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Coating Thickness Measurement
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Canadian Finishing & Coating Mfg. (PDF Copy) Industrial Paint & Powder Magazine Metal Finishing - Organic Finishing Guidebook

Coating Thickness Measurement
by David Beamish, DeFelsko Corporation

Coating thickness is an important variable that plays a role in product quality, process control, and cost control. Measurement of film thickness can be done with many different instruments. Understanding the equipment that is available for film thickness measurement and how to use it is useful to every coating operation. The issues that determine what method is best for a given coating measurement include the type of coating, the substrate material, the thickness range of the coating, the size and shape of the part, and the cost of the equipment. Commonly used measuring techniques for cured organic films include nondestructive dry film methods such as magnetic, eddy current, ultrasonic, or micrometer measurement and also destructive dry film methods such as cross-sectioning or gravimetric (mass) measurement. Methods are also available for powder and liquid coatings to measure the film before it is cured. MAGNETIC FILM THICKNESS GAGES Magnetic film gages are used to nondestructively measure the thickness of a nonmagnetic coating on ferrous substrates. Most coatings on steel and iron are measured this way. Magnetic gages use one of two principles of operation: magnetic pull-off or magnetic/electromagnetic induction. Magnetic Pull-off Magnetic pull-off gages use a permanent magnet, a calibrated spring, and a graduated scale. The attraction between the magnet and magnetic steel pulls the two together. As the coating thickness separating the two increases, it becomes easier to pull the magnet away. Coating thickness is determined by measuring this pull-off force. Thinner coatings will have stronger magnetic attraction while thicker films will have comparatively less magnetic attraction. Testing with magnetic gages is sensitive to surface roughness, curvature, substrate thickness, and the make up of the metal alloy. Magnetic pull-off gages are rugged, simple, inexpensive, portable, and usually do not require any calibration adjustment. They are a good, low-cost alternative in situations where quality goals require only a few readings during production. Pull-off gages are typically pencil-type or rollback dial models. Pencil-type models (PosiPen shown in Fig 1) use a magnet that is mounted to a helical spring that works perpendicularly to the coated surface. Most pencil-type pull-off gages have large magnets and are designed to work in only one or two positions, which partially compensate for gravity. A more accurate version is available, which has a tiny, precise magnet to measure on small, hot, or hard-to-reach surfaces. A triple indicator ensures accurate measurements when the gage is pointed down, up, or horizontally with a tolerance of ±10%.




ferromagnetic rod wound with a coil of fine wire is used to produce a magnetic field. Fig. PosiTector 6000 F Series. A Halleffect generator or magneto-resistor is used to sense the magnetic flux density at a pole of the magnet. The manufacturer’s instructions should be carefully followed for most accurate results. Electronic magnetic induction thickness gauges. Fig. independent of gravity. These electronic instruments measure the change in magnetic flux density at the surface of a magnetic probe as it nears a steel surface. Pencil-type magnetic pull-off thickness gauge.2/16/2011 Coating Thickness Measurement Fig. Electronic magnetic gages (e. 2. perform instant analysis of readings. 1. A magnet is attached to one end of a pivoting balanced arm and connected to a calibrated hairspring.g. the spring increases the force on the magnet and pulls it from the surface. They can have options to store measurement results. Roll-back dial magnetic pull-off thickness gauge. These gages are easy to use and have a balanced arm that allows them to work in any position. Typical tolerance is ±1%. PosiTest DFT Ferrous) come in many shapes and sizes. They commonly use a constant pressure probe to provide consistent readings that are not influenced by different operators. Typical tolerance is ±5%. Rollback dial models (PosiTest shown in Fig 2) are the most common form of magnetic pull-off gage. 3. By measuring flux density the coating thickness can be determined. By rotating the dial with a finger. Standard test defelsko.com/…/coating-thickness-meas… 2/5 . Electromagnetic induction instruments use an alternating magnetic field. and output results to a printer or computer for further examination. A second coil of wire is used to detect changes in magnetic flux. They are safe in explosive environments and are commonly used by painting contractors and small powder coating operations. Readings are shown on a liquid crystal display (LCD). The magnitude of the flux density at the probe surface is directly related to the distance from the steel substrate. A soft. Magnetic and Electromagnetic Induction Magnetic induction instruments use a permanent magnet as the source of the magnetic field.

