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Working at height: separating fact from fiction 25/01/2017

Stephen Morris, UK fall protection training sales manager at science-based technology company 3M, debunks some common myths about working at height and offers some surprising facts


When it comes to working at height, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Reasonable-sounding myths abound, while the truth can seem unbelievable.

Myth 1: Any CE-marked PFPE will do

Although widely believed, it is untrue that all CE-marked personal fall protection equipment (PFPE) is necessarily appropriate and safe for all tasks. In reality, CE marking only denotes that PFPE meets minimum legal standards. PFPE should be suitable for both the task and the wearer, not just for compliance. 

For example, the usual EN drop-test for harnesses and lanyards uses a 100kg weight. Some workers may weigh more than this if kitted with boots, tools and equipment.

Some manufacturers do rate their harnesses above minimum standards. Companies should satisfy themselves that the equipment they select fully meets their particular needs.

Fact 1: Even small falls can kill

A surprisingly large number of working at height deaths are the result of falls of less than 2m. The reason most falls this small do not cause death, or even serious injury, is that normally the elbows or knees act as shock absorbers upon hitting the ground. 

Conversely, a person stopped in mid-air by a restraint-only lanyard feels the fall’s full impact, which is greater than many would expect. A 100kg person falling 1m can produce a force of 18kN. PFPE may withstand this, but the body may not.

Companies should carefully consider the various PFPE available for fall arrest, including shock-absorbing lanyards.

Myth 2: All fall protection solutions are universal

Another myth is that there exists a single fall protection solution fit for all purposes. Actually, there are many factors to consider.

These include: the fall clearance (the distance between the anchor point and the surface below); the fall factor (the potential freefall distance allowed by the lanyard); and whether the lanyard or safety line would run over a sharp edge that could cut it. 

If inadequate PFPE is being used, workers may appear to be complying with safety requirements when actually they are at risk. 

Fact 2: The hardest part is making workers go ‘click’

Even the best fall protection equipment is ineffective if not fitted and adjusted properly. Failure to do so can even lead to death. It is imperative that PFPE users are adequately trained in its use, and that work at height is appropriately planned for, managed and supervised. 

Managers should engage with their workers to ensure they are competent and comfortable using their equipment.

Myth 3: Specific training is unnecessary 

The law requires that people working at height are adequately trained. Training should be tailored to workers’ needs, as no two areas of work are identical. A range of height safety training courses exist for different industries and working environments.

3M, for example, offers various standard working at height courses, as well as bespoke solutions. These can be delivered at its training centre near Manchester, or at a customer’s facilities. 

Fact 3: The best method is prevention

When planning projects, companies should first try to avoid the need for working at height altogether. If this is impractical, they should aim to prevent falls from happening, prioritising ‘collective’ protections such as guardrails. If these controls cannot be used, personal work restraint systems can keep workers from falling over unguarded edges. 

The next measure is to limit any fall’s consequences by using personal fall arrest equipment.

As a final safeguard, companies should plan for rescuing workers suspended following a fall, preparing procedures, rescue equipment and training.

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New topics for tea time 12/10/2016

Following its success last year, 3M’s SafeTea Break campaign is back with new material to further improve workplace health and safety.

More than 1800 companies took part in the first initiative, launched in 2015, which aims to encourage health and safety managers to make the most of short periods during the day to educate staff on health and safety topics, including long latency diseases.

The SafeTea Break pack, developed in partnership with Safety Groups UK, is an invaluable toolkit filled with questions and discussion points to engage employees and make them think about key risks to their health and safety at work. 

Following the positive response last year, the science-based technology company has made the pack even better by adding three new topics – Wellbeing; Slips and Trips and Think for 30, which is another 3M developed programme designed to get employees thinking about potential hazards before starting a task. 

Richard Davies, senior marketer at 3M, said: “We were absolutely delighted by the success of the SafeTea Break last year and that so many health and safety managers have found it to be an effective way to engage with their workforce. 

