Guest editorial: Galvanizing goes lead-free

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by David Nobes, Technical Services Director of Wedge Group Galvanizing
The galvanizing sector has made great strides to improve safety and reduce environmental impact as part of the ever-present challenge that touches every industry throughout the world.
The fundamental approach of coating steel in zinc is as relevant as ever so the processes involved in pre-treating and galvanizing steel have remained largely unchanged for many decades.
However, Wedge Group Galvanizing Ltd has now completed a process that represents a major leap forward.
We believe we are the first galvanizing company in the UK to remove lead from our galvanizing process – a clear illustration of how we lead the way in this industry and of our commitment to sustainability and improvement within a historically traditional sector.
Lead has been an integral part of the metallurgy used in galvanizing for more than a century but we recognised the changing landscape more than 10 years ago.
Although the amount used was very small, we wanted to remove it from our processes completely and put a significant amount of time and effort into perfecting a methodology that produces even better results than before.
So we embarked on a project to develop and test methods that would produce the same (or even better) results without the need to add lead to the zinc melt.
It takes a tremendous length of time for background levels of lead to be removed from existing baths, but we completed our conversion process earlier this year.
The fact we now achieve indicative levels of less than 50 parts per million (or 0.005%) within the bath melt means we can proudly claim our process is lead-free.
It’s a hugely significant step, particularly following the re-classification of lead contained in REACH (an EU regulation for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) and the requirement to limit its use in manufacturing processes.
The reclassification could turn into a major headache for some of our customers, who might have to meet exceptionally tight tolerances or demonstrate exacting procedures. Some might even review the use of any process that involves lead as a result.
But because of the commitment we made 10 years ago, our process now doesn’t use lead at all and therefore removes any potential issues. And we’re delighted with the results.
Our lead-free offering opens up new opportunities within the children’s play equipment, pipe manufacturers, automotive, agricultural and earth-moving industries.
Wedge Group Galvanizing has been at the very forefront of the movement to improve safety and sustainability for a number of years.
Our network of plants around the UK have been redeveloped and equipped to set industry-leading standards and we’ve implemented a number of other initiatives that help to reduce our environmental impact.
We’ve developed low-fume fluxes that produce much-reduced emission levels and remove the need for an expensive filtration system. It’s a project that has helped us to substantially reduce energy usage and footprint.
We’ve also introduced new systems to integrate the collection and storage of rainwater – enabling it to be recycled into the galvanizing process, eliminating run-off and minimising the use of mains water.
As chair of the UK Galvanizers Association Technical Committee, which represents the interests of all member companies across the country, I’m also actively involved in the re-write of BS EN ISO 14713 part 2 (Design for Galvanizing) which is now at the Draft Industry Standard stage and will soon be released for comment.
It provides guidance for architects and fabricators on how to arrive at the best design for a structure or article requiring a galvanized finish.
In my role with the Association, I’m also involved in a revision of the BREF document which identifies the best available techniques within the galvanizing industry Europe-wide and consolidates these into legislation that transfers into our operating permits with local authorities.

About the company
Wedge Group Galvanizing Ltd is the largest hot-dip galvanizing organisation in the UK.
With 14 state-of-the-art plants based at strategic locations across the country, it is able to provide a truly nationwide service.
The company has been providing cost-effective long-term protection against the corrosion of steel products for 150 years. And such experience ensures the continuous delivery of high-quality work and unrivalled customer service.
All work is fully quality approved to British Standards, can often be collected and delivered to site and the company also operates a 24-hour turnaround service on request.
For further information, contact Wedge Group Galvanizing Ltd on 01902 601944 or visit www.wedge-galv.co.uk

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