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OEM Report: Automotive

Boosting air quality

By Russ Olexa

March 2009- Air quality might seem like a secondary concern for many companies, but when clean air helps employees gain productivity through a better work environment and reduces operating costs, it shouldn't be taken lightly.

Automotive supplier E&E Mfg. Co., Plymouth, Mich., used an aggressive method for its health and safety and an equally uncompromising approach to air filtration, earning it a safety award from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In November 2003, E&E's facility became the first automotive stamping plant in the nation to achieve OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program Star Award, recognizing exemplary, comprehensive safety and health management systems. The Star Award is highly regarded, recognizing the best of the best in safety and health, according to Richard Sbroglia, safety and training manager, who's responsible for all safety and health requirements for E&E.

Sbroglia is particularly proud of the award because welding activity at the facility has increased dramatically over the past five years due to customer demand. The plant now has numerous welding cells that create a lot of smoke and debris inside the plant.

"We have an aggressive stance on our employees' health," says Sbroglia. "Safety and air filtration for welding fumes is a concern. It wasn't an option when we began to do welding. We had to do something to contain the fumes and smoke that are part of the welding process. There was really no discussion--it was simply something that had to happen."

Comparing costs
E&E did a cost comparison on air filtration systems, looking at unit costs, operation costs and performance levels of various systems. The company chose RoboVent, a self-contained air filtration system from Great Lakes Air Technologies, Clawson, Mich., because of its flexibility and portability, says Sbroglia.

RoboVent's FloorSaver air filtration unit mounts directly over the welding cell without ductwork and can be moved with the cell. It captures 100 percent of welding smoke and fumes at the source as they're produced, filters and cleans the air, and returns clean air to the plant.

With welding operations at the facility growing rapidly, Sbroglia says E&E selected RoboVent because it doesn't use ductwork and is easy to move. "We save thousands of dollars every time we move welding cells because we don't have to reduct and reduct."

Sbroglia also notes RoboVent's plug-and-play portability is a big asset for a growing company that has to frequently reset its plant floor. "We're able to unplug a robot in about 45 minutes, move it to it's new location, reconnect the cell to the power supply, and in about two or three hours, we'll be able to run it. If I asked somebody to move ductwork, they'd say it would take two weeks. I'd have to get a quote, get the quote approved, get a layout, go through the move and pay the bill."

Sbroglia says another consideration for the RoboVent ventilation system was that it eliminates shutdowns because of ventilation system failures. "If you have a central ventilation system failure, you've affected every welding cell that's attached," he says. "With the RoboVent, since they're self-contained on individual cells, if one goes down, the rest of the department is still running, and you're just dealing with the one unit that's down. As we add welding cells, we add filtration systems."

E&E has six RoboVent FloorSaver units, one RoboVent Floor Mount unit and has been using Great Lakes products since 1998.

The right reasons
"There are all kinds of benefits to having an aggressive health and safety program," Sbroglia says. "Good air quality improves employee morale immensely. Employees' morale is positive because they aren't concerned about fumes coming off of the machines and making them feel ill or giving the perception of feeling ill. Therefore, employees are more content at the jobs they're doing."

Sbroglia says employees and visitors notice the air quality within the plant. He notes that one of the welding technicians was thankful for the air quality in the plant, particularly compared with where he used to work.

And on a recent visit from the OSHA industrial hygienist assigned to the E&E plant, Sbroglia says, "She couldn't believe the visual air quality in the plant, and when she did air quality tests, they came back with no issues whatsoever."

Sbroglia believes that by operating without adequate air filtration in a welding plant, a company is asking for problems, particularly elevated workers' compensation costs, poor employee morale and low quality of work.

"There are few things that we have control over in regard to impact on the bottom line," he says. "One of the things we have impact on is the cost of our workers' compensation insurance. By having an aggressive health and safety program, we can reduce our worker's compensation costs dramatically. A clean, healthy plant also leads to low employee turnover and good employee morale. It just makes good business sense to have a safe, healthy work environment." FFJ

Sources

  • Great Lakes Air Technologies Inc.
    Clawson, Mich.
    phone: 248/655-1800
    www.robovent.com
    e-mail: info@robovent.com

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