“For this year, we decided we wanted to build on the campaign even further and add new material so it can help more people discuss these important health and safety issues. The three new topics are very relevant to most workplaces, so are going to make a great addition to the pack.” 

The 3M SafeTea Break pack can be downloaded free-of-charge at www.3M.co.uk/safetea. 

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Workers' choice campaign focuses on PPE 06/04/2016

A new campaign launched by 3M has the aim of bringing workers to the forefront of the decision-making process when selecting personal protective equipment (PPE). Alan McArthur, technical supervisor, explains why this is so important for a safer workplace.

Deciding on the best PPE for your workforce is not an easy challenge, especially with so many different options available. However, if the product is going to adequately protect your employees it must be suited to the user, the task at hand and the environment in which it will be used.

While the level of protection is a top priority, comfort should also play a very important role in the selection process.

Workers who find their PPE comfortable are more likely to accept it, while those who don’t may be inclined to wear it incorrectly or remove it entirely – which reduces or eliminates the level of protection and puts them at risk.

But with comfort being so personal to the user, it is hard to know how to find the balance, which is why 3M has launched its Workers’ Choice campaign.

As part of our campaign, we want to emphasise the importance of involving workers in the PPE selection process and offer advice on how best to engage with them on the topic – and there are many benefits of doing this.

Interacting with the workforce about PPE will reinforce the importance of using the protection. As safety managers are taking the time to listen to their views, it will reassure them that their opinions matter, while also encouraging open discussions about workplace health and safety.

For already time-strapped safety managers, it may seem like another job added to the never-ending list. But we are confident that if you involve workers at the start of the selection process, this could save time in the long run as there is likely to be fewer problems as the PPE is rolled out.

Here are a few of my top tips for involving workers effectively;

•  Firstly, you need to identify the type and level of protection required for the specific task. Once this has been confirmed, then you can begin looking at the different types of PPE available and it is at this point when you should start thinking about involving your workforce

•  To find out if the protection is comfortable and suitable for the task, the best people to ask are those who will be using it. Focus groups and roundtable discussions are a great way to find out directly from the workers what does and does not work for them and narrow down some options for further investigation

•  With so much to choose from, it’s hard to imagine what will work best for your team just by looking at a catalogue. At 3M we offer extensive free product trials. This provides a great opportunity for staff members to try a solution and see if it works for them. To help you get appropriate feedback, we provide questionnaires, which will help you make a decision on the most suitable PPE for your team

By taking these tips on board, workforce acceptance of PPE will increase and this will help to ensure that your workers are protected.

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Mapping the way to shorter cycles 27/10/2015

Trials are underway that could see the introduction of significant production efficiencies for a major supplier to the aerospace industry. Working with 3M, Zodiac Seats UK is exploring new approaches to working with adhesives to speed throughput in its lay-up, cure and assembly line areas


Proposed changes have come as a result of 3M adhesives experts ‘walking the line’ at Zodiac Aerospace’s Camberley plant to identify opportunities for improvements.

Part of the global Zodiac Aerospace Group, the Zodiac Seats UK division produces aircraft seats ranging from premium economy, through business class to upper class.  It focuses on high-end products which it designs, certifies and assembles at its plants in Camberley and Cwmbran.

The company has enjoyed a long-standing business relationship with 3M and has been a long-term user of 3M adhesives. Zodiac Aerospace welcomed the offer from 3M to walk the production line, which enabled 3M to better understand its adhesive bonding requirements to help improve throughput.  The review forms part of Zodiac Aerospace’s response to the great need for improved productivity across the aircraft industry which has reported major order backlogs with airlines pressing for increasing quantities of new, more fuel efficient aircraft.

Bernard Sikkel, senior application development engineer at 3M led the project to map out Zodiac Aerospace’s production flow. Before joining 3M Aerospace and Commercial Transportation Division, Sikkel worked in the automotive sector for 3M and felt that some of the techniques employed there could help accelerate production. He said: "We started the mapping process at the beginning of the year with the objective of better understanding Zodiac Aerospace’s ‘pain points’ – stages in the production process that cause problems or bottlenecks.”

