Before he joined Virginia Abrasives in 1988, Spencer Perkins, the company’s president, thought the process for making sandpaper had to be easy — there’s paper, glue and sand. How hard can that be? As Perkins has learned, making sandpaper is a science, complete with chemistry and formulas to mix and match paper and cloth backings, resins and grit. “Every sandpaper product you make has its own recipe. There’s a lot more to it than one would think,” he says.
Perkins has been with the company for 21 years, but he maintains a passion and childlike wonder when explaining exactly how sandpaper is made during a tour of the manufacturing facility. He also introduces each employee by first name.
“It starts with paper or cloth that becomes the material the sandpaper will be coated on. It goes through a print press that prints our name on the back or private branding. We put the name of company, what grit, batch code and the date it was made. Then resin is applied to the face of the product. It runs around a roll and at the bottom of the roll, there’s a belt underneath you can’t see that has the abrasive grit on it. There’s an electrostatic charge on that roll that attracts the grit on to the resin and orients the grain straight up to make it sharp,” he explains.
Sandpaper is then “cooked” to harden the resin by traversing a series of tunnels before it runs through another set of rolls, where a second coat of resin is applied and then “cured” in ovens. However, when the resin cures, it can be hard and brittle, so a machine is used to flex the sandpaper before it is wrapped around a core, creating “jumbos” that have several hundred yards of usable material.
“You’re basically getting paper wet, so you have to be careful with it because when you get it wet, you don’t want to distort it or pull it. You have to handle it nice and smoothly,” he says. As part of process control, samples are taken at inspection points and sent to the lab to make sure it weighs the right amount and is of a consistent quality.
Jumbos are cut into the four types of sandpaper — rolls, belts, sheets and discs. “One of the things we do mainly for the rental stores is to shrink-wrap the sheets or discs into lots of 10. This way, a rental guy can sell 10 to his customer as opposed to opening a box and counting individual pieces since the customer won’t use a box of 50,” he says.
For belts, the sandpaper from the jumbo is cut to a certain length, lightly abraded so that the spray resin adheres to the backing, taped, hand-tacked and then run under a press to seal it. “Then the edges are trimmed to be exactly the right width and they are nested with 10 in a box to be shipped to the customer,” he says.
The area for finished goods holds a significant amount of inventory so that Virginia Abrasives can live up to its promise to ship orders received prior to 3 p.m. Eastern time on the same day. Based on size, an order can be palletized and stretch wrapped for truck delivery. United Parcel Service (UPS) orders are staged during the day and loaded on a tractor trailer to be picked up by UPS each evening.
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