Neil Newbrook, business sector manager wood for Mirka UK shares his insight with editor John Legg on the trends of the sanding and abrasives market.

How would summarise the sanding and extraction tools market today – and what’s Mirka’s medium-term outlook?

The UK Health and Safety Executive has significantly increased the number of inspections at woodworking sites in the last year or so, specifically looking at dust extraction. There are very serious medical implications caused by dust inhalation, and it is an urgent responsibility to reduce these risks. Sanding processes generate a lot of dust which is why Mirka has placed dust effective extraction at the heart of our wood sector strategy for the last 30 years.

The key to dust extraction is having enough holes in the surface of the abrasive to allow dust to pass through and into the extraction unit. Mirka® Abranet was the first abrasive to use mesh technology to maximise dust extraction and the second-generation version, called Abranet® ACE, has improved this further. Even our non-net discs such as Galaxy and Iridium have innovative dust extraction features due to their multi-hole pattern.

As always Mirka is constantly looking into new developments, and we have some exciting projects in the pipeline.

"Mirka Abranet was the first abrasive to use mesh technology to maximise dust extraction and the second- generation version, called Abranet ACE, has improved this further"

What are the main trends in the wide-belt abrasives segment?

The star product for us is Ultimax. This abrasive features a series of tiny cavities designed into the abrasive material which work efficiently to prevent clogging. Its innovative technology, along with special abrasive grains, produces aggressive performance and excellent edge wear resistance while keeping the sanding surface cool. The combination of these features ensures a longer lifespan and reduced material usage per job.

There are two key issues that our customers are concerned about. The first is a need for a consistent high-quality finish. This is because with new substrates and coating systems, very smooth surfaces are achieved, creating a risk for visible micro dentations that the end user wants to eradicate, so businesses are looking for alternative abrasives apart from paper, film and cloth that can do this. One option is ‘soft- touch’ abrasives and like any good business, our research and development team is doing the work behind the scenes to ensure the customer has access to the products that meet Mirka’s high standards and the needs of the end user.

Neil Newbrook, business sector manager wood for Mirka UK

The second is sustainability. This push comes in the form of the EU wanting sanding tools and abrasives to be long lasting. To address sustainability, Mirka is constantly investing in research and development to ensure its customers, whether they are using wide belts or other abrasives from our product portfolio, have access to products that have a long lifespan and provide a consistent cut from the first use to the last.

Mirka’s vision over 15 years ago was to research and invest in sustainable technology, and, as a result, new products have been launched to meet the upcoming EU Green Deal as well as for belt sanding. This investment is here to stay and will lead to customers moving away from the ‘cheap’ abrasives, which are typically constructed from lesser quality raw materials and affect the quality of the finish and the time taken to complete a job.

When it comes to products in development there are some in the pipeline your readers will have to wait until they are launched to find out more.

Looking at automation, Mirka has established itself as a reliable partner in this space, what further developments and collaborations are you looking at moving forwards?

As robotics and processes are continuing to evolve, we are seeing users looking for a complete solution for automated manufacturing processes. To ensure we can provide this our robotics line-up launched with the Mirka AIROS and has now grown with the addition of the Mirka AIOS sanding head and the Mirka AIROP polishing head and we are now seen as the market leader in this area.

In addition, the developments in the line-up have opened doors to new business and we are constantly looking to evolve the offering to ensure we meet the needs and requirements of the users.

Alongside this, we are seen as a reliable partner for several reasons. The first is that our technical team is regularly talking to customers about their automated processes, so we can provide them with the right tool for the job. The second, and probably most important, is that our tools help businesses increase the efficiency of their processes, which, in turn, increases their production levels.

Mirka’s sanders and polishers

With a restructured sales team in place, how is the ‘boots on the ground’ agenda working for Mirka customers?

We believe it’s important to maintain contact with the customers that use our products on a day-to-day basis or new customers that are thinking of adding Mirka products to their inventory and having ‘boots on the ground’ allows us to do this.

It has served us well and we have gained the respect of the joinery and furniture companies in the UK by being able to visit them in their workshops and showcase relevant products and how they are best employed to ensure the highest possible end result.

Mirka’s first-class sales training facility has been enjoying regular use by clients from across the furniture and joinery sector - how has worked out for your customers and how have the sessions evolved since this facility was set up?

Our training centre has been in constant use since it opened its doors in 2018. We see it as an asset for the business and it is a key part of the full service offering we provide our customers. In addition, it enables our team to stay up to date with the latest processes in the furniture and joinery sector.

The sessions we offer are bespoke to customers’ needs and requirements and we work with them to maximise their productivity and the finish they can achieve. This ensures that when they go back to their site, their team has the necessary knowledge and skills to complete the processes using our products.

Outside of the training facility, where and when can customers catch up with Mirka to find out what’s happening and where Mirka is looking towards?

The obvious answer as to where customers, whether they are current or new, can catch up with what is going on at Mirka is through our experienced technical team who can be contacted by emailing, our various social media accounts and at shows we will be attending throughout the year.