While the debate continues over what should be deemed acceptable exposure limits for wood dust in the plant, woodworking manufacturers continue to seek new and improved methods of controlling air quality in their facilities.

As well as concerns over health issues — wood dust is considered an allergen and has been linked to cases of nasal carcinoma — extensive levels of wood dust in the plant can have other adverse effects on the woodworking operation, including equipment and tool life and the quality of the finished product. This is resulting in an increased demand by woodworking facilities of all sizes to seek better means of dust collection and filtration, while simultaneously boosting their efficiency and saving money.

Wood & Wood Products contacted industry experts to pick their brains about the best practices in dust collecting, as well as to get a glimpse of what is on the horizon. Even though opinions may differ on what is most important, all agree that proper dust collection is an essential component in today’s woodworking manufacturing facilities.

“Effective dust collection creates a highly productive shop,” says Robert Witter, owner and president of Oneida Air Systems Inc. “Business owners tell us that good dust collection helps them keep and attract quality workers.

“Advancements and technologies in woodworking equipment require dust collection. It is no an longer option in most shops,” adds Witter. “Shops need enough air volume to clean the woodworking machines while capturing and filtering the fine particulate.”

Baghouse collectors are designed to handle heavy dust loads and large volumes of air from high output operations.

Photo courtesy of Donaldson Torit
Facility layout and machine usage play a large part in selecting the proper dust collection equipment.

Photo courtesy of Oneida Air Systems Inc.

 Rosemarie Kraemer, vice president of Kraemer Tool & Mfg. Co. Ltd., says there are two types of dust collection systems that could go into a woodworking environment. The standard dust collection system is designed to move a certain quantity of air to evacuate machinery on the floor. A high-velocity vacuum dust collection system pulls vacuum through hoses that usually connect to handheld tools, such as a router or sander.

“Understand the difference in buying a dust collector or a dust collection system,” cautions Chuck Morrison, east regional sales manager for Dantherm Filtration Inc. “A dust collector will be an off the shelf item; many times the supplier does not take into account if the unit fits the application. A dust collection system, however, should be sized and designed to fit the application.”

The consensus appears to be that the most effective system would combine both types of dust collection. Additionally, couple ceiling-suspended air cleaners will help purify the air and pick up any fine particles that the rest of the collection system may have missed.

Manufacturers should also review the requirements of the machines on the shop floor. However, they may not always consider the shop’s floor plan, which machines are used the most often, safety issues and future growth. The more information provided to the dust collector company the better.

“The number one scenario is to analyze the requirements first,” says Curt Corum, product application manager of Air Handling Systems Manufacturing Service Co. Inc. “Somebody has to get, preliminarily, a floor plan from the said facility, [showing] what machines there are and what the size of the dust outlets are. Once it’s analyzed up front, the designer is going to come up with how many cubic feet per minute of air flow that the system is going to have to move, and as a result, how it’s going to be divvied up by people working a set amount of machinery.”

According to Corum, some companies will “forward baggies filled with the waste that they generate so the collector people can…know exactly what they’re dealing with.”

Mike Bull, sales engineer at Koger Air Corp., says, “The keys to dust collector sizing are the type of material to be handled, including bulk density and approximate particle size, the amount of material to be handled per hour and the cubic feet per minute of air required.”

Multiple filter bags, as seen on this indoor/outdoor unit, mean more efficiency and cleaner air.

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Machinery Corp.

 Many dust collecting companies also will provide design services to woodworking facilities. “The dust collector company should be able to provide a solution for your customer’s specific needs whether they are environmental, health and/or maintenance related,” says a spokesman from Donaldson Torit. Designers will take into account machine specifics, regulatory requirements and potential growth options.

“Make sure the system conforms to current local codes — which can differ from nationally accepted guidelines,” says Roy Scoggin, vice president of Flamex Inc.

“Never buy a dust collector unless somebody has done the design preliminarily,” adds Corum.

Bigger is Better

All interviewed generally agree that when woodworkers are in the process of purchasing a dust collector system, they do not always consider future needs, resulting in additional costs required to add on to or to redesign a system.

Wood products manufacturers should consider a “unit large enough for immediate and future capacity,” says Peter Boshco, president of Boshco Inc.

“Educating woodworkers gives them the tools to make decisions (that are) best for their needs,” says Dennis Rayon, president and owner of Denray Machine Inc.

For example, if a shop is anticipating the addition of employees, or regularly used machinery, they need to inform the designer and purchase a system to accommodate the growth. Otherwise, the system will not support the company’s needs in the future. To accommodate growth, manufacturers also may look into adding a smaller collector. These smaller units are less effective and typically cannot be added into the existing system. Additionally, smaller units generally can only service one machine.

Rayon adds, “Too many customers under-buy the needed product. Then they become dissatisfied with the product, rather than dissatisfied with their decision. Like buying a pickup to do the job of a semi truck.”

Kraemer cautions wood products manufacturers against purchasing a dust collection system from a company that makes lofty claims about collection capabilities. “You can only get so much air through a four-inch hole,” she says.

