Since 1954, Coatings Unlimited, Inc. (CUI) has provided industrial coatings on some of the most ambitious projects throughout North America. Vice President Steve Phillipp, Jr. spoke to Business In Focus about CUI and how the company has grown from a regional contractor into a national firm while holding onto its principles of quality, safety and performance.
Headquartered in the St. Louis suburb of Bridgeton, Missouri, CUI provides services such as composite repair technology, ultra high-pressure cleaning, industrial coatings and linings, concrete repair and protection, lead abatement, specialized surface preparation and fireproofing.
“We occupy a niche market – working in all industrial markets – as a specialty industrial contractor, protecting concrete and steel from corrosion fire,” Mr. Phillipp says. He started working in the office of the family business as a child and worked in the field throughout high school and college.
For five generations, the Phillipp family has owned CUI resulting in a management team with decades of experience. In 1954, Fred Phillipp Sr. began building a business in which his sons, Fred and Steve Sr., would grow up working. By 1973, the Phillipp family was able to buy out the non-family partners and add services, technology, equipment and staff to meet the needs of its customers.
Coatings Unlimited began by applying coatings in chemical and auto plants. The company later expanded to specialized projects and applications, such as fireproofing or linings for tanks.
Today, CUI provides specialty coatings for a wide range industries and sectors such as food processing, pharmaceutical, pulp and paper, industrial process, mining, power and heavy manufacturing.
For composite repair technology, CUI uses fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites to externally bond to structural members using epoxy resin, increasing the load carrying capacity of steel and concrete structures. Embedded in resin of these structural strengthening systems are high strength fibers such as carbon, glass or Kevlar. The resin protects the fibers, maintains the fiber alignment and distributes the loads evenly among them.
FRP composites were originally used in industries such as aerospace, automotive and sports equipment. The composites are now becoming used extensively for the structural upgrade of steel and concrete structures in more general applications.
Concrete repair and protection coatings from CUI are applied to industrial concrete surfaces to extend lifespan, provide traction, seal out penetration by chemicals, corrosive materials or food products. The coatings can even be used to improve aesthetics. Concrete surfaces can be damaged or fail due to improper mixing and installation of the concrete or from the effects of impacts, normal wear, weathering, structural shifts or chemicals such as salt.
CUI has extensive experience in assessing the status of concrete surfaces, the development of specifications to remediate concrete repairs and the removal of damaged or contaminated material. After the condition of the concrete is analyzed, it can be repaired. A variety of materials are used for this purpose, including epoxy adhesives and coatings, cementitious and epoxy grouts, joint fillers and sealants or other concrete restoration materials. The company can also protect concrete using uses clear sealers, epoxies or UV floor coatings.
Fireproofing is another specialty of CUI. The company is experienced in the specification, planning and application of all industrial fireproofing materials and is a Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) QP1 and QP2 certified contractor.
CUI also offers ultra high-pressure water jetting to clean asphalt, concrete and metal surfaces for the purpose of repair and re-application of coatings at pressures above 25,000 psi.
Its high-pressure cleaning process is used to remove membranes, elastomeric coatings, paint, rubber, mastics and paint. Typical applications include metal surfaces, highways, runways and parking structures. Extensive pre-planning and scheduling, containment, environmental health and safety are vital due to the dangers of this cleaning.
For industrial coating, CUI provides its clients the knowledge to choose the appropriate coating and when and how to use it. Proper selection of coatings avoids coating failure that could affect plant downtime in an industrial process setting. The company also assists clients in developing specifications, schedules and safety programs for the application of industrial coatings and linings.
Commonly used external coatings include alkyds, epoxies, epoxy copolymers, water/solvent borne inorganic zinc-rich coatings, water-borne acrylics, silicones and one- and two-pack polyurethanes.
While white lead hasn’t been a component of paints or other coatings in decades, significant amounts can still be found on industrial, municipal and transportation structures. CUI’s lead abatement team works to reduce the hazards to people from airborne particles of lead coatings. The company specializes in lead abatement and the removal of hazardous materials such as asbestos. In some situations, the removal of these materials can be more harmful than leaving it in place. In such cases, lead-based materials may be encapsulated rather than removed, and CUI is expert in working with customers to develop effective risk mitigation programs.
This diversity of services has enabled the company to remain agile over the years and, more importantly, stay afloat in a volatile economy.
“The recession reinforced the idea to continue to innovate and expand our service portfolio and diversify our services,” Phillipp says. “Any capital and maintenance spending in the marketplace – we can capture it because the end-user knows what additional services we can perform related to our core services. For example, we didn’t know we could even do fireproofing, but that helped us expand our revenue with existing clients and let them know what other scopes we can perform for them and demonstrate that we’re a full-service specialty contractor.”
The company owners have held various leadership positions within the Society for Protective Coatings, the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America and the Finishing Contractors Association. CUI’s deep-seated commitment to quality has led it to incorporate the training and performance standards of those professional organizations in raising its safety and standards of service.
CUI takes a proactive approach in creating safe work environments. Through continuous evaluation, it seeks to minimize the impact on the communities in which it works and the environment while preventing harm to employees. All employees have training in specific tasks and safety education. The program is continuously reviewed our program to identify to identify job-specific risks and potential areas of improvement, and then reduce or eliminate them if possible.
“There is a lot of regulation in the construction industry from OSHA,” Phillipp says. “We train our employees based on those rules and regulations, so we have lots of workforce safety training as well as tech-skills based training.” Employee safety covers everything from ladders, scaffolding and respiratory protection to hazards from lead, chromium and cadmium. Its workers learn how those particular dangers may affect their health and how to protect and monitor themselves.
CUI’s commitment to service and safety is based on its principles, and Phillipp says that these are what have kept the company in business for sixty years. “They’re ingrained into the culture around here and really show our commitment to business.”
It is important for the company to continue to build on its family heritage and to remain privately owned by active management and guided by firmly held values. A dedication to ethics, excellence, safety and sustainability create an environment of mutual respect and an inclusive culture.
The vision of CUI is to be the nation’s premier industrial specialty coating contractor. Its goal is for customers and partners to see the company as an essential part of their success as CUI anticipates their needs and delivers on the commitments made to them.
“Our customers and partners are integral to our success,” Phillipp shares. “Our vendors are more like our partners; they need us, and we need them to land more business. We view our vendors as an extension of business development arm.”
CUI has embarked on projects designed to reduce danger at many facilities. At a coal power plant, the company had a thirty man trowel crew in order to reduce the explosion hazards of coal dust. To prevent the dust from accumulating, the crew covered all surfaces with high-performance Carboline coatings. The rapidly accelerated project was completed ahead of schedule, freeing workers for other projects and reducing scaffolding costs. Early completion allowed the client to test the newly installed equipment successfully and on schedule. “Our clients know that know if we’re on job, projects will be installed per their specifications and standards, which is a comforting feeling for them,” explains Phillip.
For over sixty years, Coatings Unlimited’s dedication to quality, service, safety and performance has helped reduce hazards for many companies. Its experience has given the company a wealth of knowledge while creating extensive relationships with its skilled labor and industry clients.
“Industry leaders count on Coatings Unlimited,” says Phillipp. “We have a long history of performing projects on time, for the price that we supply, with zero incidents and strong financial resources, to accomplish the most challenging projects. And we’ve always prevailed – never failed – to complete a project. Our reliability is rock-solid, and we have strong values for a “get it done” mindset.”