How to prevent rust in industrial environments

  • Articles
  • Dec 17,21
Rust may seem impossible to stop. However, there are several approaches that can prevent rust in industrial environments. Emily Newton offers some top rust prevention methods.
How to prevent rust in industrial environments

Metal is a critical element in any industrial environment, making rust prevention a top priority. Especially on large projects, rust may seem impossible to stop. However, there are several approaches that can prevent rust in industrial environments, no matter the size or scale of the affected area.

Preventing rust comes down to creating protective barriers between vulnerable metals and the elements that lead to corrosion, oxygen, and water. Achieving this is often a simple process that can even improve the quality of metal parts and products. Get started protecting metals with these top rust prevention methods.

Environmental maintenance
Before coating or treating metals, consider the environment they are in first. Ultimately, the exact nature of the industrial environment will be what leads to or helps prevent corrosion. Controlling rust catalysts in this environment as much as possible will help ensure the rust prevention treatments used on iron and steel components have the best chance of long-term success.

Rust is a type of redox chemical reaction where iron, for example, is converted into iron oxide after being exposed to both water and oxygen. While there is no way to remove oxygen from the environment, moisture control is possible in most industrial settings.

Test the air in the building or work area to see how much moisture is present and determine whether there is any way to reduce the humidity in the air. Check for leaks as well, and make sure to repair as many as possible to keep more water from getting inside the building. If workers are coming and going from outside, have a place for drying shoes so that puddles aren’t created.

For industrial environments that are outdoors, moisture control may not be possible or feasible. In this case, it is best to at least try to keep metal components sheltered from rain and snow, which are the heavy-hitters for outdoor corrosion.

Paint or powder coating
The most common way of treating metals for rust prevention is a layer of paint or powder coating. The two work in a similar way: put a thick layer of pigment over the metal that insulates it against the elements. The main difference between the two is that paint is liquid pigment while powder coating is applied using compressed air.

Powder coatings also offer additional benefits over liquid paint, such as greater chipping and corrosion resistance. In industrial environments where metal needs to be coated quickly, powder coating is typically the better choice. It allows for rapidly moving parts from coating to assembly and offers the best protection for outdoor applications. Liquid paint, on the other hand, is ideal for rust prevention on parts that are smaller or more delicate, where the intense compressed air of powder coating could potentially cause damage.

Metal plating
Metal plating can be a great option for improving the look and durability of metal components in addition to preventing rust. Metal plating puts a hardened coat of another metal over the base material, like a shield between the base metal and the surrounding industrial environment.

One of the benefits of metal plating over other rust prevention coatings is that it offers a consistent thickness, no matter the shape of the metal component being treated. This is helpful for preventing rust in areas like screw holes and corners where moisture is more likely to build up.

Using electroless plating can offer top durability, often to the extent that no extra surface treatment is needed. Electroless plating puts less wear on metals than standard electrolytic plating and offers more comprehensive rust prevention. This is due in part to the fact that electroless plating is better at maintaining a uniform plating thickness, even on complex parts, while also creating less waste during the plating process.

Coat with oil or grease
Using an oil or grease coating is a great way to improve the functionality of moving components while also protecting them from corrosion. This works due to some interesting chemistry.

Water and oil molecules are not compatible, so they will not mix even when in direct contact. Pouring oil into a glass of water, for example, would simply lead to a layer of oil floating on top of the water, not a homogenous mixture of oil and water. This can be observed in puddles often seen outside with swirls of oil in them. Another real-world example is the use of grease on bike chains and pedal mechanisms, which can’t be painted.

Oil and grease are the best ways of preventing rust on moving parts in industrial environments, as well as parts that, for one reason or another, can’t be painted or plated. In addition to protecting the base metal from corrosion, a coating of oil or grease will also reduce friction, allowing moving parts to function better.

Galvanization is an interesting tactic for preventing rust because it intentionally plans for corrosion to occur. Essentially, galvanization uses a “sacrificial” layer of another metal, often zinc, to protect the base metal beneath. The top layer of sacrificial metal corrodes faster than the base metal, taking the corrosion on behalf of the base metal. Once corrosion builds up on the zinc layer, it can even be cleaned away, allowing the untarnished zinc beneath to go on protecting the base metal.

This is often used to prevent corrosion on boats, which by nature have to be exposed to both oxygen and water at all times. Since salt speeds up the oxidation process, corrosion occurs especially fast in saltwater. This is why galvanization is used. Scientists and engineers know that there is no way to prevent corrosion from occurring, but they can make sure the metal being corroded is a harmless exterior layer instead of the structural metal of the boat. In industrial environments where keeping metal components isolated from oxidation catalysts is not possible, a layer of galvanized metal is often the best way to prevent rust.

Industrial rust prevention
Preventing rust in industrial environments can be easy with the right approach. These tips offer a place to start for various situations, from metal fully exposed to the elements to small moving parts and everything in between. Corrosion won’t stand a chance with these industrial rust prevention tactics.

About the author:
Emily Newton is a tech and industrial journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine.

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