For several years, I worked as a Sales Rep for a large, European‑owned dust and fume collection company. Like most of the big companies in this industry, they had an aggressive way of doing business that was not consistent with how I believed things should be done. They called it “filling holes,” which was the practice of sizing dust and fume collection equipment large enough to perform well, but not at a capacity that would minimize periodic filter replacement. Regrettably, I condoned it for far too long. How did I reach the tipping point where I decided to start my own business? My story starts with my granddad.
I grew up in a family-owned and operated sheet metal shop. My granddad, a loving and driven man, had me slagging parts and sorting hardware by age seven. I spent every minute of every summer in and around the shop. It was a noisy, greasy and busy place – and I loved it! At an early age, I was fascinated to learn what a cyclone and baghouse were and how they were built. Warm family gatherings always included shop talk and I would eagerly sit in on those conversations, listening to every word. Today is no different. I still love fabrication and never pass up an opportunity to tour a fabrication facility. Dust and fume filtration is truly in my blood.
I started as a sales rep in my early 20’s. At the time, the industry was led by a couple of company giants who promoted the practice of filling holes. I was quickly taught to stretch the limits, get the orders and move on to more projects. This philosophy was fundamentally against what I had learned growing up in the family business. Unfortunately, top dust and fume collection companies continue with this practice today. But being ambitious and eager to please, I unwisely suppressed my opinion of it and sold collectors in this manner for years. Increasingly unhappy with my circumstance, conviction compelled me to start my own business.
In October 2001, I founded Imperial Systems with the mission that my company would build the best dust and fume collection equipment on earth. Our collectors would be designed and built from an end user’s point of view, last longer and filter better than any other collector on the market. Growing up in manufacturing, I knew that one of our strongest attributes was that we were a company that knew how to design, build and install complete systems from start to finish. This was a distinct advantage over the big companies and still holds true today. Every one of our sales engineers has spent time in the field installing systems so that they understand what they’re selling and what it takes to get equipment properly designed for a dependable installation.
For years we successfully built and sold cyclones, baghouses, ducting and airlocks. In 2010, I decided to expand the company by building cartridge style dust collectors. When we started, we copied a major brand’s collector almost exactly. Unfortunately, this was a mistake for several reasons. For one, it did not differentiate us from our competitors. The technology was old, and by replicating it we made ourselves a “me-too” brand. The only way to compete was on price, which immediately put us at a disadvantage. We were the smallest industrial dust collector manufacturer in the industry. Why would someone buy from us over one of the larger, more established companies? When it was all about price, we would win a job but lost money as a consequence. Regrettably, I realized that copying a competitor was a short-sided strategy. Being a “me-too” company is not what I had envisioned as our future.
So, we regrouped and made some innovative design changes. We committed to build a better cartridge dust collector and differentiate ourselves from our competitors. It was then that I realized that our strength was in our differences. From that point on, we reminded ourselves of this insight at every design and engineering meeting. It became a mantra as we insisted on being innovators, not copiers. That’s when our business started to thrive. Independent sales reps started calling us unexpectedly to represent our product line. We started winning the majority of the quotes that we were working on. It was a new beginning for the newly designed CMAXX, now the flagship of Imperial Systems.
I am proud of the new approach and success that Imperial Systems has had with the CMAXX. The innovations came from customers reporting to us the problems with other equipment that they have had for years. They spoke and we listened. Because of these innovations and loyal customers, Imperial Systems is now the most progressive dust and fume collection company in the industry today. Ironically, CMAXX is now the most copied collector on the market!
I guess you can say we are now doing things right. We’ve emerged with dignity from being an ambitious imitator to an industry thought leader. We are transparent about the solutions we provide to fill needs, not holes. I’m so grateful to my granddad for his influence on my life. And I thank every member of the Imperial Systems team for fulfilling my true vision of this company.
By now, if you deal with combustible dust in your facility, you have probably heard about NFPA 652, the new Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust. According to this new standard, your company must have completed a Dust Hazard Analysis by October 2018. OSHA inspectors making overall safety checks can ask for a company to present its DHA and may fine any company that hasn’t conducted one if the dust is a safety hazard.
How do you know if NFPA 652 applies to you and if you need to conduct a dust hazard analysis?
This standard applies to both new installations and existing facilities, so if your process produces dust of any type, it might apply to you. The first step is to conduct safety testing on your dust or particulate if you haven’t already. Because NFPA 652 is a combustible dust standard, the first step is to have a dust test performed. This will give you key information about whether your dust is combustible, how dangerous it is, and what steps you may have to take to address it.
