According to Pete Sartain, Mirka UK’s national sales manager, industrial, when it comes to creating sustainable solutions that are at the very forefront of innovation, the company continues to focus on what matters - its customers.
Surface preparation and abrasives specialist, Mirka has been helping its customers with their finishing touches for more than three decades.
With the clear objective of partnering with customers to develop the correct configuration of abrasive and machine operating parameters that optimise processes and provide cost savings, the company uses its coated, non-woven and dust-free sanding products to provide surface finishing solutions that cater for both individual operations and complete sanding systems. Mirka’s product range covers abrasives for the widest range of applications within the composites manufacturing sector, from the grinding of glass fibre-reinforced polyester and the sanding of contoured surfaces and moulds to polishing composite surfaces.
Q) Firstly, please bring me up to speed with your latest news regarding appointments, new equipment purchases and facility upgrades?
Mirka is a diverse and dynamic company with thousands of employees across the world, so we always invest time and resources to find the right new people. At our production centre in Finland, the teams have been innovating on a new manufacturing line that uses cutting-edge technology to move away from decades of old heating techniques and begin a new era of fast and sustainable production.
In the UK, our training centre is now fully open after temporary closure due to Covid-19 restrictions. Our cobot sanding heads are generating considerable interest in the marketplace, as the appeal appears to be the ability to work alongside the workforce to improve production and profitability.
Q) What kinds of demands are placed on you by your customers and how do your products help them overcome any technical hurdles?
At Mirka, the challenge does not come from our competitors but from our customers. They ask us how they can reduce dust, lower HAVS and increase performance and we focus on creating product solutions to match these needs. We have recently introduced new tools for cordless polishing and large area sanding; we have increased our range of polishing compounds to offer simple-to-follow, highly effective processes to the marine industry; and we are set to launch a new abrasive that represents years of development.
Our new range of polishing compounds has proved particularly popular with our marine composite customers, offering a simple process to achieve the ultimate finish. At Mirka, we believe it’s not about the products but about the process you use to achieve the finish, so we offer the complete solution backed up by a technical field sales team.
Q) Can you provide any typical customer success examples where your products have particularly shone above and beyond those of similar competitor offerings?
Our comprehensive Mirka AIROS range of electric sanding and polishing heads allow customers to look at a single robot for multiple sanding applications. Combined with our knowledge of surface finishing processes and our award-winning abrasives, this really gives our customers confidence in making Mirka part of their automation projects.
Q) Do you employ any levels of automation using robotics in your equipment to achieve better accuracy, repeatability and reduction in health & safety issues?
At our main production site in Jeppo, Finland, robots have been helping move large items around the factory for years, and we are continuing to invest in automation to improve manufacturing. Mirka is also focused on supporting the large-scale introduction of robotic sanding to the industry through our new AIROS line of sanders, and a partnership with cobot manufacturer Universal Robots. Our cobot sanding solutions offer the ability to work alongside the workforce while taking away some of the day-to-day potential exposure to the health and safety issues surrounding HAVS, RSI, etc.
Q) With your myMirka App in mind, how well has Mirka aligned itself to digitalisation and the growing influence of Industry 4.0?
Mirka has always responded to customers’ requirements, and we have identified they need more comprehensive digital solutions than ever before. The MyMirka app is continually evolving to match these requirements, and we have plans for significant future updates to make large-scale tool management even easier. Mirka has also invested heavily in a new online portal to help our distributors gain quick access to product and stock information which further improves the customer experience.
Smart technology is a growing technology, and we are continually working with our customers to further develop the offering particularly in large scale production areas.
Q) What kinds of R&D has Mirka invested in to bring products to market?
Mirka has always invested heavily in R&D as it’s the lifeblood of the company. The key has always been to understand the demands of the marketplace, have good communication with our customers and listen to feedback. We can’t discuss everything we’re working on here, but you can rest assured that the next generation of Mirka abrasives and tools will continue to lead the market in performance and design.
Q) What differentiates your company from the competition - why should a customer use you over your nearest rival?
Unrivalled technical support, a true knowledge of the market demands and production needs. We’re not here to make a fast buck, and we don’t shelf stack. We’re looking for long term B2B relationships where it’s a win-win for both Mirka and our customers.
True innovation is imperative to Mirka. Over the years the competition has copied our products as patents expire and we consider this a true testament to how good we are and how high quality the products we offer are in delivering the best performance. Challenging the status quo will always be more difficult but it also reaps the highest rewards, and our customers understand what the Mirka brand stands for in the market; we are leaders and innovators in the field.
Q) What do you feel are the most important assets of a company?
It’s a combination of factors. A key focus is our commitment to gain a deeper understanding of the markets and production techniques which we serve, not just to acquire a brief overview. Expertise is then aligned with this knowledge. So, we not only need to be experts in our products but also experts in the markets in which we operate. This has been the key to our success for many years.
Q) What composites-related surface finishing developments will we be seeing in the future?
The recently launched Mirka Abranet Max Flap discs are ideal for use on composites as they deliver a high performance without clogging or overheating, which is perfect for trimming and deburring operations. From a surface perspective, the growth of graphene enhanced carbon fibre-reinforced polymers, particularly in the aerospace, wind turbine and automotive sectors presents some challenges, but also opportunities for development of new surface finishing processes.
Q) What particular aspect has helped your company get through the pandemic?
Mirka operates a sustainable business with controlled operating costs and sensible investment, so when the global demand dropped in 2020 we were proud to be able to offer all our employees stability and support. We adapted to working from home and ensured all our staff had the necessary equipment and skills to successfully move from face-to-face to video and telephone meetings. In many ways we are more effective and organised as a result, though we’re all a little bored of home-made cheese sandwiches for lunch!
Q) What kind of industry landscape are we facing now that everything is getting back to normal?
Many of our team spent a considerable time working from home which we treated as a learning exercise, brushing up on our technical knowledge, and becoming more efficient with our time. Some of the changes we implemented will remain in place to enable to us to become even more effective and to continue to offer the highest levels of service to our customers.
The great thing about this industry is the resilience and determination of both customers and manufacturers to continue creating world-leading products. Sanding and polishing will always be a crucial part of the process and Mirka will continue to develop essential solutions. We will meet our customers on Microsoft Teams where necessary, and face-to-face where appropriate. We also plan to offer more comprehensive online information to allow customers to get help any time of day.
So, ‘ever-changing’ is the best way I can describe the industry landscape. Our automotive industry faces the biggest change in its history in terms of production with the move from the combustion engine to electric. Although the general design and build of a car will remain similar, it’s clear manufacturers are taking this opportunity to take a big leap forward in technology offering what might be called Smart Vehicles equipped with the very latest technology.
Q) Have your long-standing partnerships brought huge benefits, particularly as trusted relationships can lead to a better way forward for all?
We are an honest and open company. Our partners know we are committed to working with them effectively to find solutions to their issues and challenges, and that we truly value the link they provide to end users. It’s a working partnership that has shown superb growth for both parties over many years.
Q) Finally, where to next for your company?
The sky’s the limit. We will continue to focus on what matters - our customers. We understand there are competitors out there who want a slice of our business, but we remain focused on our goals and aspirations. We are responsible, committed, innovative and respectful. We create sustainable solutions that are at the forefront of innovation.