Piezoelectric printing and pre-corrosion: Electrical Resistance Corrosion Monitors for the conservation of heritage iron

  • James Dracott

Student thesis: Phd


Heritage iron objects are ubiquitous in the archaeological assemblage, frequently covered in thick, chloride-containing corrosion layers. Accurate monitoring of their corrosion rates is crucial for continued preventative conservation. Measurement of storage environment corrosivity is commonplace for a variety of metals, but use un-corroded metal as a proxy. Corrosion rates measured will be different with respect to chloride infused and corroded artefacts and data recovered difficult to reconcile with actual artefact degradation. Electrical resistance corrosion monitors have been applied to create proxy corrosion rates for various metals in industry, academia and heritage contexts. Pre-corrosion of such has previously been shown to be effective in providing altered corrosion rates in atmospheric environments. This research sets out to develop and refine the manufacture of such probes, to create sensors which will corrode similarly to chloride infested heritage iron and can be used in heritage environments to inform conservation strategy.Photochemical milling was used to create ERCM. Salt loading on the surface was achieved through a piezoelectric inkjet printer, shown to be adept at printing a variety of salt concentrations (down to 4μg/cm) and patterns, with consistency, regularity and reliability. The results of the methodology show the potential of the technique for future salt loading and corrosion testing applications. Corrosion products were grown on the treated ERCM by controlled atmospheric corrosion, shown to create a constant corrosion layer, no significant localised corrosion and good reproducibility. The products formed were shown to be compositionally similar to those found on archaeological iron. The sensors have been tested in both stable and dynamic relative humidity environments, within a test chamber and in ersatz heritage type, desiccated boxes. The corrosion rates and reactions were compared to those of heritage iron.Pre-corroded ERCM are shown to give similar corrosion rates to heritage iron; though direct calibration was not possible, further research is likely to remedy this. The final outcomes of the project are discussed with respect to the closeness of fit between proxy and archaeological iron corrosion rate data, benefits and shortcomings of the system and how the corrosion data affects current conservation understanding. It is concluded that the technique can detect corrosion rates down to storage relative humidity levels, provides more accurate representation of corrosion rate for chloride infested iron objects than bare metal ERCM, can be calibrated to suite specific objects and could represent excellent cost-effectiveness for environmental monitoring in heritage institutions.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStuart Lyon (Supervisor)


  • Inkjet printer
  • ERCM
  • Heritage Iron
  • Precorrosion
  • Archaeology
  • Corrosion
  • Conservation

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