Imagine walking into a metal fab shop where grinding, cutting and sanding is the norm. Now, imagine walking into that same fab shop where no dust collection equipment is in place.
In this scenario, it’s highly likely that abrasive dust would be everywhere – on the surfaces of workbenches and machines, all over the floor and on parts that are making their way to customers. It’s also highly likely that the very same dust that blanketed the shop would be inhaled continuously by the employees that work there.
Although it is seemingly innocuous, abrasive dust poses a risk to machinery and workers. When it finds its way inside of machinery, it can build up and negatively affect the efficiency of said machine. And, when it finds its way into the breathing area of workers, it can lead to respiratory issues and worse.
Unfortunately, many air filtration systems are unable to properly capture these abrasive dust particles and often only do so once the particles have already become airborne. Having an efficient dust collection system in place means that hazardous particles can be captured right at the source, with numerous benefits beyond that of immediately containing the dust itself.
It is well known that welding fumes are hazardous to human health, and the same can be said for abrasive dust. Uncontained dust particles spread easily – far and wide and quickly. Once the lighter particles escape into the air, there is a significant risk that the workers in the factory or workshop will inhale them.
The airborne dust particles will also eventually settle on almost everything in the workplace, from the equipment and peripherals to the HVAC components, ventilation ducts, and expensive electronics and instrumentation. In addition to making them dirty, the dust can negatively affect the lifespan of the machinery, which can become costly to maintain and replace.
Some types of abrasive dust can even become explosive. Larger pieces of aluminum and titanium, for example, are not combustible. Ground to dust, however, and they become combustible.
Abrasive dust is primarily created through grinding, sanding or cutting – processes common to metal fab shops and many similar facilities. There are, in fact, very few metal fab shops that do not perform these operations each and every day – from the moment a shop opens to the moment it closes.
As the tools involved in these processes are often handheld, the worker operating the tool is in immediate proximity to the dust. One way of effectively capturing the dust at the grinding tool is to equip it with an on-tool shroud.
A shroud is a round casing with brushes along the rim. When attached to the grinding wheel, the shroud encloses it. As the tool is grinding, the shroud contains the lighter particles at the source and removes them via a hose connecting the shroud to a central or portable vac unit.
Typically, hi-vac systems are used with shrouded tools that capture most high-velocity particles and prevent them from becoming airborne. While low-vac systems, such as extraction arms, are highly useful for welding fume extraction, they are not able to capture the kind of high-velocity particles produced from grinding.
As efficient as these shrouds are, heavier abrasive dust particles may still escape and fall to the floor or benchtop below. When grinding on a downdraft table, however, the table (with or without suction) captures the heavier particles and stores them in a container.
For those looking at ambient air dust collectors, it’s important to note that these systems are often inadequate at best and counterproductive at worst. Ambient air dust collectors and similar air filtration units, usually located in the ceiling, are commonplace in factories and workshops all over the world. These units only capture particles once they are airborne, meaning that the systems do not prevent particles from spreading from the source to the workers and the machinery.
On the contrary, some ambient air dust collection systems may exacerbate the problem by increasing the general air current inside the facility, spreading the dust particles around.
Proper industrial housekeeping routines are key to workplace safety and production quality.
Industrial housekeeping is a concept used to describe the many ways in which a company can reduce the amount of dangerous particles and other emissions within its facilities to keep them clean and fully functional. As has been described in this article, abrasive dust and similar substances spread easily in many industrial environments, meaning that staff members may become exposed indirectly, despite not operating any dust-generating tools or machinery themselves.
Fortunately, the awareness surrounding these issues is growing among companies and production staff. Using the right kind of equipment only makes it easier to maintain a safe and clean work environment.
In addition, having a proper housekeeping routine helps maintain the quality of machinery, giving it a longer life span. Dusty, dirty machines require more maintenance, and
can even end up having a negative effect on the quality of what is being produced. Last but not least, a well-kept work environment contributes to making a company more attractive overall to its customers, staff and future employees.