Focus of attention was the process flow for the construction of seat components made from phenolic panels with honeycomb cores where adhesives are required for core splicing or insert potting, edge filling, filleting, panel assembly, the application of veneers and reinforcement for fixtures and fittings.

Sikkel continued: "There were no issues with the performance of the adhesives being used which had a long-standing specification for use for aircraft interiors. The drawback is that it can be slow. It was quickly apparent that speed of cure was the problem and this was considered by Zodiac Aerospace as a critical area for improvement. Using the two-part adhesive gave cycle times in bonding operations of 3 to 4h and in some areas there was a 24h wait before panels could be de-clamped to go onto the next stage in the process. Zodiac Aerospace wanted to reduce this to 15min cycle times, similar to those achieved by automotive manufacturers on lower volume production lines. Essentially, Zodiac Aerospace wanted to completely upgrade their adhesive system, from improving the rate of cure to ensuring strength performance and FST compliance.”

The line-walking exercise identified Zodiac Aerospace’s adhesive system as the key operation where there was the opportunity to help them improve productivity. Having understood Zodiac Aerospace’s need to radically reduce cure times, 3M set up a workshop at its own Bracknell facility where key engineers from Zodiac Aerospace worked with 3M adhesives experts to explore various fast-curing/short-cycle time solutions.

Bernard added: "We looked at the substrates used by Zodiac Aerospace and tried a range of different techniques, considering solutions used in other industries, particularly in the automotive sector where speed of production has always been a priority. The team was very excited by the opportunities this revealed and Zodiac Aerospace identified some high potential solutions which could help them improve their adhesive system.”

During the workshop process, 3M was able to call on its multi-national expertise by drawing on work that had been done following a similar mapping project in Germany. This had resulted in the formulation of a new series of adhesives which was one of the solutions by 3M that caught Zodiac Aerospace’s attention.

Another of the options considered by Zodiac Aerospace is a 3M two-part structural flexible adhesive epoxy system which meets all of the FST requirements of standards FAR 25.853, JAR 25.853 and ABD0031. This 3M product is suitable for a wide range of aircraft interior bonding applications with one of its advantages being sufficient open time for panels and components to be correctly positioned. Despite its advanced performance properties, this 3M structural adhesive still did not quite hit the curing time targets being sought by Zodiac Aerospace. To overcome this difficulty, 3M proposed an innovative solution which sees the structural adhesive being used in combination with a superfast adhesive which was designed primarily for aftermarket applications.

Bernard said: "A solution we are looking at is one developed for the automotive sector in applications which use a high-crash performance adhesive with a 3-hour cure. In that industry, speed of production is of the essence, so a solution was found that enabled the use of the specified adhesive without the ensuing production delay. Translated into Zodiac Aerospace’s panel production application, we have everything jigged as normal for the application of our FST-compliant two-part structural adhesive and then inject the superfast product at various points. The superfast adhesive cures in two minutes, acting as an internal clamp within the panel. This means that the panel can be de-jigged and go on to the next stage in the process while the structural adhesive is still curing (meaning that we have the best of both worlds – the speed of the superfast and the performance of the two-part adhesive).” 

Zodiac Aerospace has now introduced preliminary trials in its production facilities at Camberley which, if successful, might move on to a series of more complex tests looking at different materials and subjecting them to flammability tests (as per Industry regulations). As well as curing speed, another key consideration is weight, so the team is also looking at the optimum density of adhesive that will achieve the balance between weight reduction and performance.

The results of these trials might help Zodiac Aerospace adopt a more streamlined adhesive system and contribute to the overall efficiency of its panel construction processes. With the work at Camberley progressing, there are plans to carry out a similar mapping process at Zodiac Aerospace’s new factory in Cwmbran. 

