Grinding It Out

Yes, price always matters. But these days, cost savings is what matters more.

This artcile first appeared in the March/April issue of ID. View it here.

Abrasives manufacturers cite extended use as the primary driver of purchases these days, even if the costs at the outset are a bit higher. 

Yes, price always matters. But these days, cost savings is what matters more.

At least that’s what manufacturers of abrasives are hearing from their customers lately. Mike Saraf, Director of Sales and Marketing for Flexovit USA, says the prevailing attitude in today’s abrasives market is that customers are willing to spend a little bit more to purchase a product, so long as they are assured it is well made and capable of doing the job for an extended period of time.

“We can sell our customers a (grinding) wheel where they pay 20 percent more,” says Saraf. “But they are going to realize a 40 percent cost savings because the wheel is going to last twice as long.”

But lip service is hardly enough. Companies like Flexovit USA and Saint Gobain Abrasives must be diligent in their efforts to identify the proper abrasives for each customer and give them – at the very least – an educated and accurate estimate of cost savings. This can be done in a number of ways.

For example, Flexovit USA generates a report for the customer that calculates cost savings based on expected unit quantities of each type of wheel. Meanwhile, Saint Gobain offers a Process Solutions Program. This gives a technical assessment of the entire grinding process at the customer’s facility and suggests the best products and processes for cost savings.

Manufacturing Innovation

However, in order for the cost savings to be realized, the product must perform up to par. Makers of abrasives are constantly looking into the latest relevant technology to see if it will contribute positively to the manufacturing process.

Flexovit USA began incorporating automation into its own manufacturing process about five years ago, and its advantages are certainly not lost on Saraf.

“You take the human factor out of the mixing and all of the elements that go into creating a grinding wheel and you are guaranteed to end up with a consistent product time and again,” he says. “So we’re always looking at whatever technology is available, whether that’s robotics or new mixing equipment, we’re always looking. Then we implement what we think is necessary at the time.”

When it comes to the manufacturing process, one factor is of the utmost performance to Flexovit USA — even if it means a little more work on the front end.

“It’s really about looking for the best raw materials that we know are going to be consistent when we receive them at our door,” says Saraf. “That results in getting the consistent finished goods out the door.”

According to Lori Mata, Market Manager, Industrial Distribution, for Saint Gobain Abrasives, the latest machine technology also assists with improving productivity, quality, safety, and cost.

SGA also has a state-of-the-art R&D center that allows its engineers to analyze and solve grinding problems for its end-user customers and provide a complete abrasive product offering.

“SGA’s internal R&D group understands the grinding process,” says Mata. “When the need develops, we are able to create grains and bonds that work for our customers.”

Distributor Relationships

Working more effectively with distributors is also at or near the top of the priority list for companies like Flexovit USA and SGA.

According to Saraf, strong relationships with the members of a small, select group of distributors have paid off.

“We have very select distribution, and distributors like that because there are more profit dollars in it for them and they aren’t worrying about the guy right down the street,” says Saraf.

Meanwhile, Saint Gobain also recognizes the value in catering to the needs of its distributors.

“Our distributors are asking for smaller package quantities, 24-48 delivery of stock product, and single bracket pricing,” says Mata. “They also want better web-ready product content, images, and marketing video.”

Marketing is also an area Flexovit USA is starting to see as a valuable tool for future success, as the company plans to develop a more focused marketing effort in order to reach new customers.

“Let’s just say we’re just going to show our face a lot more than we have in the past,” says Saraf.