As fabricators and manufacturers seek ways to reduce costs, maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) is one area to find gains. Considering that MRO and abrasive discs go hand in hand in many shops and plants, flap discs are a good place to start when looking for cost efficiencies. Mounted on a right-angle grinder, a flap disc grinds and finishes in one step, eliminating the need for product changeover. Fewer disc changes means greater productivity and, in turn, noticeable cost savings.
“A flap disc is a grinding disc and resin fiber disc combined into one,” explains Nick Sturino, senior manager, product management and marketing, Lawson Products Inc. “It can be used for aggressive material removal as with a grinding wheel but can also produce a nice finish like a resin fiber disc.”
Founded in 1952, Lawson, headquartered in Chicago, sells and distributes specialty products to the industrial, commercial, institutional and government MRO market. Its private label Blue-Kote flap discs are exclusive to Lawson. The zirconium abrasive grain discs come in a variety of styles, including trimmable, flexible, ceramic and high density. Lawson prides itself on the discs having a nice balance of life and aggression.
The biggest draw for flap discs in the MRO environment is that they combine grinding and finishing into one step. In MRO, a variety of materials and finishes are encountered, which means that operators don’t always know what they’re going to be working on day in and day out. This is very different than a production environment where manufacturers, especially large operations, find that one specific disc that performs consistently under the same conditions over and over.
“Common features sought after in all flap discs are long life and the ability to work on a variety of materials,” Sturino says. “But first and foremost, we must have versatility. We know our MRO customers work on a wide variety of materials every day, so they need flap discs that are extremely versatile. Rather than carry around 10 different discs, they can carry a couple of different Blue-Kotes and be ready for any job. That is the main goal for most of our products. The customer knows they’re going to get an aggressive, long-lasting and versatile product.”
Always focused on addressing versatility, Lawson recently released a flap disc for aluminum. While the original Blue-Kote discs work with a variety of materials, including aluminum, the new Blue-Kote soft material application flap discs are specific for aluminum and nonferrous metals.
Because aluminum has a much lower melting temperature than other metals, keeping aluminum cool while grinding and finishing is a big challenge for welders and fabricators. The new discs keep the work surface temperature low for quality finishing.
Lawson is able to achieve lower temperatures because of how the flap discs are manufactured: from an aluminum oxide grain that is layered in a specially engineered net structure. The non-loading net structure keeps the material cooler and prevents loading.
“Aluminum is a very gummy, soft material,” Sturino says. “When working with aluminum, many abrasive discs tend to clog or load, reducing the performance and overall life of the product.”
Instead of a standard resin fiber disc where the coating is on top of paper, the new flap discs’ net structure is open, almost like a mesh. The open structure allows the disc to remove material fast while running cooler, reducing clogging or loading.
Heat buildup is the No. 1 problem that negatively impacts the overall performance of abrasive products.
“Anytime you can reduce heat and run cooler, the result will be a longer lasting, better performing product,” Sturino says.
As aluminum becomes increasingly popular in metalworking applications, new ways of approaching it are being developed. The net structure design, which is new to the market, is a good example of that.
Applications and industries include automotive and body shops, metal fabrication, agriculture, aviation, construction, energy, shipbuilding and mass transportation. Pre- and post-weld operations are a common use. And as aluminum is used more in the automotive industry – such as with the all-aluminum Ford F-150 body – there will be a need for efficient tools for doing repairs and modifications. Under its Kent Automotive brand, Lawson provides collision and mechanical repair products to the automotive aftermarket, as well.
Sturino and the team at Lawson are excited about the new Blue-Kote soft material application flap discs. They see a lot of current applications and also many future possibilities for the product as aluminum becomes even more popular.
“We know our aluminum disc is going to be used in the MRO field,” he says. “It’s a good problem solver for so many of our customers.”