Bernard Sikkel concluded: "This is proving to be a great example of collaboration leading to good working solutions and cross-industry learning. As both adhesives technology and aircraft interior designs progress, it highlights how valuable it can be for a supplier like 3M to be involved earlier on in the process to apply knowledge acquired from different industries and help customers make the right choices both from a material and a process point of view   

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Deburring methods: Selection matters 18/06/2015

Nigel Willcock, technical specialist at 3M Abrasive Systems Division looks at how deburring has evolved and how metal finishers can ensure they are selecting the correct deburring method to optimise efficiency

The science of surface finishing is one that continues to present many challenges for engineers, part manufacturers, technicians and fabricators every single day. One such challenge is the method of deburring. A process that is typically defined by removing a ‘burr’ - a raised edge of excess material or area of roughness produced in cutting or shaping of metal – which is done by chamfering the edge of the metal to create two smaller sharp edges. The intricacy of the part coupled with demanding material properties are both key obstacles that can make it difficult to find a deburring method that is efficient, both in terms of cost and process.

Most surface finishers carrying out a deburring process, whether it be in a pattern/tool makers or in an aerospace manufacturing workshop, are looking for precise edge finishing with increased speed and reduced side effects. For example some manufacturers will require a deburring process to be completed in a specific timeframe, such as CNC machines which need the mechanical parts to be deburred in the cycle time specified to match the overall production line rate, and others will be more focused on the precision and geometry. An example would be turbine blades where it is critical that the manufacturers produce a specific deburred radius. 

Deburring can be required wherever there is turning, milling, drilling, boring, lapping, shaping, machining, surface grinding and abrading. All these machining and cutting operations produce a burr. It is the process of completely removing the burrs from a workpiece, leaving a slightly radiused edge, without any modification to the part shape and geometry.

There are many reasons why deburring is necessary, not least for safety. When a piece of metal is cut in a workshop, the sharp edge can present a danger of injury. If the stainless steel used to manufacture tanks and vessels, professional kitchens or other food and beverage equipment is being cut to shape from a larger section then this can cause a burr on the underside of the material. The sharpness also predominantly poses a material handling risk as well as the end-product safety for the user. Additionally it can cause mechanical damage to the assembly if a burr breaks, for example on pistons, gears, textile machinery or computer hardware. Again, in the assembly of gears or parts in the power generation industry, they may not fit together if the burr is still intact. It can also be an important factor in maintaining a product’s aesthetic appearance, such as the front panel of radios, DVD players, furniture cabinets or building equipment. Finally, it can play a major role in electrical applications where a broken burr could create a short circuit in printed circuits, electric motors or generators.

What are the options?

Deburring is an ancient practice but its process has evolved throughout history, therefore there is a plethora of traditional methods available including: files; mounted points; bonded wheels; scalpels; abrasive rolls; wire brushes; abrasive belts; rotary burrs; flexi hones and rubber wheels. However, it is a solution for an absolute deburr that many manufacturers seek. 

At 3M, we have developed a variety of abrasive solutions for deburring that ensure increased efficiency and productivity in all metal and wood applications. For example, Scotch-Brite Products leave a smoother surface after deburring and there is no undercutting or gouging of the surface. Unlike most other products, they also deburr both the sides and surfaces of the workpiece. Scotch-Brite Deburring Wheels and Scotch-Brite Radial Bristle Brush create a suitable deburr with a rounded edge as there is no secondary burr created by the process, the corners are rounded, there are no geometric changes and it keeps the tolerance. 

Let’s take a look at some of the traditional methods compared with the new technology incorporated in the Scotch-Brite Deburring Products:

Using hand files and wire brushes on a buffing stand can provide results that are inconsistent and time consuming. Should a workshop or production line receive an increase in orders, another method would be required. Furthermore, coated belts can generate flats and change the geometry of the workpiece as well as leaving secondary burrs.

Scotch-Brite Deburring Wheels and Scotch-Brite Bristle Brushes by 3M overcome these issues as they help prevent undercutting and gouging through their controlled abrasive action. They last longer and are easier to use which means less downtime and  operator fatigue, offering a more consistent, controlled result and they work much faster. They also offer a better alternative to wire brushes because there are no flying wires, making them safer.

