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Why It’s Important to Take a Smarter Approach to Factory Air


October 26, 2020 | Bill Esler

Sponsored by Nederman Corp.

Whether your factory is already far along on the path to digital operations management, or you are just beginning the process, you will eventually find yourself connecting to a manufacturing information network using the “Industrial Internet of Things”(or IIoT). The motivation behind that process of transformation to digital brings up some common expectations, such as:

  • increased productivity
  • reduced waste
  • improved worker safety and
  • more sustainable operations.

Understandably, in the move to digital operations, factory managers often look first to improve their primary customer value streams, the core processes.

But a factory’s digital strategy should not end here. Many opportunities exist within the systems that support operations that can have significant impacts on improving production and overall operations. One such opportunity is factory air quality, and the air filtration systems responsible for creating and maintaining this air.

Clean factory air is the foundation of a well-run operation, and of digital IIoT solutions. Yet wood manufacturing firms rarely possess the in-house expertise to fully understand the operation of these systems, or the availability of resources to properly maintain them, let alone to optimize their performance.

But IIoT also presents the opportunity for that missing industry expertise to be built directly into the air cleaning solutions, and to allow factories to take full control of their air. These solutions, focused on improving or maintaining air quality, can impact critical areas of production – think of the clean environments critical to producing fine and super gloss finishes – as well as improving conditions that provide worker health and safety, increased productivity, energy management and sustainability.

How is factory indoor air quality and the industrial air filtration systems responsible for creating and maintaining this air, related to the IIoT? 

Air quality may not be an obvious next step for IIoT investments, but creating and maintaining a clean working environment through smarter operation of dust, mist or fume collection equipment will directly impact critical areas including employee health and safety, reduced energy consumption and sustainability.

Because factories rarely possess the in-house expertise to fully understand these systems or the available resources to properly maintain these solutions, let alone optimize their performance, IIoT presents the opportunity for “industry experts” to be built directly into the solution, and to allow factories to take control of their air.

How does an IIoT supported filtration system improve factory operations? Here’s a short list: 

Worker Safety: Compliance with applicable exposure limits and safety standards is an essential component of any factory safety plan. IIoT brings the ability to ensure that the filtration system is functioning correctly and protecting workers. Direct measurements near workers’ breathing zones, ambient dust concentration, or opacity levels can each be used to activate control systems or alert workers of problems to minimize the hazard exposure.

Tracking Use of Contaminant Controls: IIoT can be used to measure and track worker use of contaminant control devices to encourage adoption for even the most stubborn employees. The filter’s effectiveness and efficiency can be monitored through regular emission monitoring and ensure that the factory remains within their permits or that recirculated air remains safe.

Protection from Fire, Explosion: Filtration systems not only protect workers from airborne contaminants, they also protect facilities from fire and explosion hazards due to combustible dust. In 2018 alone there were over 250 reported factory fires or explosions related to combustible dust that resulted in over 100 injuries and 17 fatalities making compliance with global standards such as NFPA or ATEX a critical part of the safety plan.

However, the complexity and continually changing criteria also presents challenges for companies to keep up. IIoT can help ensure that standards are being met during everyday operation through algorithms developed by industry experts.

Ensuring safety devices are active and properly maintained before allowing a process initiation or that enough airflow exists to sufficiently transport dust through the duct system to avoid dust accumulation within ducts and associated increased fire risk.

Job Market Advantage: Beyond just standard compliance, awareness of personal safety and working conditions is higher than it has ever been. Given the competitive job market and broader work-force shortages impacting manufacturers across the globe, consistently providing clean air and improved safety can be a positive factor in employee recruiting and retention.

Energy Savings: Studies show that 70% of the manufacturing electricity consumed is on industrial motor systems like fans, compressors or material handling devices which are included in most industrial filtration systems. Leveraging IIoT solutions to monitor the process actively and initiate adjustments to the system can reduce the demand on these industrial motors and identify problems that may prevent efficient operation. 


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