A ‘MODULAR’ APPROACH TO CLEAN AIR - A PRIORITY THAT AFFECTS THE BOTTOM LINE

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Source: Clean Air America, Inc.

Smoke, dust, oil mist and other production pollutants are more efficiently collected and cleaned through a unique modular air filtration system that can also suppress fires, noise and odors – while enhancing the bottom line.

Until recently, most plants considered clean air to be a secondary issue, or a design consideration for new facilities. Yet, the focus on clean air should be on the production line, the source of smoke and pollutants that contaminate the air and taint the very plant itself. Today, thanks to a new modular air cleaning system, there is an affordable solution that not only ensures a cleaner plant, but also will greatly reduce costly maintenance and add substantial energy savings to the bottom line.

In the past, facilities that produced airborne pollutants such as welding and cutting smoke or oil mists simply collected and exhausted the dirty air to the outside. While acceptable to OSHA, this approach is no longer sufficient for those who realize that it sends tons of money up into the blue, in the form of wasted heating, air conditioning and electric power. At the same time, “traditional” ventilation approach often requires greater investment in equipment and maintenance, yet may not be completely safe, as indicated by welding fires or a blue haze around the ceiling lights.

“Most companies today don’t have the in-house expertise to spec the kind of air collection and filtration systems they need on the line,” says Glen Tuplin, Facilities Manager at F&P Georgia, a manufacturer of components for Honda and Nissan. “Plus, there is a lot of competition for capital within a manufacturing company, and an air system is not the type of equipment where management would look for an ROI. Therefore, if a rooftop exhaust system meets OSHA compliance, it will most likely be okay with the company’s production planners.”

However, at F&P Georgia and numerous other plants, ROI did indeed appear promising – with the right air filtration system. A manufacturer of subframe and suspension components, the firm has extensive welding, stamping and painting operations within its 200,000+ sq. ft. facilities in Rome, GA.

Although the original F&P plant was built in 2001 with a “traditional” air ventilation system, coinciding with plant expansion in 2003 Glen Tuplin decided to consider retrofitting a new “modular” air filtration system from Clean Air America, Inc. (also of Rome, GA). That system promised to do a better job of maintaining plant air while slashing costs at the same time. The Clean Air system would not only prove to be economically worthwhile, but would include many other benefits that would help make F&P Georgia’s plant the benchmark for similar Honda suppliers.

Keeping the air inside
“Heating and air conditioning costs are about $2.00 cfm and $4.00 cfm respectively,” Tuplin explains. “Our exhaust total air volume was 103,000. Because the Clean Air America system filtered and returned plant air (rather than exhausting it to the outside), it was simple math to see that we could save $200,000 annually with their system.”

The configuration of Clean Air America’s application-specific, turnkey system consisted of modular hoods for the welding cells, quick-clamp-style ducting, and patented dust collectors to completely filter and return the air to the plant, providing a huge savings due to the reduction in utility consumption. Because the system is engineered to draw smoke, dust and aerosols as near as possible to the source, a cleaner, healthier and safer plant environment is maintained. Employee morale may also be improved, and the improved environment can enhance product quality due to the diminished smoke and dust in the production area.

“While most of our welding is done inside automated cells, there is some done on the floor outside these enclosures,” Tuplin says. “The Clean Air system gives us the flexibility to place air intakes within feet of re-work welders, eliminating the smoke that would normally dissipate throughout the plant.”

A vital system - not an afterthought
Bertil Brahm, Clean Air America’s president, says that manufacturers and processors should seek out experts in plant air filtration during the design of a production line when possible. A longtime veteran of the HVAC industry, Brahm says that this often requires the ability to integrate systems or work with systems integrators.

For example, Clean Air America, Inc provides complete filtration systems for robotic integrators as well as integrators of laser cutting and plasma cutting tables. The firm uses 3D CAD software to design, pre- engineer and engineer a total project, enabling precision drawings and accurate lead times.