Heavier deburring

Some applications require a heavier deburring tool where the nature of the material or the type of cutting tool produces a heavier burr than normal. Unitised wheels such as Scotch-Brite Wheels offer non-directional, soft deburring without making a large radius. An additional benefit to using this method is that the wheels can be used on any metal. However, they have a shorter life and lower cut than convolute or moulded wheels so are best suited for larger burrs where more aggression is needed. The Scotch-Brite Unitised Wheels by 3M are made from a non-woven web interspersed with resin and mineral, which is then cured under pressure to form a slab from which the wheels are cut.

Lighter deburring

For lighter burrs convolute wheels offer a better solution than the unitised wheels mentioned above. Convolute wheels are wound onto a fibreglass core with a resin layer to form a 'bun' which is then cured in the oven. This offers a finer cut, softer density and a more even finish. 

Stock removal and shaping

A replacement for rubber bonded wheels are moulded wheels, suitable for stock removal and shaping. For example they would be used to remove milling marks and taking out small mismatches from the machining process. They are more aggressive than unitised wheels and run more smoothly than rubber and bonded wheels with the result that they can produce the result more quickly with less vibration. 

Light deburring, cleaning and surface preparation

Bristle brushes offer an effective solution for applications such as cleaning rust and contamination in maintenance repair and operation (MRO); removing coatings such as painted surfaces; weld cleaning; deburring complex shapes such as gears and turbine blade roots; and cleaning and/or deburring of threaded bolts. Scotch-Brite Bristle Brushes by 3M, for example, are designed to offer additional safety benefits due to the abrasive-filled plastic brushes eliminating the risk of flying wires and conforming to contoured parts. Compared to wire or filament brushes, they can cut faster and more effectively meaning an overall increased production rate. The fresh mineral is exposed as it wears, meaning there is a constant cut rather than the peening effect produced by the other products.

Generally speaking, the finer more conformable bristle products are used for decorative finishing and will conform more readily to surface contours along with generating a more uniform finish. The coarser less conformable bristle products are therefore used for more difficult blending, cleaning, and deburring operations. Pressure and speed can also influence product life as well as performance. Lower pressure and speed means a lower cut and longer life and higher pressure and speed means a higher cut and shorter life. Too-high a pressure increases wear drastically.

When used in automated processes, lubricants or coolants are advised whenever possible to reduce heat and extend product life. All Scotch-Brite Products can be used with coolants such as water and some water-soluble oils - most reduce surface roughness. The higher viscosity lubricants produce lower surface roughness and grease produces a finer surface finish than oil.

Whether it be to match a prodution line rate, or find a more cost-effective method that offers an absolute deburr, choosing the right method or tool and matching it with the right abrasive product is absolutely critical.

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Indicates when filter needs changing 03/06/2015

A new product from 3M is designed to help prevent workers from being exposed to certain harmful organic gases and vapours.

The diversified technology company revealed its Organic Gas and Vapour End of Service Life Indicator Filters give respirator wearers a clear warning of when they need to change their filters and prevent hazardous exposure. 

Currently, some users change their filters only when they can detect contaminant odour, taste, or irritation inside the respirator, with the result that the harmful substance has already broken through. 


To combat this problem, 3M’s innovation has used the company’s End of Service Life Indicator (ESLI) technology. The ESLI is located inside the filter next to the activated carbon. As organic vapours travel through the filter, they are adsorbed into the ESLI.


As this happens, the indicator changes colour, visually marking the course of the organic vapours through the filter. Dependant on viewing angle, the user will see a red bar on a green background, or vice-versa. Once the bar reaches the end-of-service line, the filter will need replacing. 


The ESLI can be used as either a primary or secondary method of determining a filter change out schedule, depending upon the specific hazard and exposure level. It also enables health and safety managers to audit filter status in real-time for each individual user. 

The products are compatible with all 3M half and full-face masks, so they can be used in a wide variety of applications and industries.

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Breathing safely 29/04/2015

To help prevent workers from being exposed to certain harmful organic gases and vapours, 3M has launched an Organic Gas and Vapour End of Service Life Indicator Filter.

