Our History

KTA celebrated its 60th year in business in 2009. As part of our anniversary, we took the opportunity to summarize the very rich and impressive history of KTA. Please enjoy a brief timeline of some of the key milestones in the growth and evolution of our company.

Test PanelThe company was founded as Kenneth Tator Associates, a sole proprietorship, in 1949 and operated from the Tator residence in Moon Township (a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA). The core of the business was based on the KTA Test Panel, invented by Mr. Tator for the comparative evaluation of the performance of coating systems. The KTA Test Panel was designed and manufactured to have a dozen or more typical coating failure points like sharp edges, pits, weld spatter, crevices and others, all on a 4″ x 6″ steel coupon. The surfaces were prepared and painted by KTA, and exposed in industrial facilities across the country to help clients select the best coating systems for their service environment. KTA continues to produce tens of thousands of test panels each year for internal performance evaluation of coatings and sale to clients.

In 1954, the company moved from the basement of the Tator residence to a nearby house, converting it to office space. Ken Tator, the current Chairman of the Board, started helping his father in the office in the early 50s during summers while in junior high school, and then in high school.

In 1961, the company pioneered the concept of independent coatings inspection services, primarily in chemical plants. At that time 1 or 2 inspectors did the work. Today we have over 100 coatings inspectors, most of whom are NACE Certified.

In 1962, KTA started selling coatings inspection instruments – primarily two different types of dry film thickness gages. Today we represent over 50 manufacturers and distribute over 350 different instruments.

Ken TatorIn 1965, the company started to provide physical testing laboratory services, using a condensing humidity cabinet and a few immersion chambers (fish aquariums).  Today, KTA’s physical laboratory maintains over a dozen accelerated weathering test chambers, as well numerous immersion tanks and Atlas Test Cells.

On January 11, 1969, the company faced a serious challenge. Our founder, Kenneth Tator, had a fatal heart attack while planting a live Christmas tree. Although Ken Tator had worked with his father during the summers as a teenager, it wasn’t until a few months earlier (in October 1968) that he had come to KTA full time. The plan was for him to work side-by-side with his father for a few years to learn the business, and gradually take over. Despite being a 27-year-old, fresh from military service and graduate school, he decided to push forward with the company.

Later in 1969, following in his father’s footsteps and example for innovation, Ken entered the training business, providing KTA’s first coatings education courses. Today, we provide dozens of training courses every year, including coating failure analysis, instrument use, and a variety of coatings inspection courses, as well as workplace safety, lead paint management, nuclear coatings inspector training and other specialized Quality Assurance/Quality Control courses.

Also in 1969, Ken Tator was invited to participate in the development of nuclear coatings standards through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Shortly thereafter, the coatings inspection report form KTA had developed since the inception of our inspection services became the model for nuclear coatings inspection, and was incorporated into a nuclear standard, ANSI N101.4.

In 1971, KTA expanded the inspection services into nuclear construction. Since then, we have provided inspection and consulting services in over 60 nuclear units, including 3 Mile Island (after the accident).

In 1973, the physical testing laboratory expanded into analytical chemistry work with the purchase of a microscope, an Atomic Absorption Spectrometer and an Infrared Spectrometer. The laboratory has expanded significantly since that time and is equipped with essentially all of the state-of-the-art instrumentation needed to analyze most any type of coating problem (a veritable CSI for forensic coatings analysis).

In 1978, the company was incorporated as KTA-Tator, Associates, Inc. Three years later the name was changed to KTA-Tator, Inc.

The company outgrew the house and in 1981 moved into a new 2-story, 12,000 square foot office building at our current location in the RIDC Park West, not far from the Pittsburgh International Airport. KTA occupied the top floor, leaving the bottom floor unfinished. We were the 3rd or 4th company in the entire office park at the time. Approximately 5 years later, we finished the bottom floor with offices and a training room.

In 1986, the concepts for the KTA CAPP® System (Coating Assessment and Painting Priority System) were formalized when working on a state-wide bridge coating condition assessment contract. The concepts were based on 20 years of coating condition survey experience that had been gained in industrial facilities. The system was computerized in 1992 and in 2003-2004, the program was completely rebuilt from the ground up to address many of the needs that the original program could not accommodate. The state-of-the-art CAPP® System is now a truly unique, expert-based system for establishing and organizing a client’s maintenance painting needs. There still is no comparable product in the marketplace.

