Featured Perspective: Choosing the Right Abrasive Amid Changing Industry Demands


By Jeff Ferchen, Strategic Materials, Inc.

For more than four decades, the surface preparation industry has been diligently looking for alternatives to silica sand as an abrasive blast media. As the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) finalized new exposure rules to protect abrasive blasting workers from silicosis, many other existing abrasive products emerged as market leaders. In addition, new products were brought to market to address the demand once met by silica sand.

Today, OSHA is evaluating exposure limits for toxic metals — such as beryllium — in coal slag and copper slag abrasives, and establishing health & safety regulations similar to those for silica sand. As a result, the industry is, once again, seeking alternatives, taking into consideration three key factors:

1. How much does the product cost?

Cost is one of the main concerns when evaluating a new abrasive, but it isn't just about price per ton. When making the jump from one abrasive to another, differences in production and profile can also affect the bottom line. For example: What is the cleaning rate (cost per square foot)? How well does the new abrasive perform, compared with the old? Finding a competitively priced abrasive without sacrificing reliability and performance can be challenging.

2. Is the product safe for my employees to use?

Abrasive blasting can be a dirty, gritty job, but that doesn't mean it has to be hazardous. Identifying the safest, quality blasting product is critical to workers’ health. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is recommended by OSHA for all abrasive blasting, but in addition, many contractors are further mitigating risk by selecting an abrasive with low dusting, low or no silica and no toxic metals.

3. How conveniently can I purchase the product?

The last factor to consider is abrasive product availability. Can it be delivered quickly? Order fulfillment can make or break a project. Many blasters make do with a substitute product if their first choice isn't available when needed, sometimes sacrificing cost efficiency or worker safety. Identifying an abrasive distributor or manufacturer that has product readily available helps make the choice easy for blasters.


I joined the Strategic Materials team because of my long-held belief in the benefits of using crushed-glass abrasives. They meet each of the three key considerations, and the company's TruAbrasives products have demonstrated impressive performance. Before my time with the company, I used the coarse crushed-glass abrasive to achieve an SP5 on some of the hardest coatings and linings in the industry, as well as to remove mil-scale and heavy rust. I have used the fine-grade abrasive in vapor blast applications on sensitive historic artifacts and landmarks — all with great success.

The industry is changing — and abrasive choices are evolving, too. Will you be ahead of the curve?

*Claims or positions expressed by sponsoring authors do not necessarily reflect the views of TPC, PaintSquare or its editors.

Jeff Ferchen, Strategic Materials, Inc.

Jeff Ferchen is Director of Specialty Sales at Strategic Materials, currently responsible for North American sales, market growth, distributor expansion, new product development and overall customer experience. With more than 20 years in sales, he has managed and driven multi-million-dollar growth in highly competitive markets.