The product gives respirator wearers a clear warning of when they need to change their filters and prevent hazardous exposure. 


To combat the problem of some users who change their filters only when they can detect contaminant odour, taste, or irritation inside the respirator, 3M’s new innovation has used the company’s End of Service Life Indicator (ESLI) technology. The ESLI is inside the filter next to the activated carbon. As organic vapours travel through the filter, they are also adsorbed into the ESLI.

As this happens, the indicator changes colour. Dependant on the viewing angle, the user will either see a red bar on a green background, or vice-versa. Once the bar reaches the end-of-service line, the filter will need replacing. 


The ESLI can be used as either a primary or secondary method of determining a filter change out schedule, depending upon the specific hazard and exposure level. It also enables health and safety managers to audit filter status in real-time for each individual user.


Jennifer Raymond, senior marketing executive at 3M, said: "Our revolutionary product will help to improve the safety of workers using respirators in appropriate environments. 


"The innovative technology behind the Organic Gas and Vapour End of Service Life Indicator Filters enables wearers to know when they need to replace their filter, without waiting until the breakthrough point.”


The products are compatible with all 3M Half and Full-Face Masks, so they can be used in a wide variety of applications and industries. 

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All eyes on abrasives at Moorfields 08/01/2015

Moorfields Eye Hospital in London is using industrial abrasive wheels made by 3M in the finishing and refining process of its prosthetic eyes.


Using the Scotch-Brite EXL Unitised Wheel XL-UW by 3M, Moorfields can quickly and precisely create ocular prosthetics of high quality that frequently transform the lives of patients and their families.

Customised ocular prostheses are usually made for patients who have lost an eye or eyes, or whose eyes have been damaged or otherwise affected by a range of ocular conditions. At Moorfields, customised artificial eyes are hand-made from medical grade acrylic plastic. They are finished with an abrasive – a vital part of the process as there is a need to trim down the acrylic and remove flash without leaving grinding marks on the finished product.

Each custom-made eye takes around seven hours to complete and is hand-painted in front of the patient to ensure a perfect match to their own eye colour.

The process of producing a customised prosthetic eye begins when the patient makes a first visit to the ocular prosthetics department and an impression is made of their eye socket, in much the same way that dentists take impressions to make dentures. 


The ocular impression is used as a mould to produce a wax shape, which fits into the socket and is used by Moorfields' ocularists to position the iris, perfect the shape and ensure correctness of gaze. The wax shape is then itself cast into a mould, which is filled with acrylic plastic that is trimmed back using the Scotch-Brite EXL Unitised Wheel XL-UW by 3M. 


Thereafter the prosthetic is further painted, with the addition of veins and any necessary tinting of the sclera (white of the eye), as well as any changes that might be needed to the iris, and it is then refined – again using the Scotch-Brite Wheel. 


After this, the final product is polished and is complete. Most artificial eyes last for several years, although in children, who are still growing, they have to be replaced more often.

Very often, patients who have just lost their eye, or who are awaiting a custom-made prosthetic, are fitted with a temporary eye from Moorfields' stock. These eyes are supplied in half-sphere forms, resembling half a table-tennis ball, and must be ground down and shaped with great precision. Moorfields uses a Scotch-Brite EXL Unitised Wheel XL-UW for this purpose, too.


The Scotch-Brite EXL Unitised Wheel XL-UW is made of a compressed, non-woven fibre that gives it a uniform grain distribution, leading to consistent results. The EXL material is very tough, with an aggressive cutting action and is therefore suitable for deburring edges and corners without causing any damage to the part. The wheels are available in a range of sizes and with fine, medium and coarse grades, and are particularly suited for work with all types of metal.

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Stainless steel: The finishing touch 09/12/2014

The beauty and advantages of stainless steel are widely appreciated and in this article Nigel Willcock, technical service engineer at 3M Abrasive Systems Division offers suggestions on how best to achieve a perfect finish


Resistant to staining and corrosion, stainless steel is not in fact a single metal or even alloy, but rather a family of iron alloys, the properties of which vary according to the balance of elements used. Different types of stainless steel are suited to differing applications. All stainless steel must contain at least 10.5% chromium and 1.2% carbon, however the exact proportions vary according to type and other elements may be added. The addition of nickel results in austenitic stainless steels, which are the most commonly used.