“It can be a serious mistake to treat plant air filtration systems as an afterthought,” Brahm says. “When you take that approach you leave gaps. Or, maybe you use multiple contractors, and everything doesn’t come together as you had planned, so they end up blaming one another about whose fault it is while you tear your hair out. The real shame is that a specialist can put it all together for you in a turnkey package.”

Brahm adds that integration and planning will not only result in a more efficient, cost-saving system, but could also save as much as 50% on initial equipment and installation of an air filtration system.

Fire suppression – build it in
Many different plant operations produce dust, aromatics, oil mists and other flammable substances. In the presence of sparks such as those generated by welding, they are an open invitation to internal fires. Glen Tuplin says that for that reason he had Clean Air America include a fire suppression system with F&P Georgia’s air filtration system.

“We use a stamping oil during our stamping operation,” Tuplin explains. “When the metal is welded, the aerosols mix with the oxides and are drawn up into the smoke handling units. There is the possibility that this ‘dust’ can be ignited by an uncontrolled welding spark”.

“Fire suppression is a complex and potentially nightmarish issue,” says Brahm. “Assuming that a stamping operation is using oil, the question is, how are we trying to reduce the possibility for a spark to go where we don’t want it? From a technical point of view, we can provide protection with baffling, change of air velocity, and mechanical means of that sort. In our systems we also use a fire-extinguishing agent (Dupont FE-25). It’s a very quick suppressant like halon, although that is no longer available. FE-25 is a very good halon replacement.”

VFDs save on power, filters and maintenance
In the majority of its air filtration installations, including that of F&P Georgia, Clean Air America used advanced variable-frequency drive (VFD) technology to control blowers and help maintain filters.

“The VFD, the system uses less power because it only draws the current that’s necessary to maintain the airflow that you want,” says Tuplin. “As far as we are concerned, this technology is saving significant energy and also enabling us to avoid spikes during peak usage periods.”

Brahm agrees that the VFDs save a bundle on energy, but says there is a lot more to it than that. Energy is one reason. “Through the use of VFDs we can also increase filter lifetime, reduce noise levels and simply manage the filtration system much better. The VFD ‘soft starts,’ so we can program it so that you control the maximum amperage. Also, as time goes by, filters get dirtier, which causes a pressure drop in the equipment – and the air flow rate will go down. We use reverse pulse to clean our filters, which are the patented Down Flow Technology. As the flow goes down because pressure goes up, you kick up the speed of the VFD a bit and you’ve compensated for the problem with no maintenance to speak of.”

Nothing is as sure as change, and change is occurring faster all the time, especially in manufacturing. Some manufacturing people say that if you’re not changing, you’re dying. Change often requires reconfiguration on the line, and when that happens, you should be able to change the air filtration system with minimum difficulty. The VFDs give Clean Air America’s system a degree of flexibility that enables change airflow on the fly. However, it is the unique modularity of the Clean Air America approach to systems design and installation that ultimately enables plants to change their air filtration systems production operations change, “with minimum pain and maximum efficiency,” says Brahm.

Payback should not be an afterthought, either
The energy and maintenance savings of modular, integrated air filtration systems will have a great bearing on payback or ROI, depending on your view. This of course depends to a great extent on climate and energy costs. Still, there is no denying that these leaner air systems fit today’s lean paradigm.

“You can make things a lot easier if you deal with an expert,” Tuplin says. “We have a very close relationship with Clean Air America, and it has really paid off. I believe the payback on our system was about one year, something that our own engineers and management would hardly believe. So, now we are a test site for other air filtration system innovations, and that will continue to make a difference.”

Tuplin adds that in the automotive sector, plant appearance also makes a difference. “When you’re dealing with auto makers of the stature and standards of Honda and Nissan, you expect them to be demanding, he says. “And when Honda comments your plant is a benchmark for clean air quality, you know you’ve done the right thing.”

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