Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Finishing up Phase One

We are getting ready to leave Malaysia and head home for the holidays.  We accomplished spraying about a quarter of the boat with 20 liters of gelcoat.  We worked out the bugs, had a steep learning curve, and developed a good repeatable system to apply large quantities of gelcoat. 

When we return in January, we will buy more gelcoat from a local source vs. having it shipped from Singapore.  Unfortunately the Duratec will still have to be shipped.

Freshly sprayed and unsanded.
We used up the remaining material by spraying under the bridge deck.  This is an area where any variation in color will not be very visible (all whites are not the same).  The new gelcoat will all be from the same batch and be exactly the same color and viscosity.

Here is a video of our last section of work.  The green tint is from the sunshades that we used to cocoon the boat.  This allowed us to spray even when the wind was howling with minimal overspray.

I applied four thick coats with one being a cross coat.  Later the edges were sanded to ease the thickness at the masking tape which keeps the gelcoat from cracking when pulling off the tape.

We will be taking the overnight train to Bangkok and staying there a few days before flying to Europe for our connection to Philadelphia.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Going Even Bigger

Binks Mach 1 PCX with Pressure Regulator
Now that we have proved the concept of spraying Externally Catalyzed Duratec Additive mixed with ISO/NPG Gelcoat using a Binks Mach 1 PCX spray gun, the time has come to go big.

The New Air Compressor
I was renting an air compressor from Joe, one of the painters in the boatyard.  It worked out well for the cockpit locker lids but did take a while to pump back up to pressure and couldn't keep up with continuous spraying.  It was costing $4/day and there were many days when it just sat while we were prepping, or sanding, or whatever.  I found a larger compressor online for $400 delivered, so I bought it.  It should pay for itself by the time the job is done and I'll be able to sell it to recoup some of the cost.

Spraying Gelcoat like Paint
Starting small has been our mantra all along and even though the confidence factor is good, we still expect that we will encounter unknown factors.  Repeatability is the key to this project.  The area above the transom rub rail seemed like a good place to start.

Sprayed Transom and Hulls
Catalyst Pressure - 2.6 psi
We set up to spray and used the new compressor.  Since it seemed like all the bugs had already been worked out, we started spraying.  Big mistake.  The cutoff pressure of the new compressor is 120 psi whereas the rented one was 100 psi.  This changed the pressure pot pressures which were checked during initial compressor run but not at full pressure.  This made the gelcoat pressure 5 vs. 6 psi.  The gelcoat was way over-catalyzed and in this case, refused to harden, even after 24 hours.  So, we had to scrape and sand all the gelcoat off of the transom.  2 days wasted.  Live and learn.  Always spray a test pattern on something other than the boat and wait for it to kick, then spray a small area of the boat checking both test area for proper catalyzation.  It is time consuming and may kill and hour but it is well worth it and a good lesson learned.
Gelcoat Pressure - 6 psi

Here are some photos of the transom sections that were sprayed with gelcoat and guide coat.
Partial Application of Guide Coat

Fully Guide Coated

Starting to Sand off Guide Coat

Sanded a small test area with 120/330/800 grit then Compound

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Putting Theory to Work

Sprayed with 4 thick layers of gelcoat

Up until now, all this has been a big theory and there have been some engineering obstacles to overcome.  Little by little, the sprayability of the Duratec and gelcoat has been perfected.  The pressures and flow rates have been perfected.  All that has been sprayed is a bunch of plastic sheets to see how things might appear in reality.

Sprayed with 'Guide Coat'
The idea is not to start with some grand piece of repair.  It's to start with something small in case it doesn't work out, the damage won't be too great nor the mess too big to clean up.  The first trial was to spray the television base which is made out of a piece of G10 epoxy board.  This worked well and I got an idea to what thickness the gelcoat needed to be applied.  This also helped the learning curve improve bit by bit.