Stainless steel owes many of its benefits to the thin coating of chromium oxide on its surface, which is passive. This coating protects the bulk metal beneath and even when the surface layer is breached, for example by scratching or removal, it 'self-heals' and re-establishes itself to protect the metal once more. The chromium oxide layer is generally between one and ten microns thick and the smoother the surface, the more compact and durable the passive layer will be. Hence, much stainless steel is finished with a view to maximising the benefits of the passive layer, and is therefore abraded, smoothed and/or polished to a level appropriate for the use to which the item will eventually be put.

Stainless steel is used in a wide range of settings, including professional and domestic kitchens, food and beverage packaging, cookware, cutlery and household goods, architectural, surgical instruments, major appliances and pharmaceutical purposes. For some of these, such as pharmaceutical, food preparation, food storage and surgical applications, the smoothness of the finish given to the stainless steel is important because it minimises contamination and makes the items easier to clean. In other settings, such as household fittings and architectural environments, finishing may be primarily for aesthetic purposes. 

The finish of stainless steel also affects its ease of use, for example in food preparation the ability of stainless steel to withstand constant cleaning must be optimised, and this is largely achieved through finishing. 

Other factors affect the finishing of stainless steel, too. These include manufacturing processes such as welding and cutting. When stainless steel is welded, the process leaves an oxidised surface in the form of discolouration on the weld that must be cleaned if the weld is not removed. Traditionally, processes such as pickling (a form of cleaning with strong acids) and wire brushing have been used, but these can be hazardous and unpleasant for the people involved, or increase the risk of damaging the passive surface of the stainless steel beyond its ability to heal itself – for example when metal filaments from wire brushes become embedded in the surface of the stainless steel. One solution is Scotch-Brite Radial Bristle Brushes by 3M. These are non-metallic abrasive products that will clean the weld quickly and efficiently without risk of contamination or flying wires.

When the weld is removed, the aggression and the nature of the product needed to achieve this varies according to context. In some cases, such removal can itself compromise the passivity of the surface layer, because it if done with a traditional abrasive it creates a jagged surface. The use, for example, of Scotch-Brite Metal Finishing Products can overcome this.

Cutting stainless steel, for example to form specific shapes for manufacturing purposes, often causes burring on the underside of the piece. This can be dangerous to those handling and ultimately using the item, so such items must be deburred using abrasive processes. Scotch-Brite Deburring Wheels will remove burrs leaving a rounded edge that is safe to handle.

Recognising the need for versatile, highly effective and user-friendly abrasives with which to finish stainless steel, 3M has developed the Match and Finish system that comprises of an electric in-line sander with a range of coated abrasive and Scotch-Brite Products that help users to achieve the appropriate finish for virtually any final use. 


Most stainless steel is given one of the following five finishes:

•  2A, bright annealed - the result of heat treatment, this is a bright, mirror-like finish

•  2B, cold rolled, heat treated, pickled, skin passed - the most common cold treatment, this produces a non-reflective, flat, smooth surface

•  2G (3B in the UK) , ground - this has a uni-directional pattern and is not very reflective

•  2J, brushed or dull polished - this is smoother, with a uni-directional texture, again it is not very reflective

•  2K, satin polish - this gives a smooth, non-reflective finish

Attention to detail

When finishing stainless steel, attention to detail can make all the difference. Any scratches applied during the finishing process should be parallel, both with the edge of the item and with each other. There should be no start/stop marks that indicate whereabouts on the item the finishing process began and ended, and the scratch pattern should be free of any defects and underlying scratches.

When using the 3M Match and Finish system to optimise straight line patterns, it can be helpful to apply pressure while at the same time making a pulling motion. If the operator stands behind the machine, the turning motion will be limited and so will the curved scratches. To eliminate stop/start marks use a gradual on/off movement, or place a metal part of the same thickness before and after the piece being worked on.

