Part one

Wide belt sanders are primarily deployed for the sanding of solid wood and veneered surfaces and is the term for sanders of more than 400mm width. As there are numerous suppliers of wide belt sanding machines, so too is there a choice of wide belt sanding materials to use on those machines.

Of course, it is not simply a case of strapping the belt on and waiting for magic to happen, the science and know-how of sanding is something that many manufacturers will struggle with. So what are some of the the options available today?

I travelled to Milton Keynes to discuss all things abrasives with Peter Sartain, sales manager industrial for Mirka

Going back a decade or two, wide belt sanders were the preserve of topline firms such as Ducal, Ercol, Jaydee, Stag and so on, but nowadays, wide belt sanders are more commonplace and seen as an integral element of the finishing operation of solid wood furniture and components, veneered panels – and increasingly other materials too.

Machines typically costs in the region of £15,000 to over £300,000. As such, manufacturers look to maximise and rationalise due to the myriad options on offer. Peter tells me that there are over 500 different sizes of belts to suit machines and between five and 10 grit which makes it a bewlidering choice to all but the very experienced.

Mirka believes its important to have the best product to do the job efficiently and so would not recommend using cheap or inappropriate belts on any machine, let alone one costing over hundreds of thousands of Pounds.

Mirka has a team of six sales people, led by Peter, who are devoted to the industrial side of the business covering the UK & Ireland. Between them they boast a wealth of experience in wide belt sanding. All of them have attended the Mirka Academy in Finland and are fully trained to advise customers of the correct product selection, feed and speed rates, stock removal, how to increase production rates and resolve finishing issues and problems – basically, how to get the most from the wide belt sander and advise how to achieve cost reductions.

Of course, there are cheaper (and cheap) belts in the marketplace – looking to gain market share simply by being less expensive – but in Peter’s experience, this rarely makes sense for the business.

“Mirka has a range of efficient solutions for all wide belt sanding applications: from heavy sanding and calibration work to general hard- and softwood sanding through to intermediate sanding of primed, painted and lacquered material,” explains Peter.

There are numerous examples of furniture and joinery firms which strongly suggest that Mirka’s products are a cut above the norm, but what are the typical day-to-day issues that manufacturers encounter with wide belt sanding?

“In the field, we are confronted on a regular basis by a range of problems ranging from inadequate operator training – which is all too common – to incorrect products and grit sequences being used; belt and machine breakages due to incorrect machine set-up which leaves operators unable to obtain desired finish, and of course,  marking and burning issues.

“These problems often result in poor production processes and endless rectification, all of which reduces the effectiveness of a crucial part of the manufacturing operation,” explans Peter.

And that is what sets Mirka apart. As with many top firms, a dedication to research, development and testing – in order to create the best solutions and getting them to market in a professional manner – all costs money.

So it is a matter fo looking at the bigger picture and understanding that setting up production first time correctly, is a better bet than repeated problems and failure.

"If a smooth sanding operation is something your business finds elusive, check what belts are being strapped on and how they are being deployed," says Peter. "Cutting corners with relatively inexpensive service items is akin to putting remould tyres on a Ferrari, you just wouldn’t do it really, would you?"

Next month, we’ll look at typical wide belt sanding issues and how to identify what’s going wrong – and how to fix it.