Investing in Quality Dust Collection Pays Off

How a dust collection system can lead to higher production quality and employee morale.

By Joseph Maffia

Most woodworking businesses understand the need for dust collection and the many problems that can occur without it. However, while they want to maintain a healthy and safe work environment, sometimes they feel as if they cannot justify the cost of an expensive dust collection system.

According to Curt Corum, technical sales manager at Air Handling Systems in Woodbridge, CT, many companies make their problems worse by underestimating the importance of efficient dust collection.

“So many companies buy dust collectors first and then back into whether the machine will do what they want,” Corum says. “Companies first have to find out what their specifications are. The last thing we consider is the dust collector.”

Most dust collection companies cannot stress that point enough. “When someone has already installed a cheaper ineffective system we have to redo the entire thing and the cost becomes much greater,” says Joseph Koger, owner of Koger Air in Martinsville, VA. “We are constantly correcting systems that were improperly designed or engineered.”

“Because it doesn’t make anything, a dust collector is not considered a production machine,” says Riccardo Azzoni, owner of Atlantic Machinery in New Milford, CT. “It is hard for a small company to justify putting in an expensive dust collector.”

Some companies believe that they can cut costs by purchasing a dust collection system that is not rated to handle their entire work space. “It is like putting a Band-Aid on something that needs stitches,” Azzoni says.

     
Four Tips for Dust Collection

Wood and Wood Products recently received this guide from Oneida Air Systems Inc. detailing the four main tasks that a good dust collection system accomplishes.

Collects Dust at the Source

One of the most fundamentally important aspects of dust collection. As it is being generated, dust must be picked up, or it will be lost to your shop air, where the task of collecting it becomes nearly impossible. All systems should collect dust at the grinding operation.

Uses Sufficient Air at the Woodworking Machine

This is essential, because if you don’t have sufficient air volume (measured in CFM), wood waste cannot be drawn effectively into the collection system. Each machine that generates dust should have the right diameter ductwork and the right volume of air. Because no two shops are the same, most dust collection companies work with the customer to design a system that fits their individual needs.

Uses a Cyclone

A cyclone system separates the bulky wood waste from the stream entering the dust collection system. This is safer, because it removes potentially destructive objects before they can enter the fan. It is more efficient, because filter clogging no longer reduces airflow and filter cleaning is required only after an extended operation. Finally, it is effective, since it consolidates sawdust into a container for easy disposal.

Filters the Air Before Exhausting

This takes care of the hazardous fine dust before it becomes airborne and employees can breathe it in your shop air. Effective filtration requires two things: the right media in the right amount. Oneida recommends that you look for the BIA ZH1/487 rating. This internationally recognized test standard evaluates and tests media efficiency. The highest ratings under this method are C and G, where over 99 percent of the material in the .001 micron size range are filtered. This is far better than the OSHA air quality standard.

 
   
     

Inadequate Collection Affects Quality

Companies must also be careful to make sure their dust collection system is installed correctly. “I have visited many facilities that are seeking new dust collectors and find a perfectly good collector on-site but installed improperly,” says William Fitzpatrick, national sales manager at Dustvent Inc. in Addison, IL. “This is usually a result of the do-it-yourself approach.”

In several cases, poor dust collection can even lead to inferior products, with dust collecting inside machines and products. “If a company is doing finishing work, the fine dust tends to be drawn into that area and it collects on the parts being finished,” Azzoni says.

Rosemary Kraemer, owner of Kraemer Tool in Brampton, Ontario, agrees that the quality of a company’s product can be greatly effected by inadequate dust collection. “The fine particles make the finish look grainy,” says Kraemer. “But sometimes, if you try to tell people that it will affect them in the long run, they think you are only trying to push your product.”

Production quality can also be hindered by a low visibility in the work area. “Let’s say that somebody is sanding something without a dust collector,” Corum says. “It’s like driving through a snowstorm. You can’t see what you are doing. It is a vision impairing scenario.”

Health Problems

Poor dust collection can also lead to health problems that range from allergies and skin irritation to blood problems and in extreme cases, nasal cancer. “Fine dust, in particular, tends to escape either from the bags or from poorly connected machines and it creates health hazards for the employees,” Azzoni says.

While hardwoods are generally regarded as more hazardous to human health than softwoods, there is a notable exception. According to OSHA, the softwood western red cedar is one of the most hazardous to human health. Health problems appear to be caused by the concentration of tannin and similar compounds in the wood. “In the long run it is the workers who pay the price,” Kraemer says.

According to Koger, the benefits of dust collection outweigh the initial cost. With lower insurance, greater employee morale and health and a higher production quality, dust collection should be seen as a long-term investment. “The key is to prove to (the customer) that there is some payback,” Koger says. “Dust collection does not cost. It pays.” Dust collection also leads to cleaner machinery, thereby reducing the costs of repairs and maintenance.

Designing a Dust Collection System

When preparing to install a dust collection system, it is recommended to bring in professional assistance, someone who knows how to tailor a dust collection system to a specific workspace. According to Corum, companies make the mistake of buying a dust collection system to accomodate the number of machines they own, as opposed to the maximum number that will run at one time.

By designing the system for the maximum numbers of workers on the machines, the dust collection system does not waste power for a number of machines that rarely or never run at the same time. “When applying a dust collector, you need an expert in application and airflow,” Fitzpatrick says.

Companies can also put their wood waste to use for them. Any excess waste can be sold to power-generator plants, steam-generator plants and particleboard plants, according to Koger. It can also be sold or given away to nearby farmers for use as animal bedding.

“Sometimes companies do not get paid (for their wood waste) because the price value is less than what it costs in cartage,” Corum says. “Some companies have a briqueting system that makes the wood waste into briquettes that they burn in their furnaces.”

Measuring the Problem

There are several ways to check to see if you have excessive airborne wood dust. The simplest way is a visual check. Examine equipment and the clothes, face and hair of employees in the shop. This will help determine the location of the problem.

Something as straightforward as equipment layout may also be a main source of wood dust problems. The rotating blades of a planer may throw dust and wood chips back toward the operator. A crosscut saw usually creates a jet of dust that may accidentally be directed towards another workstation creating higher levels of dust at that station. Evaluate the dust patterns of existing and planned equipment and arrange the shop to reduce any problems.

The best way to check your level of wood dust is to monitor the air using battery-powered vacuum pumps with filter cassettes. Samples should be collected by a qualified person to ensure correct procedures and reliable results. These records will document compliance and protect a company in the case of future liability claims.

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