Developing abrasives

We enter the science lab as we take a look at the fine detail of what goes into developing a good bodyshop abrasive product and ask what the future holds.

Just like all other sectors of the repair and refinish industry, the abrasives market is no different in the sense it has had to adapt its products to changes occurring within the car industry. As new materials are introduced into vehicle production, abrasive manufacturers too must change products so they are suitable to use on new materials.

One company which has a great deal of experience in abrasive technology and innovation within the bodyshop market is Mirka. At the company’s research and development centre in Finland, products are developed, tested and refined to enable it to offer a complete range of high performance abrasives that delivers real benefits to customers. Over the years, Mirka has brought to market a number of innovative products including Abralon, Abranet, and Abranet Ace.

Innovation

‘It is essential for an abrasive manufacturer to keep up-to-date with the changes taking place in the vehicle manufacturing process and its impact in the aftermarket. As surface preparation experts, Mirka test products to ensure they can meet the demanding challenges in the repair and refinish market,’ said Brian Johnson, Mirka.

Mirka offers customers a complete package to support their surface preparation needs within the Bodyshop. Mirka’s range of products and systems, including the Abranet abrasives, award winning DEROS electric sander, along with the PROS air sander and polishing products, all deliver on quality and performance.

Brian explained, ‘Our team of technical experts recognise that the right process, systems and training can improve efficiency and cycle times and work with the bodyshop to deliver these needs. Mirka has helped many bodyshops, large and small, to achieve more profit from each job.’

Global

The Mirka Academy, based in Finland, is a centre for developing best practice on a global scale. In the UK, Mirka offers training and support at every stage of the surface preparation process in the customer bodyshop working together with technicians and bodyshop managers.

‘Mirka’s team of technical experts will work with the bodyshop to develop best practice, improve process, maximise product usage and implement correct tools for the job. Through key performance indicator (KPI) measurement we can improve the process, reduce wastage and ensure the right result is achieved every time, reducing reworks and ultimately increasing profit for the bodyshop,’ added Brian

Due to regulations, fillers, primers and clearcoats are continually being developed along with the bodyshop’s demands for faster drying products and reduced cycle times. Mirka needs to ensure that all products meet these requirements, without compromising performance and value.

According to Mirka, customer expectations and demands have also changed over the years with an even greater focus on product quality, performance and cost as key drivers.

‘Abrasives may be only 4% of the spend, but they account for 40% of the process and affect 100% of the job,’ said Brian.

He continued, ‘Today we are seeing lighter, reduced CO2 emission cars manufactured from aluminium and composites. Changes like this require performance abrasives that meet the specific demands of these materials. Mirka has developed a new range of non-corrosion abrasives, which contain the lowest possible amounts of heavy metal contaminant. This assists in preventing impurities contaminating the aluminium surface when sanding is taking place, whilst still achieving the consistent high quality finish.’

Development

3M is another major supplier of abrasives that cover all applications in the modern day bodyshop, from cutting and grinding in the panel shop to refining and removing clearcoat defects after painting.

Alex Nixon, marketing assistant at 3M said, ‘The most important thing to us at 3M is listening to our customers and understanding their needs before we move on to our developments labs, so that we can be sure we work on products that we know our customers will benefit from.’

3M is a large and diverse company with a number of technology platforms, which we are often able to combine across seemingly disparate industries. ‘A good example of this is our automotive aftermarket Trizact products, which are made using microreplication technology, which we originally developed for overhead projectors back in the 1960s.’ said Alex. ‘More recently, our Cubitron II range of products have transformed abrasive technology. Precision-shaped ceramic abrasive grains act like a cutting tool and continually self-sharpen. This allows our abrasive belts, sanding discs and bonded abrasive wheels to run cooler and keep on working – long after conventional abrasives have worn out.’

3M also prides itself on providing best in class training for the industry and won the Training Provider of the Year Award in 2013 at the bodyshop Awards. A key part of this was investment in its bespoke Automotive Refinish Centre in Atherstone, Warwickshire, where it offers training on 3M products and processes, as well as ATA Panel and Paint qualifications.

Alex said, ‘The abrasive market hasn’t changed that much over the last few years as, generally, the core requirement is still the same, technician’s want products that cut quickly and can enhance productivity. However, with the emergence of new paints and coatings, including hard-to-sand clear coats and E-Coat primers, several niche applications have emerged, requiring different specialist products. ‘

The future for the abrasive market is going to be ever more competitive with customers looking for more options that can increase productivity. Alex continued, ‘For 3M, it is important that as a company we continue to invest in customer-focused product development, while demonstrating superior performance and cost-in-use enhancement.’

Suppliers in the abrasives market clearly invest a lot of time and money into developing products to best suit the customer’s needs, particularly in the automotive sector. When designing a good abrasive product, manufacturers must consider the pressures the bodyshop industry faces in terms of productivity and also the level of finish that is achievable. It’s also evident that when discussing abrasives, having a good product that suits the needs of the customer is crucial, however a vital part of this sector is also in the training. If bodyshops are not trained to use abrasive products correctly, it doesn’t matter how good the product is, mistakes are then likely to occur which not only has a negative impact on productivity and what’s achievable in terms of finish but can also lead to a serious accident in the work place.

Safety 

Another company that has been offering solutions to the industry through its experience and knowledge of abrasives and tools is Master Abrasives. For Master, a large part of the abrasives sector is dealing with the safety of workers using abrasives tools and products. Master now offers complete training, with its safe use of abrasives (machine and handheld power tools) course as well as awareness of Hand Arm Vibration (HAV) via Toolbox Talks.

According to Master, when used correctly, abrasives have an excellent safety record. Whilst reputable manufacturers follow precise manufacturing standards (EN 12413) to ensure products are fit for purpose, problems are likely to arise when products are used incorrectly or for materials and applications for which they were not intended.

Abrasive wheel breakage is the largest risk for incidents, as grinding tools have operating speeds up to 180 mph and can accelerate and decelerate faster than a Formula 1 racing car. Personal injuries resulting from wheel breakages are usually a result of using hand held machines and unfortunately are the single largest reason for a wheel breakage is operator error. For this reason it is a requirement of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) that all people who use, supervise or manage the use of work equipment have received adequate training.

Training

Master helps to keep a business’ workforce safe with the safe use of abrasives training course, accredited by the BAF. This course familiarises abrasive users with simple, basic but vitally important facts about abrasives, the use of them and how, when used correctly, they have an excellent safety record and all who have attended and passed leave the course with a certificate.

Training provides the knowledge needed to select the appropriate product to match the machine and the material being ground, ensuring that it is not damaged, as well as teaching required for mounting wheels to the machine correctly. As simple as it sounds, these basic operations are a major source of accidents (when carried out incorrectly) in the workplace every year.

Master Tool Services (MTS) offers Toolbox Talks, accredited by IOSH, on understanding HAV and how to control and reduce the risks involved. MTS can also offer training on the repair and maintenance of certain brands of pneumatic tools, as well as offering a complete repair, servicing and maintenance programme for customer tools.