Smart Extraction

New technologies are helping to make weld fume extraction smarter and, in turn, welders safer

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Welding is a foundational process – it’s required in a ton of industries for the production of millions of products. But welding comes with inherent risks, particularly in the form of hazardous fumes that can pose major health risks if not properly extracted. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified weld fumes as a Group 1 carcinogenic. For context, Group 1 refers to a list of 120 substances, including asbestos, tobacco and UV rays, that have demonstrated substantial evidence for creating or causing cancer in patients.

While the IARC isn’t an official regulatory body, those groups usually aren’t far behind. Regardless, there is a growing understanding that weld fume extraction isn’t just about compliance; it’s about keeping workers safe.

“There has always been this sentiment that it’s important to be careful about fumes, but mostly when dealing with the really toxic ones produced from welding materials like chrome,” says Travis Haynam, vice president, segments, extraction and filtration division at Nederman. “The designation from IARC, however, emphasizes an important point: While it’s more acute with those materials, they’re not the only ones to be concerned about.”

So, as the spotlight on weld fumes intensifies, there is a growing need for smarter fume extraction solutions. In that regard, the convergence of Nederman’s SmartFilter and SAVE technologies present a compelling case for how manufacturers can improve their approach to weld fume extraction and workplace safety.

There is a growing understanding that weld fume extraction isn’t just about compliance; it’s about keeping workers safe.

Cost to be clean

Weld fumes consist of harmful particulates and toxic gases that can lead to all sorts of health issues. Employers know it and so do welders and the employees that work alongside them. Considering the high demand for welders today, employers are constantly reminded that welders have the upper hand when it comes to picking and choosing their place of employment. Therefore, if the goal is to attract skilled welders, poor working conditions are a non-starter.

“The shortage of welders is so acute that most companies are already accepting more stringent air-quality standards,” Haynam says. “To convince somebody to work for them, it’s almost imperative. A clean, safe facility will have less turnover and happier employees than a facility that has toxic haze floating in the air.”

Creating a clean-air facility doesn’t have to require businesses to make financial sacrifices, though. Employers will find cost offsets when they reduce their employee turnover rates. And they can also take advantage of technologies that collect weld fumes in a cost-efficient way.

SmartFilter and SAVE products are good examples of the technologies available to cost-efficiently collect weld fumes, but they are also good examples of the direction society in general is trending – humans rely on technology-infused products more with every passing day.

“When you buy something today, you almost expect that it has the ability to be connected,” Haynam says. “This is especially true in the business world. Think of a customer that has had problems in the past with a device breaking that could have been avoided with the right monitoring system. For them, smart systems have a lot of value.”

The “smartification” of Nederman’s products started about six years ago when the company began incorporating digital monitoring capabilities into its standard products and services. And it carried on with the development of an overall monitoring platform.

“You can put all these sensors on the products, but you need somewhere to aggregate, consume and analyze the data,” he explains. “With Nederman Insight, our monitoring platform, we can actually provide better service to our customers because we can proactively look at the collected data that, for example, indicates that a filter needs to be changed.”

Since these initial developments, Nederman has been continually investing in “smart” capabilities within its products and services. This is done by offering a standard suite of sensors that customers can select from according to what’s important to them and the pain points they’ve had in the past.

Nederman’s monitoring platform, Nederman Insight, gives users a dashboard to see the data their fume extraction systems are collecting.

Futuristic filters

SmartFilters rely on the company’s suite of sensors that can be incorporated within a customer’s system to monitor and track their weld fume extraction operations. The sensors ensure the system is delivering the necessary performance by creating alerts when service or maintenance is required.

Additionally, advanced filter cleaning controls and algorithms have been added to advanced filter media and cleaning technologies in order to reduce compressed air consumption and decrease component wear and tear to further extend filter and component life.

Further savings can be realized through the innovative SAVE technology. Unlike traditional weld fume extraction systems that employ constant air volume extraction, SAVE technology takes a more intelligent approach. When a welder isn’t welding, they aren’t producing fumes, so in those cases, the system knows to adjust the extraction volume and pressure based on the actual number of active extraction points.

