|Refractory repair and replacement does not end when your operation is on-line and running
again. It must last. So choosing a refractory contractor based solely on price may lead to
When the time inevitably comes for refractory replacement or repairs, who gets the call?
Plant engineers and maintenance personnel must not make that decision lightly - whether
you deal with refractories monthly or only once every five years, whether you run a huge
industrial furnace or a small building-heat boiler, whether you automatically turn to your
usual contractor or are setting out to find a new one.
As with most other important projects, choosing a refractory
contractor based solely on price may lead to trouble. Still, you may feel that you've been
paying too much for what you're getting. Common sense and good purchasing practices
dictate that the lowest bid is not always the best bid. Everyone knows of horror stories
where the low bid came back to haunt the purchaser more interested in price than in cost.
Next time you need refractory work, consider the following questions about your operation
and your current or prospective refractory contractor to find a balance between price and
1. Does your contractor have a solid track record?
While the refractory contracting industry boasts a number of reputable players, it also is
flooded with inexperienced newcomers and part-timers from other industries. Whether
unemployment or the itch to expand lured them over, these contractors jump into the
business without proper resources or experience.
2. Beware of the "taillight guarantee,"
with which the service and project support ends as the truck leaves your lot. The next
time you call, these contractors may no longer be in the business (or in business). To
avoid this trap, make certain the contractor you entrust with your refractory work really
knows what they are doing. Find out what type of installations they have done for what
type and size of customers. Ask about technical/engineering support, research and
development efforts, and other behind-the-scenes capabilities. Get a customer reference
list with names and numbers and make some calls; there is no better gauge of a
contractor's worth than satisfied or disgruntled customers.
3. Does your contractor stand behind his service
and materials? This is a very important question because, if not guaranteed beforehand, it
can lead to serious headaches. With an eye on their own bottom lines, many less-reputable
contractors buy the cheapest available materials. But refractory products should be
matched carefully to the application, dependent on the type of furnace or processing unit,
operating temperatures, exposure to abrasion, and a range of other variables. Some
companies may not use what is necessarily the best for the job.
On the other hand, manufacturer representatives
provide turnkey service through which they are responsible for both the installation and
the refractory materials. This eliminates frustrating back-and-forth finger-pointing.
Otherwise, when you have a problem, be prepared to hear "It wasn't our fault, the
material failed" from the contractor or "The installation was faulty" from
the refractory manufacturer. As a general rule, the fewer people you have to deal with,
Will the job get done on time? Whether
refractory work occurs during planned or unplanned downtime, the person in charge of
overseeing the project must ensure that operations are not interrupted for long.
Management and production personnel count on lining repair or replacement being completed
in a timely fashion. Make sure your contractor has the resources, in both staff and
installation techniques, to handle your project without disrupting your schedule.
Does your contractor expose you to unknown
liabilities? Just as some contractors cut bottom-line costs with low-grade materials, some
may sacrifice safety for profits. This poses a threat to employees of both the contractor
and the customer company, either through unsafe installation practices or exposure to
Find a contractor with a proven safety program.
This should include comprehensive training for all employees, proper safety equipment, and
knowledge of and strict adherence to environmental and safety regulations.
Does your contractor know what is best for you? Refractories are not one-size-fits-all. What works for a furnace door jamb may not be the
best material for the rotary kiln. Because plant engineers and maintenance personnel
cannot be expected to keep pace with all refractory technologies, choose a contractor who
is experienced and up-to-date on new products and the latest installation methods. These
include hot-spot grouting, plastic refractory gunning, and castable pumping.
For example, you begin experiencing numerous hot
spots on a boiler or furnace wall but absolutely can't afford to stop production for the
length of time needed to make the necessary repairs. Can your contractor suggest temporary
repair and sealing? Technology now exists with which hot-spots can be detected and
repaired on-line with refractories that are injected through the wall. The material
quickly hardens into an air-tight seal. While this process is temporary, such repair work
can give old walls several extra months of efficient, cost-effective service until your
company is able to conveniently schedule downtime for permanent rebuilding work.
Can you afford downtime later if the job isn't
done right now? Refractory repair and replacement does not end when your operation is
on-line and running again. It must last. Regardless of initial material and service price
savings, recurring problems will invariably cost more than a premium job done right the
first time. Again, the sure-fire test of a contractor's mettle are the endorsements of
past and present customers.