Abrasive Products

SIC 3291

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This classification covers companies that primarily make abrasive grinding wheels of natural or synthetic materials, abrasive-coated products, and other abrasive products. Companies cutting grindstones, pulpstones, and whetstones at the quarry are classified under mining industries.

Industry Snapshot

According to Dun & Bradstreet, there were an estimated 617 companies that primarily made abrasive grinding wheels of natural or synthetic materials, abrasive-coated products, and other abrasive products in 2010. Total sales reached $1 billion. The majority of companies were located in California, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Diamonds, corundum, garnet, pumice, talc, quartz, sandstone, and certain vegetable fibers are some of the natural abrasives used in the manufacture of abrasive products. Synthetic abrasives, which were invented by Edward G. Acheson in 1891, include silicon carbide (also known as carborundum), aluminum oxide, and boron carbide. Aluminum oxide, produced from bauxite, is used to cut hard metals, while boron carbide is one of the hardest abrasives.

Organization and Structure

The top four types of abrasive products by product share were nonmetallic coated abrasive products and buffing and polishing wheels; nonmetallic abrasive products, including diamond abrasives; nonmetallic sized grains, powders, and flour abrasives; and other nonmetallic shapes, coated or impregnated with any natural or artificial abrasive material, cloth-resin, and waterproof bond.

The largest organization serving the industry is the Abrasive Engineering Society (AES), known as the American Society for Abrasive Methods until 1975 and headquartered in Butler, Pennsylvania. The society was founded in 1957 and had 400 members in the late 2000s. In addition to an annual technical conference and semiannual educational seminars, AES publishes the quarterly AES Magazine, with a circulation of 3,000, and promotes the exchange of technical information about abrasive materials and their uses. The industry also is served by a number of smaller organizations, including the Grinding Wheel Institute, the Abrasive Grain Association of Cleveland, the Coated Abrasives Fabricators Association, the Diamond Wheel Manufacturers Association, and the Association of Electroplaters and Surface Finishers.

Background and Development

Abrasives have been vital to making metal products since the earliest days of metallurgy in ancient times, but the modern abrasive products industry grew out of the technical developments of the late nineteenth century. These developments involved not only abrasives but also the binders used to create bonded abrasive products.

A key development for the industry was the invention of synthetic abrasives. In 1891, Edward G. Acheson synthesized silicon carbide, the first synthetic abrasive grain to attain broad commercial success. Fused aluminum oxide abrasives, pioneered by C. B. Jacobs in the 1890s, became a commercial product by 1904. The naturally occurring corundum, garnet, and diamond, combined with the synthetic silicon carbide and fused aluminum oxide to dominate the abrasive products market through the 1930s. In 1938, a new technique for producing aluminum oxide was developed, resulting in the most successful abrasive grain for precision grinding that existed to that time. In the 1950s, aluminum oxides were produced by nonfusion methods. Fused mixtures of aluminum and zirconium oxides also became commercially viable.

Diamonds gained widespread use as abrasives in the 1930s as a result of the creation of the first bonded wheels that used industrial diamonds. Their use was accelerated by the need for a very hard abrasive to grind tungsten carbide, which became important in the 1930s. Synthetic diamonds were produced in 1960 by General Electric. Along with cubic boron nitride, diamonds comprised the hardest class of abrasives, known as superabrasives.

In 1987 aluminum oxide and silicon carbide, the oldest synthetic abrasives, led industry output, with $104 million and $51 million in value consumed, respectively. Ranking next in order of value of materials used were natural abrasive materials ($30 million), diamond ($27 million), aluminum-zirconium oxide ($23 million), and cubic boron nitride ($7 million).

The development of binders for bonded abrasive products, including grinding and buffing wheels and flexible abrasives like sandpaper, were as important as the development of synthetic fibers. Rubber was used to bond abrasives for grinding wheels in the 1850s. Sand, corundum, and diamond bonded by shellac were used to make grinding wheels in India in the early nineteenth century. The shellac process was used by the Waltham Emery Wheel Company. Rubber and shellac remained the only organic binders until synthetic resins were made beginning in the 1920s.

Inorganic binders were developed in the late nineteenth century to simulate the properties of sandstone. Key among these were vitrified products commercialized by the Norton Co. of Massachusetts in the late 1800s. In addition to these binders, so-called "active" fillers were used to make grinding wheels. Active fillers enabled cooler grinding and increased wheel porosity, and they increased the uses for grinding wheels.

