Beyond The Grain

A deep dive into high-performance abrasives for cutting, grinding and blending

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Metalworking operations are central to various industrial processes, and many require the use of abrasive wheels and discs that not only deliver exceptional performance, but also ensure safety and efficiency. Examining the key attributes of an effective abrasive, this article aims to guide manufacturers, engineers and decision-makers in making informed choices for their metalworking needs.

Several persistent problems exist that can have an adverse effect on the productivity of metalworkers who use abrasives in their daily projects, ranging from lack of comfort to poor wheel performance. The use of poorly made abrasives in industrial processes comes at a significant cost, impacting the operational efficiency and overall bottom line of organizations. From diminished material removal efficiency and inconsistent surface finishes to increased machinery wear and safety risks, the cumulative effects result in higher operational costs, increased downtime and compromised product quality.

In the realm of metalworking, there is a growing demand for abrasive grains that deliver exceptional performance, particularly among those who prioritize high efficiency in their projects. However, it is crucial to recognize that a durable and high-performance abrasive wheel or disc involves more than just the quality of the abrasive grain. Various factors contribute to its longevity and effectiveness, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of the intricate elements involved in the manufacturing process.

So, what goes into a high-performance abrasive wheel or disc? To answer this question, we need to define a high-performance abrasive. It can be characterized by:

  • Ability to deliver efficient and precise material removal
  • Durability or wheel life
  • Safety features
  • Versatility
  • Compliance to industry standards

Performance matters

A high-performance abrasive helps operators work longer and more safely. Whether in cutting, grinding or blending applications, high-performance abrasives deliver fast and aggressive removal rates by minimizing the amount of pressure an operator needs to apply to the workpiece.

Additionally, a high-performance abrasive wheel minimizes dust, which is partly due to high heat-resistant bonding agents that help maintain wheel integrity. This not only enhances safety – excess dust is an eye irritant and respiratory risk – but comfort, too.

Walter’s Smart Resin technology exposes fresh ceramic grains at just the right time in order to give users a productive balance between sharpness and longer wheel life in a variety of cutting and grinding applications.

The cost of abrasives typically represents between 15 and 30 percent of the total cost of a metalworking project. Cutting the cost of consumables through a “lowest cost” purchasing approach can be tempting, but it is short-sighted because productivity (where the remaining 70 to 85 percent of spending must be disbursed effectively and strategically) will inevitably diminish over the long term. This is because while cheaper products may offer direct savings, their inferior quality will drive up replacement costs over time.

There are inescapable consequences of working with lower quality abrasives. And they generally fall into two areas that inevitably have a significant impact on productivity and health and safety.

A low-quality abrasive wheel implies low-quality abrasive grains, but it can also mean low-quality bonding agents and wheel unbalance, among other things. An average wheel may cost less, but the characteristics add up to a wheel that is simply not durable and, therefore, will harm productivity. In short, a low-quality wheel with poor durability can lead to:

  • Increased wheel consumption, which drives up costs
  • Increased wheel changeovers, which reduces productivity
  • Excessive dust, which increases risk of respiratory diseases and eye irritation
  • Poor aggressivity means slow removal rates that the operator compensates for by adding wheel pressure
  • Safety hazards including low-resistance wheels, which can explode, increasing the risk for serious injury

Raw material composition

When looking at high-performance abrasives, raw materials suitable to the application are considered first. Various abrasive grains are utilized in the manufacture of abrasives, each possessing unique properties suited to specific applications. The choice of abrasive grain depends on factors such as the workpiece material, desired finish and intended use of the wheel.

For most general applications, four main abrasive grains are commonly used, which can affect both the price and performance of the wheel: aluminum oxide, zirconia alumina, ceramic and silicon carbide (often used in more specialized applications). When looking for high performance, consider a ceramic abrasive. These grains are engineered and provide excellent heat resistance. They are sharp, resistant to wear and provide the perfect balance between aggressivity and durability.

Ceramic abrasives can also contribute to increased operator comfort through reduced vibration levels. This reduction in vibration can lead to smoother grinding, less hand fatigue and an overall more comfortable experience for operators working with angle grinders.

Lastly, the durability of ceramic abrasives often results in longer tool life, reducing the frequency of wheel changes. This can lead to increased productivity and less downtime, positively impacting the overall work experience for operators.

