Combustible dust in manufacturing is always (or should be) a concern. It poses risks not only to your equipment but to employees and the surrounding community. However, efforts to contain dust are often consigned to the processes that create it, although there’s usually another major source of dust: the conveyance systems. In this article, we briefly discuss the dangers associated with fugitive dust and how conveyors play a role in creating or containing it.
When combustible dust collects on surfaces or concentrates in the air, it poses a risk for fires, flash fires, and explosions. Such events happen more often than we’d like to admit. Even so, many operations do little to address it.
You’re likely familiar with these risks, but they’re worth repeating because fires and explosions can shut down your operation. They can cause millions of dollars in damage. They can hurt or kill employees. Exposure to the dust itself can also pose a long-term health risk. Wood dust, for example, is a known carcinogen, which is why employees must wear masks while working in areas where it’s abundant. Plus, you’re on the line if they get sick or injured.
Urban Living and Environmental Concerns
Not only can dust prove unsafe, but it can stress relations with neighbors. Once-rural manufacturing facilities can find themselves butting up against residential neighborhoods as urban areas grow. Dust your factory emits can then collect on their cars, lawns, and houses and into their lungs. Obviously, people will complain, and the PR won’t be good for your business, and any “I was here first” attitude won’t help you when the EPA comes knocking. One way or another, you’ll have to address the dust.
Where Does It Come From?
Processing equipment is, of course, one major source of dust. While this is understood, manufacturers sometimes underestimate how much dust their processes will create. Such was the case at a CLT plant in Washington State when it opened. The engineering team didn’t realize how much dust the panel processing equipment would create. Although the machine they purchased included a pneumatic dust collection system, so much dust escaped that it ended up at the far end of the 270,000-square-foot facility. They could only contain dust in the panel processing area after installing a sonic air curtain. If your processes create excess dust, you should likewise work to control it.
Conveyors and Dust
Less thought is typically given to another significant source of dust: material-handling equipment. Belt conveyors are especially notorious in this regard, even when equipped with a cover. Covers help keep precipitation off the materials and prevent wind from kicking up dust, but they can’t do anything about where most of the dust falls from the conveyor: underneath from the return belt. Dust collects under the belt at each point where return rollers support it.
Idlers are problematic not only because they precipitate dust but because the dust mixes with the bearing grease, entering and packing within the bearings, where it can eventually catch fire. Such as the cause of a recent sawmill fire in California. A bearing caught fire, which the belt carried to the silo, which subsequently caught on fire itself. As a result, production reached a standstill until (costly) repairs were made.
How BE&E Helps with Dust
While a fire suppression system may have saved this mill from disaster, it would have done nothing to address the fire’s cause. Nor would it stop dust from escaping the conveyor. To do that, the mill would have needed a fully enclosed system like BE&E’s SMART Conveyor™. BE&E’s drag conveyors are designed to contain dust, which reduces the risk of fires and neighborly disputes. These conveyors are built to minimize friction, thus reducing heat. And they’re available with many safety features, including automated fire suppression, explosion panels, and diversion gates.
As factories grow and communities spread around them, addressing dust concerns is essential before a problem emerges. Fires can spread rapidly, and they aren’t always easy to put out, whether physical or the public-relations kind. It’s one of many reasons to consider BE&E’s SMART Conveyors™.
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