At the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century, abrasive product shipments decreased, reflecting the recessionary economic climate. Among the abrasive materials that showed weakness during the 1990s were fused aluminum oxides and metallic abrasives. The use of silicon carbides, aluminum-zirconium oxides, and superabrasives was strong, with the most dramatic growth being reported for sales of superabrasives. U.S. firms lagged behind the European and Far Eastern competition in using high-technology superabrasives. Shipments in 1999 declined to $4.36 billion and fell again in 2000 to $4.07 billion. In 2002 products in this industry were valued at $3.3 billion, with values increasing slightly in 2003 to $3.4 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2005 product shipments were valued at $3.69 billion. Several new high-tech superabrasives, including aluminum oxide, cerium oxide, and silicon carbide, began to gain popularity in the United States in the early years of the first decade of the 2000s. However, the industry had to continue to familiarize customers with these products. By the middle of the decade, abrasives made with a combination of stainless steel and white aluminum oxide were contaminant free and were marketed for use in the stainless steel and food markets.

Of the companies in this industry, those manufacturing abrasive products controlled one-third of the market. At the end of the first decade of the 2000s, shipments for this segment totaled almost $291 million. Manufacturers of abrasive metal and steel products shipped $81.2 million in goods, representing 13.5 percent of the market, and abrasive wheel manufacturers shipped $302.2 million in products.

At the end of the first decade of the 2000s, most of the top firms in the industry were subsidiaries and divisions of larger firms, and the remaining were private companies. Each of the industry's top companies generated more than $10 million in sales and employed 100 or more workers.

Current Conditions

According to Hoover's Industry Reports, sales in the early 2010s in the abrasives products industry was driven by the demand for manufactured industrial products. To successfully compete in this industry, large abrasive manufacturers made significant investments in technology, while small companies focused on making abrasive products for specialized manufacturing tasks. Hoover's reported that imports accounted for about 25 percent of the U.S. abrasive products industry in 2010, with most imports coming from China, Canada, and Germany. Exports, on the other hand, accounted for only about 15 percent of U.S. production, with most products shipped to Canada, Mexico, and Germany.

Ceramic Industry reported on December 8, 2010, that the results of a Freedonia Group study showed that domestic demand for abrasives was expected to reach $5.7 billion by 2014, increasing about 4 percent annually as the U.S. economy recovered from the recession that had its beginnings in late 2007. The manufacture of durable goods was expected to continue to represent the majority of demand in the abrasives market, accounting for 74 percent of demand by 2014, with the manufacture of auto parts representing the strongest gains. Other markets that were projected to record increases in demand for abrasives included metals and machinery for capital equipment and the construction industry.

Industry Leaders

The leader in the U.S. abrasives industry was Saint-Gobain Abrasives Inc. of Worcester, Massachusetts, a subsidiary of France's Compagnie de Saint-Gobain. The division had 11,446 employees in 2010, and annual revenues were around $820 million. In addition to being the world's leading manufacturer of abrasives, Saint-Gobain Abrasives produces ceramics, plastics, and chemical process products. The abrasives division was the former Norton Co., which was founded in 1885 and had been acquired in July 1990 by Saint-Gobain when it bought a majority share of the U.S. company's common shares. The French firm also owned Norton-affiliated makers of abrasives and ceramics in Australia, Bermuda, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Norway, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Brazil. Saint-Gobain restructured the Norton Co., including $50 million in modernization investments over three years.

Saint-Gobain reported decreasing sales in the majority of its operating units worldwide during 2009 after reporting revenues of $33 billion in 2008. U.S. sales fell 15.1 percent as the construction and industrial markets remained sluggish. As the company waited for the economy to improve, it remained committed to research and technology, specifically in the areas of "energy efficiency and solar technologies," according to Ceramic Industry on July 29, 2009.

Workforce

From a high of 17,500 production workers in 1984, employment levels in the abrasive products industry followed a general downward trend. In 2005 the industry reported 14,384 employees, down from 16,914 workers in 2002. The workforce continued to shrink, falling to 13,715 by 2008 before dropping further in 2009 to 11,306, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of the people employed by the industry in 2009, 69 percent were production workers.