ISO 2178 and ISO 2808. substrate thickness.g. curvature. EDDY CURRENT Eddy current techniques are used to nondestructively measure the thickness of nonconductive coatings on nonferrous metal substrates. The pulse reflects back from the substrate to the transducer and is converted into a high frequency electrical signal. They have the advantage of measuring any coating/substrate combination but the disadvantage of requiring access to the bare substrate. The substrate characteristics and the distance of the probe from the substrate (the coating thickness) affect the magnitude of the eddy currents. MICROMETER Micrometers are sometimes used to check coating thickness.com/…/coating-thickness-meas… 3/5 . Some simplify the task of measuring most coatings over any metal by switching automatically from one principle of operation to the other. When the probe is brought near a conductive surface. The probe of the instrument contains an ultrasonic transducer that sends a pulse through the coating. These combination units are popular with painters and powder coaters. Standard methods for the application and performance of this test are available in ASTM D 6132. In some circumstances.) without damaging the coating. Typical tolerance for this device is ±3%. type of metal substrate and distance from an edge. Standard test methods are available in ASTM D 1186. The requirement to touch both the surface of the coating and the underside of the substrate can be limiting and they are often not sensitive enough to measure thin coatings. they commonly use a constant pressure probe and display results on an LCD. depending upon the substrate. etc. ASTM D 1400. ULTRASONIC The ultrasonic pulse-echo technique of ultrasonic gages (e. Like magnetic electronic gages. A coil of fine wire conducting a high-frequency alternating current (above 1 MHz) is used to set up an alternating magnetic field at the surface of the instrument's probe. Testing is sensitive to surface roughness. It is now common for gauges to incorporate both magnetic and eddy current principles into one unit (e. Eddy current coating thickness gages (e. individual layers in a multi-layer system can be measured. PosiTector 200) is used to measure the thickness of coatings on nonmetal substrates (plastic. the alternating magnetic field will set up eddy currents on the surface. Standard methods for the application and performance of this test are available in ASTM B 244. PosiTector 6000 N Series) look and operate like electronic magnetic gages. 4. PosiTest DFT Combo).2/16/2011 Coating Thickness Measurement The manufacturer’s instructions should be carefully followed for most accurate results. Ultrasonic gauge can measure the thickness of coatings on nonmetallic substrates. D 7091-05.g. defelsko. wood. PosiTector 6000 FN. They are used to measure coating thickness over all nonferrous metals. The echo waveform is digitized and analyzed to determine coating thickness. Fig. They can also have options to store measurement results or perform instant analysis of readings and output to a printer or computer for further examination. D 7091-05 and ISO 2360.g. The eddy currents create their own opposing electromagnetic field that can be sensed by the exciting coil or by a second. The typical tolerance is ±1%. adjacent coil.

