With anywhere from 20 to 40 professional sanders operating at one time, dust came with the territory at Oak Designs. Oak, birch, and other wood dust blanketed the equipment, floors, and walls at the company’s 40,000-square-foot furniture factory. But company president Gene Boutin did not have a high tolerance for dust and all the problems that accompany it, including chronic respiratory conditions, production inefficiency, and higher production costs.

Oak Designs is a family-owned and operated manufacturer of furniture and cabinetry, using both traditional and modern construction methods. Their factory is located in Manchester, N.H., and uses state-of-the-art equipment and personal attention to bring furniture to life. All Oak Designs products are made to order in choice of wood and finish. Their full lines of youth bedroom, home office, entertainment pieces and kitchen cabinetry are available in a wide variety of styles and sizes.

Oak Designs searched for a solution to the dust problem for at least five years. Shop manager Justin Boutin tried to collect the dust at each individual sanding station during production, but the inefficient shop-style vacuums they had been using could not handle the volume. Filters were clogging two or three times an hour, forcing workers to stop and change them. They still were required to wear dust masks. “It really became a nightmare to deal with,” said Justin. 

Finally, management found three industrial vacuums that had potential, but all three failed to make a difference in the quantity of dust on the factory floor, on the equipment, and in the air.

“We tried three vacuums and they didn’t do the job. We pulled them right out,” said Gene Boutin. Then his representative from Norris Wiener Co. in Billerica, Mass., introduced him to Nilfisk CFM.

New system knocks out dust

“We examined the factory and found that the previous piping system wasn’t large enough and its vacuums were not powerful enough for the high quantity of wood dust being produced,” says Ray McCarthy, Nilfisk CFM senior district sales manager.

Oak Designs installed Nilfisk CFM model CFM 3907/18 vacuum with HEPA and cartridge filters as a central system for its 40 vacuum-assisted sanders. The vacuum is linked into a pipe system that runs about 250 feet. (The CFM vacuum can be used for process integrated spot suction cleaning as well as central vacuum system applications.) They replaced the old system with an industrial-strength central system that employs a pulse, self-purging cartridge system.

“Every 20 seconds, the vacuum pulses compressed air at the filters to knock off the dust. Plus, there are four fine filters that continuously rotate, so while one filter is being cleaned, another is in use,” says McCarthy.

Since installation, wood dust and its inherent problems have almost been eliminated at Oak Designs. “We used to have to confine our sanding to a separate part of the building,” says Justin Boutin. “Now we actually finish in the same area as we sand, which is highly unusual under these conditions.

“Dust is obviously harmful to your lungs and can cause big problems down the road, so we wanted to eliminate that potential danger for our employees,” he says. Earlier, Oak Designs had required all workers to wear dust masks, costing the company about $120 in disposable masks every three days. Since the new system was implemented, workers are no longer required nor need to wear the masks because the factory is so clean. “We recently had a visitor who commented that, even with 18 sanders going at once, there is no haze to obscure your vision.”

Wood dust was also harming the wood products. “Before Nilfisk, dust was everywhere and it would often collect on the sanders, then travel with the sandpaper causing swirl marks on the wood piece you were working on,” says Justin Boutin. The company would have to compensate by sanding more, which in turn created more dust. “It was an endless cycle.”

Saving time

Also, prior to purchasing the Nilfisk system, Oak Designs wasted valuable man-hours sweeping and manually vacuuming floors and equipment. The company estimates that it spent an average of five to 10 minutes cleaning after every shift and the dust was still a major nuisance.

In addition to saving time and labor on cleaning since implementing the Nilfisk vacuum system, Oak Designs saves money on sandpaper. Wood dust was being embedded in the sandpaper, dulling it prematurely. “We went through at least 10 boxes of sandpaper every three days, now a box lasts two or more weeks. At about $12 per box, we were wasting nearly $250 a week on paper.” Today, the company averages about 5 times more use out of the same sandpaper disc.

Maintaining a pristine factory is extremely important to Oak Designs. It improves workflow, affects quality and has a positive impact on employee morale.

“A dirty plant can slow people down. Without dust and debris or other hazards on the floor, things move smoother. Employees move quicker and are safer without obstructions or slippery, dusty surfaces,” says Justin Boutin.

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