Research and Technology

Much of the research and new technical developments in the industry were related to the increased importance of superabrasives. Superabrasives developments included the use of chemical vapor deposition for optimal bonding of diamond coatings. Flexible-belt superabrasive products were advocated over bonded-wheel superabrasives for grinding ceramics because flexible products were less likely to chip and crack ceramics.

Additional areas of technical development for the industry included improvements in coated (sandpaper-like) abrasives, such as new backings, adhesives, grains and joint designs (for belt abrasives), as well as the use of cushioned belts. These improvements made coated abrasives faster and more economical than traditional grinding and cutting techniques for many applications. Substantial research also was undertaken to improve liquid coolants and lubricants used in many grinding operations.

By the early twenty-first century, gains in research and technology had enabled the production of more manufactured minerals for use in the abrasive products industry. By 2010 the raw materials used in the abrasives industry were increasingly from manufactured minerals, such as manufactured diamond and cubic boron nitride, as opposed to natural raw minerals that had traditionally been used for abrasives, such as silica sand and pumice. According to the December 8, 2010 issue of Ceramic Industry, "These [manufactured] materials offer increased productivity (e.g., they last longer than conventional materials, thus requiring fewer changeovers) and improved operating efficiency." Demand for natural minerals declined due to the availability of these better-performing manufactured alternatives.

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News and information about Abrasive Products

Wipo Publishes Patent of Societe Europeenne D'abrasifs for "Packaging for Abrasive Products" (French Inventors)
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; November 26, 2017; 412 words
...Nov. 23.Title of the invention: "PACKAGING FOR ABRASIVE PRODUCTS."Applicants: SOCIETE EUROPEENNE D'ABRASIFS...Organization: "The invention relates to packaging for abrasive products, such as sheets 2 under a heat-shrink wrapping...
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US Fed News Service, Including US State News; May 9, 2016; 442 words
...May 9 -- Publication No. WO/2016/066924 was published on May 6.Title of the invention: "PACKAGING OF ABRASIVE PRODUCTS IN A BUNDLE OF A PLURALITY OF SHEETS."Applicants: SOCIETE EUROPEENNE D'ABRASIFS "SEA ABRASIFS" (FR).Inventors...
US Patent Issued to Saint-Gobain Abrasives, Saint-Gobain Abrasifs on April 26 for "Abrasive Products and Methods for Finishing Coated Surfaces" (Massachusetts Inventors)
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; April 27, 2016; 442 words
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US Patent Issued to Bamberger Kaliko Textile Finishing on July 15 for "Composite Material for Further Processing into Sheet-Like Abrasive Products and Process for the Production Thereof" (German Inventors)
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; July 15, 2014; 453 words
...material for further processing into sheet-like abrasive products and process for the production thereof" was invented...suitable to be processed further into sheet-like abrasive products, comprising a sheet-like supporting base coated...
Delivery of Abrasive Products, Rubber, Plastics, Upholstery
Mena Report; June 19, 2014; 349 words
Contract notice: Delivery of abrasive products, rubber, plastics, upholstery, wood products cut and electrical accessories for jw 4224 walcz. The contract is for the provision...
Research and Markets Adds Report: Global; Abrasives, Superabrasives, & Abrasive Products Market Forecasts & Opportunities 2014-2018
Health & Beauty Close-Up; April 22, 2014; 512 words
...Markets has announced the addition of Dedalus Consulting Inc's new report "Global; Abrasives, Superabrasives, & Abrasive Products Market Forecasts & Opportunities 2014-2018" to its offerings. In a release, Research and Markets noted that...
US Patent Issued to SAINT-GOBAIN ABRASIVES on Jan. 26 for "Abrasive Products Having Fibrillated Fibers" (New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts Inventors)
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; January 27, 2016; 403 words
...9,242,346, issued on Jan. 26, was assigned to SAINT-GOBAIN ABRASIVES INC. (Worcester, Mass.)."Abrasive products having fibrillated fibers" was invented by Anthony C. Gaeta (Lockport, N.Y.), Anuj Seth (Northborough...
US Patent Issued to Saint-Gobain Abrasives, Saint-Gobain Abrasifs on March 3 for "Abrasive Products and Methods for Fine Polishing of Ophthalmic Lenses" (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania Inventors)
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; March 5, 2015; 423 words
...Abrasives Inc. (Worcester, Mass.) and Saint-Gobain Abrasifs (Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France)."Abrasive products and methods for fine polishing of ophthalmic lenses" was invented by James J. Manning (Braintree, Mass...

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