More than half of the metal fabricating industry works with carbon steel, aluminum and other softer-to-grind metals. Of those fabricators, the bulk of them perform some level of material removal – typically with a right-angle grinder – be it deburring, simple finishing, rust removal, blending or knocking off a weld.
What seems like a simple task, however, is complicated by the number of abrasive products available on the market. There are grinding wheels, fiber discs, flap discs, non-woven abrasives, carbide burrs and wire brushes, among others. The list is extensive and includes a myriad of sizes, brands and price points.
No matter the application, the overriding goal is to use an abrasive that offers ease of use, high cut rates, great ergonomics and extended life. For softer-to-grind metals in particular, fiber discs check all of the boxes. Their success is based on the way they are constructed: The abrasive grain is the foundation providing fast cutting action and long life. In addition, fiber discs have a thick and rigid backing for additional strength and tear resistance.
Building on the success that fiber discs have had on softer-to-grind materials, Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives introduced its Norton BlazeX F970 fiber discs as an extension of the company’s Blaze product line. Patrick Carroll, the company’s senior product manager for MRO, says that in the world of abrasive products, fiber discs, and Norton’s BlazeX F970 in particular, land right in the sweet spot of characteristics required for successful right-angle grinding on carbon steel and other softer-to-grind metals.
“A fiber disc can be used for heavy stock removal all the way to surface blending,” Carroll says. “For, right-angle grinding, heavy stock removal and surface blending on softer-to-grind metals, the BlazeX abrasive technology is incredibly effective.”
In addition to the technology found in this fiber disc – the exposure of the abrasive grains as well as the rigid backing – BlazeX discs don’t have a grinding aid, which makes them ideal for softer-to-grind metals. Typically, grinding aids are included to reduce heat at the point of contact, which is helpful for stainless steel applications and other harder-to-grind materials.
Using a fiber disc with a grinding aid on softer-to-grind materials still works, but the disc would have a tendency to glaze over, reducing the removal rate. And, the operator would have to apply more pressure to achieve the same results.
The BlazeX F970 is also “over graded,” which means that a 36-grit disc, for example, is actually a little bit coarser than that. Carroll says that the extra bite, so to speak, makes it easier to use and longer lasting.
“It removes material in a way that’s operator friendly because it’s coarser acting and has a firmer fiber backing,” he says. “That provides added stability, which is helpful on both a soft- or hard-to-grind material.”
In terms of its broad appeal, the BlazeX F970 disc is used across a wide range of applications and industries – everything from MRO and metal fabrication to welding, oil and gas, energy and shipbuilding. They are available in four key grits (36, 50, 60 and 80) and come in three sizes (4 1/2 in., 5 in. and 7 in.). They are also made in America, which is a major selling point for companies looking to reshore their materials and supplies.
Practice Makes Perfect
To get the best use out of a BlazeX disc, there are best practices to follow. Long before perfecting those methods, however, users quickly discover how easy it is to use. Part of that is due to the disc’s light weight and tendency to produce minimal vibrations.
“When you compare the new Norton fiber discs to a depressed center wheel, for example, weight is one of the biggest differentiators,” Carroll says. “Depressed center wheels have a heavier substrate, which increases the chances for gouging and digging in. And even though the Norton discs have a lighter substrate, they are still able to provide similar metal removal rates.”
In terms of best practices, Carroll says that there is a proper pressure to apply to the surface of the material, but that determining the level of pressure will vary from operator to operator. He also says that there is a tendency for some people to use a disc on its edge, but that a flatter angle might result in better results.
“There’s a tendency for operators to dig in at a part with a 20-degree angle, but we recommend they put it a little flatter,” he explains. “With a 5- to 15-degree angle, users won’t experience digging, burning and possible chipping that is more prevalent at steeper angles. And considering that these habits are hard to break, they are a big part of the education and teaching that our sales team does when they’re out in the field.”
In terms of providing effective on-site training, Carroll says that Norton staff undergo months of training before they get their first sales assignment. During customer conversations, topics include productivity projections as well as cost considerations. Additionally, Norton offers test kits that include a box of the BlazeX F970 and Blaze F980 fiber discs for potential customers to see how the two differ and perform.
Price vs. Productivity
There was a time when abrasives were considered a consumable where the goal was to find the lowest priced product that would do the job. Today, however, customers are more open to the idea of a higher priced product – as long as it delivers the productivity perks it promises, of course. Relaying that concept to customers is a big part of the education that the Norton team delivers.
“The move to best-tier products has been accelerating over the years,” Carroll says. “Part of that is based on proven results and part of it is based on the ever-changing workforce. A lighter weight product is much easier to use no matter the gender or size of the operator.”
Additionally, when employees are dealing with premium products that are ergonomic and easier to use, the overall work experience is substantially better. Considering the difficulty for finding and retaining quality staff, employers should consider upgrading to something like a BlazeX disc. Employees will be happier and quality will, ultimately, be higher.
“You have to provide tools that are much more user friendly,” Carroll adds. “Saint-Gobain understands that, and we’re pushing our technologies to deliver better ergonomics, freer cuts and longer life.”
Whether the intended purpose is rust removal, weld prep, or enhanced cleaning and detailing for better finishes, there is a good argument for seeking out top-tier products. And whether businesses are in MRO, metal fabrication, welding, oil and gas, energy or shipbuilding, high-quality results run the gamut. As just one example, operators at a large metal fabrication shop found increased productivity and reduced effort during grinding after switching from a competitor’s ceramic fiber disc to Norton’s BlazeX F970 disc.
In addition to the productivity increases, the company reported abrasive savings in the range of 15 percent.