The simplest method is to weigh the part before and after coating. the height variation. thickness can be determined. Measuring wet film thickness during application identifies the need for immediate correction and adjustment by the applicator. Correction of the film after it has dried or chemically cured requires costly extra labor time. nondestructive methods are not possible. The wet-film thickness lies between the highest coated notch and the next uncoated notch. On rough surfaces. such as paint. defelsko. DESTRUCTIVE TESTS One destructive technique is to cut the coated part in a cross section and measure the film thickness by viewing the cut microscopically. both with and without thinner. Another cross sectioning technique uses a scaled microscope to view a geometric incision through the dry-film coating. This method is used when inexpensive. micrometers measure coating thickness above the highest peak. They measure all types of wet organic coatings. Adjusting the measurement reticule to a jagged or indistinct interface may create inaccuracy. ASTM D4414 outlines a standard method for measurement of wet-film thickness by notch gages. but they are useful in determining approximate wet-film thickness of coatings on articles where size and shape prohibit the use of more precise methods. and lacquer on flat or curved smooth surfaces. A is the area tested in square centimeters. may lead to contamination of the film. or stainless steel plate with calibrated notches on the edge of each face. Notched gage measurements are neither accurate nor sensitive. is taken to be the coating thickness. and d is the density in grams per cubic centimeter.com/…/coating-thickness-meas… A wet film wheel (eccentric roller) uses three disks. A special cutting tool is used to make a small. particularly between different operators. or as a way of confirming nondestructive results. The difference between the two readings. GRAVIMETRIC By measuring the mass and area of the coating. It is difficult to relate the mass of the coating to thickness when the substrate is rough or the coating uneven. Gages are available that come complete with cutting tips and illuminated scaled magnifier. of curved surfaces. The wet-film comb is a flat aluminum. It takes skill to prepare the sample and interpret the results. MEASUREMENT BEFORE CURE Wet-film thickness gauges help determine how much material to apply wet to achieve a specified dry-film thickness provided that the percent of solids by volume is known. the thickness is calculated using the following equation: T = m x 10 Axd where T is the thickness in micrometers. While the principles of this destructive method are easy to understand. The gage is rolled in the wet film until the center 4/5 . varnish. m is the mass of the coating in milligrams. and may introduce problems of adhesion and integrity of the coating system. Once the mass and area have been determined. plastic. free from irregularities and should be used along the length. (ASTM D1212). not the width. The gage is placed squarely and firmly onto the surface to be measured immediately after coating application and then removed. The equations for determining the correct wet-film thickness (WFT).2/16/2011 Coating Thickness Measurement Two measurements must be taken: one with the coating in place and the other without. are as follows: Without thinner: WFT = desired dry film thickness % of solids by volume With thinner: WFT = desired dry film thickness / % of solids by volume 100% + % of thinner added Wet-film is most often measured with a wet film comb or wheel. there are opportunities for measuring error. precise V-groove through the coating and into the substrate. The gage should be used on smooth surfaces. Using a wet-film gage on quick-drying coatings will yield inaccurate measurements. ASTM D 4138 outlines a standard method for this measurement system. Laboratories are best equipped to handle this time-consuming and often destructive method.

and marketing of these testing instruments in a variety of international industries including industrial painting. The gage is rolled in the wet film until the center disk touches the wet film. The correct gage to use depends on the thickness range of the coating. The uncured powder film comb works much the same way as wet film gage. and the next highest tooth which left no mark and has no powder clinging to it. An ultrasonic device can be used non-destructively on uncured powder on smooth metallic surfaces to predict the thickness of the cured film. A regular check against these standards verifies the gage is operating properly. The comb is dragged through the powder film and the thickness lies between the highest numbered tooth which made a mark and has powder clinging to it. These gages are relatively inexpensive with accuracy of ±5mm. THICKNESS STANDARDS Coating Thickness Measurement Coating thickness gages are calibrated to known thickness standards. SSPC. DAVID BEAMISH is General Manager of DeFelsko Corporation. the shape and type of substrate. The probe is positioned a short distance from the surface to be measured and a reading is displayed on the LCD of the device. Powder coatings can be measured prior to curing with a simple hand-held comb or an ultrasonic gage. ASTM and ISO. SUMMARY Film thickness in coatings can have a big impact on cost and quality. He has a degree in Civil Engineering and has more than 17 years experience in the design. He conducts training seminars and is an active member of various organizations including NACE.com/…/coating-thickness-meas… 5/5 . the gage must be adjusted or repaired and then calibrated again. quality inspection. Measurement of film thickness should be a routine event for all coaters. The point where it makes contact provides the wet film thickness. a New Yorkbased manufacturer of hand-held coating test instruments sold worldwide. and how critical it is to get an accurate measurement. When readings do not meet the accuracy specification of the gage.2/16/2011 A wet film wheel (eccentric roller) uses three disks. It is also important to verify the standards are at least four times as accurate as the gage they will be used to calibrate. They are only suitable as a guide since the cured film may be different after flow. the cost of the gage. There are many sources of thickness standards but it is best to ensure they are traceable to a national measurement institute such as NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology). Marks left by the gage may affect the characteristics of the cured film. and manufacturing. manufacture. Coating Thickness Gages defelsko. Measurement uncertainty is ±5mm.

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