Industrial Lead Paint Removal HandbookIn 1988, in response to Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) regulations for abrasive blast cleaning, KTA began providing high volume ambient air monitoring services. This was done a few years before the concerns over lead bombarded the coatings industry, giving us a great deal of experience to provide to our clients and the industry at large. We still provide this service today, and also sell and rent the monitors to others.

In 1991, as lead paint removal mandated changes to the contractors’ work practices at jobsites, we actively entered the health and safety arena. In 1992, we established an operating division within KTA, called KTA Environmental that focused specifically on issues associated with lead paint removal.  The division expanded considerably in 1994 as described later.

In December 1991, President George Bush signed the $121 billion Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). For the first time, State and local officials could use Federal funds for bridge rehabilitation and maintenance (as opposed to new construction). KTA responded to this opportunity by developing project management and contract administration capabilities and services for the large bridge rehabilitation projects typically funded under ISTEA. Congress has reauthorized the funding bill following each 5-year cycle, and KTA has paralleled the growth to become a premier provider of Resident Engineering and Inspection (REI) services. 

In 1992, in order to support the company growth, we expanded the corporate headquarters by extending the first floor and adding a 2 story addition on top of it. The addition was approximately 18,000 square feet and gave us a total of 30,000 square feet.

In 1994, we developed a joint venture with SE Technologies, a design engineering firm, to combine the expertise of both organizations in order to tap further into the developing market created by the removal of lead paint. The venture had its own dedicated staff supplied by both organizations and focused on education, safety programs, specifications, and jobsite assistance for worker protection, environmental protection, and containment design. The venture was named KTA/SET Environmental. It operated until 1996, when it was absorbed by KTA, which included the transfer of key staff from SE Technologies to KTA.

In 1996, we introduced Enhanced Inspection Service to the industry, when we cross-trained inspectors to address both coatings and environmental (lead paint) issues. This avoided the need for a client to hire one person for coatings inspection and a different person to address “lead” issues. Today, KTA inspectors that handle both coatings and “lead” have become the norm, rather than the exception.

Steel Group LogoIn 1999, we took all the knowledge and experience we had gained from independent coatings inspection services and ventured into the steel inspection market, providing Certified Welding Inspectors (CWI) in fabrication shops. Our inspectors also hold a number of non-destructive testing (NDT) certifications in addition to CWI, and many are certified under the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) requirements. Today, the steel group is its own business unit within KTA with a continually growing client base and talented staff.

In 2000, we pursued and became the first SSPC QP5-certified coating and lining Inspection Company. For over 10 years, only 3 firms in the country met the rigorous requirements for QP5 certification. Our role as an independent QP5-certified firm has taken KTA all over the world, including projects in an active US Air Force base in the war zone of Afghanistan.

In late 2006, in order to streamline our operations to facilitate further growth, we reorganized the company into 5 Business Units: Coatings, Professional Services, Steel, Instruments, and Corporate Administration. This was one of the most significant organizational changes ever made by the company, and it is described separately (see Our Organization). 

Also in 2006, our training department became an authorized provider for the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). Because of this certification, which was achieved after exhaustive audits of KTA, KTA training courses now offer continuing education units (CEUs). CEUs are vital to professionals who must provide proof of continuing education in order to maintain their own personal certifications.

Basic Coatings Inspection Course     Coatings Failure Analysis Course     Nuclear Power Plant Coatings Inspection Course

The laboratory also pursued certification and in 2007 received an American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (ISO17025; Testing Cert. #2455.01). The A2LA certification (which is also ISO 17025) is proof that our laboratory operates under a quality program and has demonstrated its capability to correctly use all of the laboratory equipment and perform the various tests within prescribed tolerances.

In 2007, we also made a formal commitment to develop an ISO 9001 compliant Quality Management System (QMS) for all of our services. Previously, various groups within the company had operated under their own programs, such as nuclear inspection and laboratory services, but it was time to consolidate existing programs into a global QMS. After nearly 2 years of development, our companywide QMS was initiated on January 1, 2009.

These are just a few of the milestones in the history of the company. As you can see, we have always been an innovator. We have been the company that has come up with new ideas to expand existing services and markets, or to develop new ones. The ingenuity of KTA continues today as we remain the industry leader in coatings evaluation, testing, and inspection—and we can add contract administration, workplace safety, steel and concrete inspection and other Quality Management services to that list, as we are now equally well-engaged in these services. 

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