When researching dust collection systems, look for machines that have been tested by the Air Movement & Control Assn. Inc., which publishes and distributes standards and reference materials related to air system equipment.

“System flexibility will be important in the future, so the system can adapt to future requirements without a total system redesign,” adds Scoggin.

Maintenance Matters

Industry experts and OSHA agree that to provide maximum protection and effectiveness, dust collectors need to be properly maintained. Regular maintenance will not only extend filter life but improve the dust collector efficiency as well.

“Clean filters will work wonders,” says Kraemer.

“Properly working dust collection usually means better life of woodworking machines connected to it,” adds Boshco, “as well as greater equipment efficiency and less long-term costs.” Additionally, maintenance of equipment through dust collection can extend tool life; dust buildup in power tools can block air ports and significantly shorten tool life.

“Dust collectors with automatic cleaning systems are becoming more requested,” says Riccardo Azzoni, president of Atlantic Machinery Corp.

Wood dust also can affect the finished product, says Steve Coffee, sales and marketing manager for Scientific Dust Collectors. Dust in the air will settle on finishes, creating imperfections throughout the product. The damaged goods become waste, which ends up costing the company money.

There are various ways to determine the amount of wood dust in the shop at any time, Coffee adds. A quick and simple test to determine the amount of wood dust in the air is to turn off the lights in the shop and turn on a flashlight. The flashlight’s beam will illuminate the particles in the air.

“Dust control has always been a low priority in woodworking shops as, unlike machinery purchases, it appears not to bring a measurable advantage in production and does not seem to have a measurable payback,” says Azzoni. “As good as efficient dust collection is for the working environment, so it is for production, because a cleaner and less noisy environment makes for happier workers, and machines that are properly dust collected run better, longer and are safer to operate.”

Avoiding the Big Bang

Wood dust, especially fine wood dust, is an extremely combustible byproduct of woodworking operations. A spark inside a dust collector can cause a fire and/or explosion.

Manufacturers may have the “it will never happen to me” mentality, but that can be dangerous. “At some point in time, something will happen,” cautions Coffee.

When manufacturers overlook the more volatile hazards of wood dust, they are gambling on performance and worker safety.

“In addition to sprinklers, protect the dust collection equipment with spark detection and an extinguishing system that will also trip a fast acting abort gate in the return air duct,” says Scoggin.

A strategically placed explosion vent, which channels the force of an explosion into a designated area, can prove an invaluable component to the dust collection system. When the explosion is not controlled, it can destroy machinery, injure employees and even wreck the facilities.

Azzoni says, “As regulations continue to tighten, making the workplace a safer and better environment for employees will become an even greater issue to address.”

Additional Savings

When purchasing a dust collector, wood products manufacturers may look only to the initial savings and not the long-term benefits. Larger waste receptacles mean less frequent emptying, and therefore, less labor costs as well as less need to shut down production to change receptacles. A high-velocity vacuum dust collection system can double as an effective tool at clean-up time. Not to mention, a proper dust collection system will reduce the overall clean-up time at the end of the day, allowing more time for production.

According to the experts, one of the foremost demands of their customers is a system with extended product life and reduced operational costs.

“Use of continuous-duty equipment with lower pressure drop restriction will translate into lower operating expense,” says the spokesman from Donaldson Torit. “At the same time, filtration efficiency performance will become increasingly important as users evaluate the possibility to recirculate air into their facilities. This recirculation will allow them to economize on their make-up air processing, offering additional savings in total facility operations.”

“One request that is becoming more popular,” says Bull, “is the separation of chips and sawdust as more companies are selling their different classifications of wood waste to customers with different requirements.”

Not all savings come from efficiency, however. More and more, facilities are pursuing systems that will allow them to burn off waste and reduce or eliminate the cost of heating. While such systems may be more expensive initially, the payoff can be substantial.

“In colder climates, especially with the cost of fuel, many facilities are starting to turn to burning their waste for fuel,” Corum states. “Now we’re talking big, big savings.

“I have one customer on Long Island New York that installed a system. They don’t even briquette it, they just dump the waste and sawdust — everything — into this huge furnace. In the middle of winter, he got a 150,000-square-foot plant up to 72° and he still had to discharge 10 percent that he had left over. He said that system was going to get a

payback in two years,” Corum adds.

“Many customers also are asking for energy management systems,” says Morrison. “These types of systems increase the dust collection efficiency by utilizing blast gates or shut-off gates in the system to cut off air flow when it is not needed. Also, variable frequency drives are being utilized in conjunction with a pressure sensor and then communicating with the main fan motor, allowing for increases in rpm when more air is needed, or decreasing rpm when less air is needed. This technology will grow and become more popular as energy costs rise.”

“The biggest trends in the next five to 10 years are in more efficiency, and when it comes to dollars and cents, energy costs,” says Coffee “Operational costs, energy costs and emission requirements will be looked at a lot more stringently.”


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.