I know it will be handled better from this experience.
I have been called to many jobs after an inspector from a different company has already started working on the job, this is an awkward situation to walk into. You have to walk into a room with many elephants and try not to be the mouse, try not to stir the pot more than it already has been. I am not saying that all inspectors overstep their boundaries but there are the select few that knowing or not, bite off more than they can chew. What makes a consultant? Is it certifications, experience, or a combination of both. I definitely feel that the more you experience the more confident you will be in your decisions but you still need the training. To me, it's not one or the other and not necessarily one more than the other. It is the combination that works best for you. Some learn best from hands on experience and certifications are a way to document that. Others learn better from these certification classes and pad the credibility with a little experience. Either way, it is up to the inspector to determine their own level of comfortabilty in any industry and to govern yourself properly.