“Our SAVE technology is basically just a smarter way to manage the airflow through the ducted system,” Haynam says. “Let’s say you have 10 welders and each of them is generating fumes. Very few of them, however, are welding 100 percent of the time. In fact, none of them are; most welders’ duty cycle is less than 50 percent.

“If you have a central system that is always collecting air at each extraction point, that’s a lot of wasted energy,” he continues. “SAVE, however, manages the airflow through the complete system so that if one of those extraction points isn’t generating contaminant, it can close those dampers. It opens them when they’re needed and closes them when they’re not.”

By combining SAVE technology with SmartFilters, businesses can also make notable strides toward their sustainability goals. Reduced energy consumption leads to a smaller carbon footprint, aligning with environmental commitments on top of regulatory requirements.

Using the process or machine data collected to maintain proper airflow, SAVE technology can track machine operation and utilization and visualize the data using Nederman’s Insight monitoring platform.

Savings in the details

Through Nederman’s digital platform, users can gather data about how the system is being managed – when dampers are opened or closed or when energy consumption is higher or lower. Because of these data-tracking capabilities, companies can demonstrate that they are reducing their carbon footprints and, in turn, apply for grants or incentives from power companies or their local government to help pay for some of these investments.

“Another benefit of this data collection is knowing your utilization – it’s a way to measure arc-on time whether it’s an employee or a robot,” Haynam says. “We get that data just by understanding whether or not extraction is needed or not.”

As far as ease of use is concerned, the dashboards are easy to navigate and customize. Users can receive alerts and status updates on their mobile phones, but to get into more detailed data analysis, they can go to their PCs or laptops. In terms of digesting the data, it can be accessed on the platform or exported to Excel.

“And, for customers that might prefer additional assistance, Nederman offers a variety of service packages,” he says. “Some customers just want access to the data, some want us to monitor the data for them, and some want it as part of an in-person and digital service package. Everybody’s different on their digital journey and how they approach data, service and maintenance.”

Through the platform, customers can also access documentation of the system’s effectiveness to provide proof of compliance with standards and regulations. There are a lot of advantages here.

Nederman SAVE technology manages the airflow through a complete system by closing the dampers at extraction points when they aren’t generating contamination.

Course of Action

Taking a few steps back, the first order of business is to assess the current weld fume extraction situation. Most fabricators have some form of fume extraction that either needs to be replaced or upgraded.

“Everybody’s on their own journey toward a cleaner shop, so it depends on how complex a system needs to be,” Haynam says. “That’s why the first step is assessing their needs. They can call us or work with an industrial hygienist or an expert in the industry in capturing fumes.

“Once you figure out the course of action to better protect your employees, then you can really start getting into the most efficient way to do that,” he adds. “If you look at it holistically from the very beginning, you’ll save yourself some money and will be more efficient through the whole process.”

Fortunately, the process can be fairly straightforward. Haynam stresses, however, that customers shouldn’t feel rushed to immediately jump into the data side of things.

“When we developed these products, we knew we had to meet the customer where they were at,” he says. “They can buy a product with sensors, but not feel forced to do anything with the data right away. But they can also buy a product and get the whole shebang right out of the gate with the data monitoring and service plans that we offer to assist customers with these new technologies. No matter the timing, the main thing is to be prepared for the future.”

Once a system has been established and/or retrofitted with Nederman’s smart products, a business will be on its way to a safer and more productive work environment whether it starts tracking data on day one or not. And, when the full capabilities are used, employers and employees can rest easy knowing that they will be promptly alerted to unsafe conditions like insufficient airflow, fires or a filter bypass that can be followed up with corrective action recommendations, further mitigating potential health risks for welders.

Overall, this level of proactive fume management will reduce the chances of long-term respiratory problems and other health complications associated with weld fume exposure. And as it turns out, the adoption of this type of technology will ultimately deliver economic benefits.

Nederman’s MCP SmartFilter is a multi-purpose filtration system suitable for fumes, smoke and dust and can be used in several applications such as welding, metal cutting and general dust collection.

Any initial investment will be offset by the cost savings generated from reduced energy consumption and enhanced worker productivity. Businesses will also gain a competitive edge by showcasing their commitment to worker well-being and environmental stewardship, attracting employees and customers that prioritize responsible and sustainable practices.

Nederman

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