The material composition of an abrasive is often the leading decision factor when considering an abrasive wheel, but there is more to the composition of a wheel than the grain. Going beyond the grain can not only enhance a wheel’s life, but it can also increase safety and ensures that the abrasive grain’s performance is maximized, so users are getting the most from abrasive wheels for which they have paid a premium.

Reinforcements

The structural integrity and design of an abrasive wheel influences its performance. High-performance abrasive wheels are engineered with precision, considering factors such as shape, thickness and reinforcement. This ensures stability, reduces vibrations and promotes a uniform material removal process.

All abrasive wheels come with strength built in with fiberglass reinforcement – but quality matters here, too. High-performance wheels have thicker fiberglass and sometimes even extra layers. Double-reinforced wheels are stronger for the simple reason that the reinforcement acts as the skeleton of the wheel and ensures integrity.

When operators can work with high-performance abrasives, the result is a combination of high removal rates and reduced fatigue.

Similarly, in sanding applications, adding additional fiber layers to the backing helps reinforce the wheel to improve its life. Look for features such as Walter’s V-Strong backing technology that includes an additional vulcanized fiber layer to improve durability and wheel life.

These features not only improve wheel life, but also help increase safety by reinforcing the wheels and minimizing breakage. This added safety benefit can help increase productivity over time through injury reduction.

Bonding agents

The bonding agents used in the abrasive wheel’s construction significantly impact its durability, heat resistance and overall stability during operation. High-performance wheels incorporate advanced bonding materials to ensure longevity and withstand the stresses of metalworking processes.

High-performance bonding agents are resistant to heat and mechanical energy and are low in water content. A bonding agent is what holds the abrasive grains and reinforcements together to maximize wheel life. Better bonding agents, such as Walter’s Smart Resin technology, contribute to longer wheel life by exposing fresh ceramic grains at the optimal time to achieve the most productive balance between sharpness and life in a variety of cutting and grinding applications. This feature maximizes the ceramic grain’s performance to a new level.

Manufacturing processes

When considering flap discs, in particular, for a given application, the manufacturing process can be equally important. Often in flap disc manufacturing, the flap disc cloth is baked a first time to bond the abrasive grains to the cloth and then baked again to cure the glue, bonding the flaps to the backing. Much like baking a cake twice, this process of reheating the abrasive can cause the abrasive cloth to dry out and cause micro-cracking in the flaps. This can affect both productivity and safety because the abrasive cloth is more brittle and can prematurely wear down.

In addition, the heating process involves stacking the flap discs on a long rod. Mishandling this rod can easily lead to disc unbalances, which can also have adverse effects on safety and productivity.

To avoid this, metalworkers should consider flap discs that use a cold curing glue, such as Walter’s Enduro-Flex Turbo with Max Life glue. Avoiding heat in the manufacturing process can improve consistency, maximize the grain’s performance and increase disc life.

In the context of manufacturing processes, the choice of cold curing glue highlights, the importance of minimizing heat exposure to prevent adverse effects on wheel life and safety. The cumulative impact of these aspects is a high-performance wheel that delivers efficient material removal with lower operator pressure, reducing fatigue and enabling longer work cycles.

Delivering results

Each of these aspects enables a high-performance abrasive to deliver a high removal rate with lower operator pressure. This reduces operator fatigue and facilitates longer work cycles with fewer stoppages. Therefore, operation time decreases and productivity increases.

Another important advantage that high-performance abrasives bring to the shop floor is durability and, consequently, longer wheel life. Durable wheels reduce time-consuming wheel changeovers, which helps reduce operation time. Reduced product consumption, meanwhile, equates to lower product inventory, which helps keep costs down.

Watch the video to learn about the offerings being developed by Walter Surface Technologies that result in long-lasting, productive ceramic abrasive solutions.

The challenges faced by metalworkers in their daily projects underscore the critical importance of using high-performance abrasives. The detrimental effects of poor-quality abrasives on productivity, safety and overall project costs are evident. A comprehensive understanding of the factors contributing to a durable and efficient abrasive wheel or disc reveals that its performance goes beyond the quality of the abrasive grain alone.

Walter Surface Technologies Inc.

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