Initial sanding of the guide coat with the mouse sander
Trying to make the black spots evenly distributed
The next level was to spray the cockpit storage locker lids.  They were in pretty bad shape with cracks and rotted core material which all needed to be repaired first.  Then the insides were all sprayed.  This a true test of the large scale repeat-ability of the spray system.  Since I was spraying the inside of the lockers, a screw up wouldn't be so dramatic here either.   

All went well and we geared up to spray the outsides.  Each lid took an hour to complete.  Basically 4 coats of gelcoat with 10 minutes between coats and 20 minutes wait time before moving the lid to a safe place to dry.  The lids also required much more hand sanding and detail work with the finishing than an entire side of the boat.  This also helped the learning curve.

Wet sanding with the 'Softie'
After the lids were sprayed and allowed to cure for a day, a "guide coat" thinned out Black Oxide primer was sprayed over all the new gelcoat.  The guide coat helps show where the orange peel has been sanded and where it hasn't.  It really helped keeping from over-sanding through the gelcoat and ending up having thin or no gelcoat.  The corners are particularly sensitive to over-sanding since the sanding disc can cut through at one place rapidly without any warning.  They must all be hand sanded with light block pressure and fingers. 

Progressively remove more gelcoat with finer sandpaper
Initial sanding was done with 80 grit on the mouse sander.  Then 120 grit on a Softie glue pad.  Next came 330 grit, then 800 grit, then compound on a buffing pad, then wax.  There is some hand sanding, especially on the corners but the beauty of what I am seeing is that 90% of the work can be done with machine sanding and polishing.  This should make quick work of the big areas when that time comes. 
Rough sanded, no guide coat remaining

Final finish and polished

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Pressure Gauges and Regulators

I thought that once you set a pressure regulator to a certain position, the corresponding pressure would stay constant.  Turns out that's not the case. If you turn off the air and reapply it, the pressure will be completely different.
Gauges are accurate, regulators are imprecise.  Every time you reapply air to a regulator, it needs to be adjusted on the gauge to provide the pressure that you need. 

If you change the regulator input pressure, the output also changes, not much but it doesn't stay constant.  That doesn't seem too regulated to me.  I need very exact pressures to the pressure pots to provide a constant, measurable, flow of materials to the spray gun.  Plus or minus 10% is not good enough.  My solution was to regulate the regulators.  I regulate the air coming out of the compressor to 40 psi.  This is then regulated to 20 psi at the tank with another regulator. and then a 3rd and final stage is the only regulator that I have to actually adjust provides the pressure to the tanks.  This 3 stage regulation works very well and the pressure stays right where I need it, plus or minus 1%. 

From the picture on the right, when the outlet pressure equals the spring pressure on the diaphragm, the poppet valve closes.  It won't open again until the outlet pressure drops somewhere below the spring pressure.  This will cause fluctuations in the output pressure every time the poppet valve opens and closes.

Regulators are also not very accurate in the extremes.  Either very low of very high pressures don't allow the internal spring tension to work in a very linear manner. 

To solve both of these problems, I put a calibrated orifice on the tank.  Basically I drilled a hole in a fitting.  This always leaks air at a constant rate and keeps the poppet valve always slightly open and makes the spring tension operate more in the middle of it's range.  This would  be a stupid idea if I was trying to regulate the pressure of something like Propane, but it is just air and so what if it leaks.

The bottom line is that you must adjust the regulator pressure to read on the gauge exactly what you want every time you set up the system.  Trust the gauge, not the regulator.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Pressure Pots

Gelcoat Pressure Pot. -  5 Liters
I bought a nice 5 Liter pressure pot online and had it shipped to Malaysia.  It can hold a gallon container and actually has a pneumatic mixer that stirs the material without having to open the pot.  I thought that was a silly thing but it turned out to be very useful.  The biggest problem was the 100 psi pressure gauge.  I need 6 psi to push the gelcoat to the gun.  It was hard to get any type of exact reproducible reading at the low end of the scale so I got a 1 Bar (14.7 psi) gauge locally which has worked great. 

