IT’S THE letters after his name on his business card that provide a clue to Alan Tasker’s true calling. The ‘MSc Hon’ represents not just a masters degree in chemistry, but also an ongoing passion for research and experimentation – and coming up with ingenious solutions to ‘surface conditioning challenges’. It’s the chief reason why his company Discon Products is able to manufacture smart, customised coated abrasive products for specific applications. Give him a problem to solve and he’ll relish the challenge! Tasker’s career path prior to joining Discon in 1996 as factory manager was interesting to say the least – ranging from concrete layer and labourer to research technician. His knack for coming up with specialised abrasive solutions was quickly identified at Discon, and to ensure he stayed on, he was offered the general manager’s position. Fast forward a few years; Discon was struggling after losing its biggest client and Tasker was now working for Nuplex. So when a business colleague suggested they buy out Discon, it was a case of “why not?” The year was 2005. Since then, the new company Discon Products has grown steadily, even during the recent recession, as has its range of products. Today it produces a wide range of abrasive products and specialises in attachment wheels and discs for metal finishing and other applications. Its success is linked closely to the fortunes of New Zealand’s dairy and marine industries, high users of stainless steel, and the fact that it has the flexibility to produce customised trial products for specific applications, as requested by distributors and trade customers. Another factor in its success is the choice of raw material. “The use of quality 3M Scotch-Brite non-woven and surface conditioning abrasives in our production reflects in the performance endorsements for Discon wheels and discs,” says Tasker. “We liaise closely with 3M technical staff for the best production selection.” Tasker says he gets “a buzz” when a new product is trialled and proves successful. One example is a product designed specifically to take scuff marks off the interior of Fonterra’s food-grade containers. That sander-polisher wheel has since expanded into a new range to tackle a raft of other jobs. Another solution was designing a surface conditioning wheel specifically for stainless steel fridges, which eliminated blending problems and took the onus off the operator’s skill to produce the required finish. Discon Products also has a policy to educate users about the correct application of abrasive wheels and discs. For example, getting the maximum life from a wheel or disc is about applying the recommended powertool rpm – a fact many people aren’t totally aware of. Tasker is also keen to restructure Discon’s distribution and sell direct to major end users. “If we can short-cut a process for a client, by eliminating a step or two, then that’s all the better,” says Tasker – adding that they have a test-kit that they regularly loan out for clients to trial various products. Tasker says he may have to re-invent himself as a sales and marketing professional for this “brave” new company focus. But he acknowledges that his key strength will always be his knowledge on how abrasives perform – looking at abrasives on a micro level, everything from grit density to application theory. It’s this special skill and talent that sets Discon Products apart after all.