Abrasive Automation Cell Optimizes Manufacturing


Tony Landes, Abrasive Process Innovation Manager, Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives

Mike Shappell, Application Engineer IV, Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives


Nearly every application or industry can benefit from the Abrasive Process Solutions (APS) program.



hallenging grinding and machining operations increasingly require custom solutions. It could be research and testing of new abrasives to improve quality or throughput, or it could be trying an entirely new process, which could potentially disrupt current manufacturing. As manufacturers turn toward automation and Industry 4.0, the automation variable can present a lot of challenges, as well as opportunities.


To help customers develop innovative materials, processes, and automation, Norton | Saint-Gobain Abrasives has established its Abrasive Process Solutions (APS) program. The APS team has access to many assets to solve practically any material removal or surface generation problem. Abrasive process expertise along with access to the best equipment allows the APS team to offer an extremely broad array of grinding process development solutions, which can be useful to customers in many fields, such as automotive, aerospace, metal fabrication, medical, molding, and many more.


The APS robotic automation cell

The APS robotic automation cell

The new APS robotic automation cell, which is the heart of the APS program, is one of the most comprehensive abrasive automation cells in the world, in one of Saint-Gobain’s five worldwide research and development centers. As a result, there is very little in the material removal or surface generation industries that this team is not equipped to deal with. The capabilities of the automation cell include, but are not limited to, media-to-part and part-to-media applications; wet and dry processing; and the utilization of coated, non-woven, bonded and superabrasive products. The delivery of such a comprehensive array of services, combined with a quick response and a short turnaround on up to 50 projects per year, are what set the APS team apart from anything else in this industry.


What is the focus of the norton Abrasive Process Solutions (APS) program?


This APS team is focused on helping solve a number of problems for its customers. They aim to become an extension of the customer themselves and provide essential services to complement the customer’s existing business.


For instance, if the customer does not have the time nor the ability to test a new part or process, the automation cell can be utilized to do the testing for them. The testing will be conducted concurrent with the business’ normal day-to-day tasks, therefore not disrupting the output of the company. The combination of access to the best equipment and expertise in many processes will also guarantee that the customer’s needs will be taken care of.


Similarly, if a customer has a particular part on hand (maybe a new part for a new project) that they need to have processed and are unable to do it themselves, the APS team can offer these processing services. Such a part may require a specific machine or process, and the significant investment in a machine like this may not be economically viable for a lot of companies.


Outsourcing work has significantly increased in recent times, especially in the post-COVID-19 era. Companies that may be trying to scale back their technical support staff, due to financial hardships or other issues linked to the pandemic, may not have the staff on hand that is needed to develop processes for new parts or upgrade processes for existing parts. This is where the APS team can be of assistance. The experienced APS application engineers utilizing the APS automation cell can assist customers that may be shorthanded.


how does the APS Robotic Automation cell benefit customers? 


The new state-of-the-art APS robotic automation cell was built to handle just about any challenge that a customer could face.


The new FANUC robot within the APS automation cell

The new FANUC robot within the APS automation cell

The cell features a FANUC R2000iC robot with force sensor that is capable of being programmed to perform a multitude of tasks, including the media-to-part and part-to-media solutions, plus wet/dry processing, and utilization of various products mentioned previously.


Along with the Fanuc robot, the APS cell, integrated by Acme Mfg, also features a programmable pivot table, 6 inch deep coolant pans, Dynabrade abrasive tools, ATI Tool holders and radial compliant devices, Push Corp spindle motors and compliance slides, and two heavy-duty grinding heads with 15 hp to 40 hp motors, respectively, along with a programmable pivot head with dual belt and wheel set up capability. 


This equipment allows for large parts to be processed, with the pivot table and robot arm combining to ensure all critical areas are reached for media-to-part applications. Belts, cut off wheels, diamond wheels, and grinding wheels (among others) can all be accommodated on the stacked head for part-to-media applications that require heavy pressure, like casting cut-off and gate grinding. A side-by-side spindle head can use two belts and up to four radial wheels, which allow for precise finishing processes like buffing and filament brushes.


why work with the Norton aps team?


The APS team is an extension of the application engineering group that has been providing on-site customer support since 2004. Application engineers assist customers in applying and optimizing Norton abrasive products in the customer’s application. By showing added value through increased abrasive performance, lowering reject and scrap rates, and improving machine efficiency, application engineers help the customer drive down the overall cost per part.


Armed with a verified abrasive process solution, the customer can then confidently approach one or more of the qualified OEM integrators to implement the solution. This reduces the risk on the customer’s end and gives them the ability to further reduce expenses by shopping around to various vendors, confident in the knowledge that they will be receiving the correct solution for them. This would not be possible without the information provided to them by the APS team.


what solutions does the Norton aps team provide?


Norton can provide guaranteed solutions to their clients. This means that if a company is experiencing a certain issue, Norton can take this issue, generate a custom solution, and show the client how to solve their problem. Customers receive a proven answer to their problem. Some examples of specific solutions than can be provided include the following.


Robotic arms can be used in instances where it is not safe or feasible to have a human operator present. A robotic replacement may also be more cost-efficient to the customer in the long run, taking human labor out of the equation. Reducing expenses is one of the main advantages that can be demonstrated by the APS team.


Utilizing an external lab can help mitigate the customer’s risk. If a customer wishes to test a new solution or process, they do not have to stop existing production or overexert themselves. Costly testing is also avoided, and customers receive a proven solution, which enables them to proceed with further testing or purchasing of equipment immediately.

Work being done in the APS lab



Post-COVID-19 labor shortages are a very real problem. Companies simply do not have the workforce to carry out the testing of new products and processes. The APS team gives these companies a solution that will allow them to keep working efficiently without the commitment and expense of employing full-time specialized engineering staff.


Using information that Norton | Saint-Gobain provides from their APS automation cell, companies can go shopping for new equipment. This gives customers peace of mind that they are buying the correct equipment, while also not tying them to one vendor, allowing them to shop around for the best price.


let Norton tackle your abrasive challenges


Norton | Saint-Gobain’s new APS program brings a never-before-seen abrasive process development and automation solution to their customer base. They have all the tools necessary to tackle any abrasive challenges customers may bring, including their high-tech automation cell.


Norton | Saint-Gobain has been in the abrasives market for 130 years. As a brand of Saint-Gobain, a company that is known for its world leading ventures in sustainable habitats, Norton | Saint-Gobain proudly boasts the most comprehensive portfolio of blending, cutting, finishing, grinding, and polishing solutions, no matter the industry.


Norton | Saint-Gobain is revolutionizing the market with their new APS program, where customers can receive customized solutions to problems they may not be equipped to deal with. A cost-effective, efficient answer to an industry that needs custom services.


To learn more about the new APS program and get help with your abrasive challenges, contact the APS team.