Fresh air

By Gretchen Salois

Above: RoboVent performs a full analysis of a shop's operations to determine the best air filtration solution.

Filtering out contaminants goes beyond opening a window

October 2016 - When heat is applied between metals to join the materials together, the result is often a bond stronger than the base material itself. Welders achieve those bonds by wielding torches, but they expose themselves to dangerous particulates from the resulting smoke and dust. Keeping the air clear is vital as it’s the smallest of these toxic particles that hide the most harm.

Prepped and ready to move into its new facility, Vector Technologies Ltd. in Milwaukee realized the building’s air exchangers would be inadequate to promoting a safe workspace. “We weld a lot of steel and needed some way to exhaust the smoke. We didn’t know whether we should recycle and filter the dirty air or use a similar system to what was there before where old air was simply pushed outside and new air circulated in,” recalls David Ardelt, purchasing manager at the industrial vacuum manufacturer. 

An introduction from Airgas led Vector Technologies to RoboVent in Columbus, Ohio. “A representative from RoboVent came in and performed tests to measure the amount of welding being performed in our facility resulting in weld smoke, dust—any and all contaminants,” Ardelt says. “He recommended the size of filtration system we would need and [we] followed that up with a visit to one of their existing customers using a similar system.”

Compared with the atmosphere in Vector Technologies’ shop, Ardelt says he was floored by the crisp, clean air quality created with RoboVent’s air filtration system when he visited that customer. “We had several of our people do the tour and everyone, including our building maintenance manager, gave their blessing,” he says.

FFJ 1016 welding image1

Dangerous VOCs and harmful particulates need to be directed away from peoples’ airways during the welding process, says RoboVent's John Keaser.

Fresh air

Due to the amount of welding Vector Technologies performs on a daily basis for its industrial-strength vacuums, it required a heavy-duty filtration system. Once the filtration system began running, says Ardelt, the improvement was obvious. “It was a world of difference. Before, you’d see a cloud of smoke from one end of the shop floor to the other—it’s clear now, not one ounce of smoke.”

The company builds its products from hot-rolled mild carbon steel ranging from 1⁄4-in. to 1 in. thick or more. “Our customers could be roofers who need the vacuum to remove roofing ballast (rocks) during the roofing repair process,” explains Ardelt. “City workers use our vacuums to clean out sewers or catch basins, and painting contractors use the machines to recover abrasives used in the blasting process. We even build machines with special filtration for hazardous waste recovery, like asbestos. Our vacuums handle a wide variety of cleanup.” The trailers for the vacuum equipment, which can be more than 20 ft. long, are made from various sizes of rectangular tubing. 

Vector Technologies has six welders on 8-hour shifts. “From start to finish, the raw material comes in, goes through the process of welding baghouses, welding the trailers as well as any prefabrication of small parts that go into the final assembly of the vacuum, tank and trailer,” Ardelt says. “We could be welding anything from a big tank that will collect debris to creating the weldments for the channel area to hold the hydraulics and mountings for the engine. Each station works on a different part and it’s moved to our assembly side of the shop to piece together like a puzzle.”

With an average of 12 complete units per month, that’s a lot of welding. “Depending on the size of trailer and tank, we could be welding trailers that need to be strong enough to handle the large engines.” Ardelt says. “That could be 1⁄4-in. to 1-in.-thick rectangular tubing [up to] 16 ft. long.” The crew must weld supports to the trailer, which might be a 6-in. by 6-in. weld to the side of the trailer for added support to prevent cracking. “It depends on how it’s engineered to hold the weight and absorb the force from the engine while running, using powerful horsepower and speed. Proper welds keep the trailer secure so the force and weight of the vacuum doesn’t crack the steel,” he says.


When evaluating an installation job, RoboVent first performs a detailed on-site study using American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGHI) standards to determine what types of processes result in harmful particulates. It measures corrosion, the use of potentially hazardous materials like oils, variation in temperature within the facility, production levels, seasonal changes and the permissible exposure level (PEL) for that state. 

A turnkey option, RoboVent customizes a filtration system to fit within a facility’s footprint. The primary options are a push-pull system, which recirculates air in plants, captures dirty air, sends it through filtration units, cleans it and returns it to the plant without outside exhaust or loss of heat; and an ambient vortex system, which creates a circular airflow to capture and filter the shop’s air.

FFJ 1016 welding image2

Vector Technologies has six welders that run on 8-hour shifts, averaging 12 industrial-sized vacuums and trailers a month.

Vector Technologies installed an ambient vortex system that reduces noise. “Air is circulated throughout the facility without the interference of cranes or duct work,” says Frank Cea, RoboVent director of marketing communications and business development in Columbus, Ohio. “Vector Technologies also opted for additional features such as a fire suppression system and safety sensors to monitor clean air and monitor particulates.”

Exhausting air and filtering it are two different processes. During the welding process, dangerous VOCs and harmful particulates need to be directed away from peoples’ airways, says John Keaser, RoboVent’s lead CAD engineer. “Companies are being pushed to lower exposure levels for chemicals like hexavalent chromium,” Keaser says. “Air quality improves breathing [and] helps keep the facility clean. If air quality is dingy, chances are the facility will reflect that with stained walls and floors.”

A third option, wet scrubbing, filters VOCs through a wet process. This is particularly useful for the coal industry which emits sulfur dioxide gases. Once coal is burned and produces SO2, the exhaust gas passes through the scrubber where a spray mixture of limestone and water reacts with the SO2. The reaction helps remove SO2 before it’s released into the atmosphere.

From proposal to completion, RoboVent alerted Vector Technologies to the progress of each stage of the air filtration system’s installation. “[RoboVent’s] scheduling department kept us updated on every detail, including what part of the installation was complete, what they were working on next and the estimated time of completion—there were no guessing games,” Ardelt says. “We didn’t have to wait for help when we had questions. If there was a problem, boom, they were on top of it and it was up and running.”

Offering a lifetime performance guarantee includes providing a PEL target. “Instead of trying to fit an existing model into your business, we cater each system to your specific shop and operations,” Cea says. 

Vector Technologies employees breathe fresh air. “We’re not just pushing out contaminated air and circulating clean air from outside. We’re cleaning the existing air instead,” Ardelt says. “The air is clean as well as everything else in the shop—the walls no longer have brown-tinged stripes along what started out as white walls.” FFJ



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