The Match and Finish Tool and appropriate 3M consumables produce good results in all relevant processes, namely:

•  Removal of small welds and/or defects

•  Refinement of rotary grind marks and creation of linear marks

•  Refinement of deep scratches

•  Further refinement (if required by the nature of the finish)

•  Blending of scratches (for 2K type finishes)

Scotch-Brite Products offer ease of use and uniform, consistent results with no undercutting. This means less reworking and fewer rejects, and great levels of productivity. The range is wide and offers a large number of options, meaning that users can find the combination of abrasives to achieve precisely the result desired, and achieve those results time after time. 

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Tooled up to cut costs 29/10/2014

Since introducing a range of power tools and abrasives from diversified technology company 3M, global supplier to the automotive industry GKN Structures has reduced the number of metal finishing power tools used in its Telford plant by almost three quarters and achieved annual savings


The GKN Structures factory in Telford, part of GKN Land Systems, designs and manufactures parts such as cast aluminium wheels, chassis systems, suspension components, and body structures. The company is well known for Chassis Systems which was initially formed to produce the chassis structures for a leading manufacturer of four-wheel-drive vehicles. 

In order to achieve the precision process required in the production of the chassis, which involves the use of more than 200 parts, GKN Structures relies on tools and products that produce a quality finish, are long-lasting, and protect the health and safety of its engineers. The company’s highly automated welding and fabrication operation produces in excess of 100,000 units per annum.

In recent years, a greater emphasis is being placed on reducing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), an industrial injury triggered by continuous use of vibrating hand-held machinery. In order to combat this problem, GKN Structures carries out regular testing of its current tools, and considers new products in order to reduce the risk of HAVS to its employees. 

Initially Nigel Denning, health & safety improvements facilitator from GKN Structures approached the Abrasive Systems Division of 3M to trial a selection of its products in order to complete a metal finishing process on a rear crossmember on a vehicle. The application of choice was a tough duo created from the partnering of the Roloc Air-Powered Disc Sander with the Roloc Quick Release System (both by 3M) combining performance and durability. This is said to allow greater accessibility to work pieces compared to conventional larger disc attachments. All models feature a powerful, high torque air-motor to optimise the performance of the disc system and provide a fast, efficient method for grinding, blending, deburring and finishing on all types of metal. GKN Structures used it in conjunction with Roloc Discs by 3M, and by so doing found a solution that optimised performance.

Denning said: "We selected the Roloc Disc Sander by 3M on the basis that it was lightweight, very powerful, and gave us the finish we wanted. The range is ergonomically designed which maximises the productivity, and reduces operator fatigue and discomfort. We are always looking for ways to improve our process and protect our people and these tools are a great contribution because the speed they offer means that our engineers are spending less time using them, but are getting better results.”

The Health and Safety Executive highlights the guidelines surrounding the issue of vibration exposure in the workplace. The exposure action value (EAV) is a daily amount of vibration exposure above which employers are required to take action to control exposure. For hand-arm vibration the EAV is a daily exposure of 2.5 m/s2 A(8) and testing by GKN Structures of the Roloc Air-Powered Disc Sander by 3M found it to operate at the exact required level. Following these early assessments the company introduced the product into the Telford plant, and it now has about 50 of the tools that are in constant use across the site.

In addition to the sanders, GKN Structures has started to use Die Grinders by 3M, a key development for the company as it has resulted in longer lifespan of tools. Before, it would use 30 to 40 grinders a year, however, since it has brought in Die Grinders by 3M, this figure has reduced to just eight per year, resulting in a significant annual saving.

Denning added: "We are really pleased with the Die Grinders. Everybody likes using them because they are comfortable to operate and we find that they last a lot longer than other brands. We currently have 20 across our factory which are in regular use.”

GKN Structures now uses a variation of four different power tools and eight different abrasives products across its site. All are produced by 3M and include Elite Random Orbital Sanders, Hook-it Discs, and Roloc Surface Conditioning c Discs.

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