This is the Catalyst Pot that didn't work
For the catalyst pot, I initially planned to use a 1 Liter HVLP pressure pot from a Harbor Freight spray gun.  I adapted it and got it hosed it to the gun.  The big problem with it was that air always leaked from around the seal and that MEKP is a highly corrosive oxidizer.  The MEKP turned the aluminum and brass parts into chunks of scale which kept clogging the catalyst orifice on the spray gun.  I even installed a motor bike fuel filter in the line as a band-aid fix but that didn't keep the catalyst turn grey because it was eating the aluminum.  In the end, a new solution needed to be found.  Either plastic or stainless steel seemed to like a good idea.   

The Catalyst Pot Version 2
When we were home last summer, I fabricated one almost entirely out of 316 stainless steel.  I was fortunate enough to find a 100% 316 stainless 1 bar gauge and a nice 316 chemical reactor vessel.  I had to drill and tap 2 holes in the top.  One for the air supply and one for the pickup tube.  The brass pieces below and to the left of the gauge make up the calibrated orifice.  The double regulation gives a much more stable pressure at such a low pressure (2 psi).

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Binks Mach 1 PCX Spray Gun

Robot Spray Gun

The next piece of the puzzle goes a long way toward being able to spray without mixing pre-catalyzed batches of material.  Factory and robotic production of fiberglass resin products have been using external catalyzation.  This is where the resin and catalyst are mixed in the airstream after leaving the sprayer.

Binks 2100GW
Binks makes a few external catalyzing hand spray guns.  I initially considered using the 2100GW.  This gun has a small catalyst bottle attached to the side of the gun.  It seemed to be fine for small repairs but one thing you don't want to do is run out of catalyst while spraying.  This would cause under or no catalyzation at all.  I also felt that it doesn't allow using the gun in all positions since the catalyst could be sloshing around in the bottle and the pickup tube may become uncovered and suck up air.

Binks Mach 1 PCX
Fortunately, Binks  also makes the Mach 1 PCX.  It is a very specialty product and since only a few are sold, the price is quite expensive.  Much more than I ever thought I would spend on a spray gun.  It is an HVLP (High Volume, Low Pressure) system.  The resin is routed to the gun by a hose from a pressure pot.  The catalyst is also routed to the gun through a second hose from it's pressure pot.  The air comes through a third hose to provide atomization.  This allows for spraying in any position and the catalyst quantity is only limited by the size of you tank.


The orifice size is 2.4 mm which is sufficiently large enough to spray high viscosity material like gelcoat.  Car paint orifices are half that size which is why those guns will not work unless the gelcoat is really thinned out.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Catalyzation and Curing

Gelcoat is mixed with MEKP (Methyl Ethyl Ketone Peroxide) catalyst.  The MEKP bonds with the resin molecules and forms a hard polyester plastic.  The chemical reaction gives off some heat and in theory, all the MEKP is bonded and used up in the reaction.

The ratio of MEKP to resin is between 1 and 4% depending on the temperature.  The more MEKP, or the higher the temperature, the faster the resin will cure.
A fast cure is also not a good cure.  The reaction takes time and if the resin 'kicks' too fast, there will be unused catalyst in the polyester matrix. A 20-30 minute cure time is a good reasonable time to have.  As can be seen from this chart, 4% catalyzation at 5C will cure in 2 hours while at 20C it will cure in 5 minutes.

The daytime temperature here in Malaysia is around 32C (90F).  This does not give a lot of time for catalyzed resin to be applied.  If you mixed a batch, put it in a spray gun and started applying, it would probably turn into a hard chunk of plastic before you were done spraying.  This would ruin the gun and obviously this would make it very difficult to do a large area like an entire boat. 

Even if you were to apply early on the cool morning with 1% MEKP, you have to thoroughly clean the gun spray gun between each batch or the residue will still harden in the gun even though more material is added.

There are spray guns for small projects that use disposable cups. Even using a gun like this, the material sprayed in the beginning could have a cure time of 20 minutes while the material at the end may only have a few minutes, if that.  These guns are also more like spatter guns than spray guns.  There is not a fine misting orifice nor a controlled airflow pattern like you would find on a proper spray gun.