How to Choose a Refractory Contractor
7 Steps to Minimize Your Risk
Choosing a refractory contractor isn’t always a simple job. Refractories can be more complex than most realize — there are refractories based on chemical composition, refractories based on method of manufacturing, refractories based on shape and size, and refractories based on process application.
Refractories are not a commodity, and refractory selection is not a “one size fits all” process.
Selecting and installing refractories is typically the lowest priority for maintenance managers or for manufacturing and plant engineers – refractories end up being the last thing on the Gantt chart or “To Do” list. But that doesn’t mean that they’re the least important.
It’s not uncommon for significant challenges to appear during a typical refractory installation project. These challenges can cause extended plant downtime, which can cost millions in lost production, and worse, safety issues.
What to Review Before Choosing a Refractory Contractor
If you’re wondering how to choose a refractory contactor consider the following 7 points to evaluate the balance between quality, initial job quote and total potential job costs:
1. Track Record
Does your contractor have a quality 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 that jump into the business without proper resources or experience. Beware of the “taillight guarantee” – when support ends as the truck leaves your lot. The next time you call, these contractors may no longer be in business. Ask for a list of verifiable completed jobs across a number of different industries.
2. Service and Support
What type of service and support will your contractor provide? 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.
Does your contractor stand behind his service and materials? With an eye on their own bottom lines, many less-reputable contractors buy the cheapest available materials. 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.
4. On-Time Completion
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 an extended period of time. 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.
5. Safety Record
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 hazardous materials. Review your contractor’s safety program. This should include comprehensive training for all employees, proper safety equipment, and knowledge of and strict adherence to environmental and safety regulations.
6. Technical Expertise
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 a 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, let’s say 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 online 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.
7. Total Lifetime Job Cost
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 is the endorsements of past and present customers.
If you follow these steps, the refractory contractor that is the best fit for you should be clear. Feel free to download it here to share with your colleagues.
If you’d like to talk about your upcoming project, connect with us.