A dust hazard analysis is a review process that looks at each part of the facility’s processes and evaluates any fire, deflagration, or explosion hazards that are present anywhere in the facility as the result of combustible dust. By this standard, it is not good enough to be able to show that you had your dust tested and that you have a dust collection system in place. The entire hazard analysis must be documented. This includes checking for the following hazards and documenting them completely:
Is the dust in this process or area combustible?
Is there dust accumulation in any part of the area?
At any point in this process, is the dust airborne or in a cloud (where it is easier to ignite)?
Are there any ignition sources that could ignite the dust?
Is there enough dust present during the process to allow a deflagration?
Once all these factors have been assessed, the dust hazard analysis needs to answer some very important questions about what’s being done currently and what needs to change in managing the hazards.
What hazard management is in place right now to deal with the combustible dust hazard in each area or process?
Does the current hazard management address all the issues that the hazard analysis uncovered?
If current hazard management isn’t enough or doesn’t cover everything, what steps need to be taken to improve it?
Keep in mind that this is necessary for each area or process in your facility, even if you have one centrally located dust collection system. For example, if your metalworking facility has plasma cutting, welding, and grinding or other fabrication processes, the DHA has to assess the hazards for each one. The weld fumes present a different type of risk than the dust from grinding, for example, and some processes produce a fine airborne fume instead of a heavy accumulating dust.
It’s possible that your DHA will find that you have your combustible dust and fume hazards under good control. If that’s the case, conducting the DHA will give you a full hazard report that meets NFPA 652 standards and that you can present to an OSHA inspector.
If your DHA identifies hazards that still need to be addressed, it’s still very important that you’ve done your work, documented all the combustible dust hazards, and are taking steps to fix problems. Contacting a dust and fume collection professional like Imperial Systems will help you identify your options. We can help you make sure that every area of your facility passes the dust hazard analysis.
NFPA 652 is the organization’s new attempt to prevent combustible dust damage, injury, and death in the workplace. A dust hazard analysis may take time and require good documentation, but it might help you catch a potentially dangerous problem. Take the time to conduct a dust hazard analysis, or have professionals come in and assist you. Address problems if you find them, and you’ll have a safer and healthier workplace.
Download our Dust Testing Sheet and call our team to have your dust tested for a KST value.
There are many things that can affect the hazard that your combustible dust presents. It’s possible for dust that is very safe under most circumstances to cause a dangerous explosion if something goes wrong. Here we’ll talk about some of the kinds of information that you may need to know about your dust to make sure you are protected.
Many engineers will recommend that you test your dust professionally before finalizing your system design. There are a variety of companies that do this; check with your systems engineer to find out who they prefer to work with. This will require you to send in a sample of your dust. If you have more than one type of dust (for example, fine dust from welding and heavier rough dust from grinding), you will want to send samples of all of them to make sure your system can be designed for maximum safety. Combustible dust explosions kill people every year and cause massive damage to property, and it’s worth controlling the problem safely in your facility.
Dust Test Measurements
PARTICLE SIZE (microns):
Some materials are very inert as large pieces, but will burn rapidly in small particulate. Particle size measurement is usually in microns. This is also important for filter efficiency. Particle size is also very important for health purposes: larger particles may be trapped in the nose and throat where they are easy for the body to get rid of, while fine particles (under 30 microns) travel deep into the lungs.
MINIMUM IGNITION ENERGY (MIE):
This is a measurement of how much energy your dust requires to ignite. Some dust requires a lot of energy to ignite (in some explosions, the source of ignition has been an overheating bearing or an open flame). Other dust can ignite with much less energy. Static charges can ignite many types of dust. MIE is how much energy the dust needs to make it ignite.
MINIMUM EXPLOSIVE CONCENTRATION (MEC):
This measures how much dust must be present to cause an explosion. This measurement is usually with airborne dust. It tells you how much dust in the air will ignite if there is a heat source around. This is important because it explains how much dust needs to be floating around in the air to cause an explosion. A secondary explosion, which happens when dust that accumulates in the area lofts into the air by the first explosion, can involve a lot more dust and be a lot more dangerous.
MINIMUM AND MAXIMUM EXPLOSION PRESSURE (PMINand PMAX):
The minimum and maximum explosion pressure. Personnel conduct tests on dust inside a container that can measure pressure. Pminis the smallest amount of pressure that ignition of the dust can produce. Then there’s Pmax, which is more important. It is the maximum amount of pressure that explosive ignition can produce.
Pmaxis measured by increasing the concentration of dust inside the closed chamber and measuring the pressure of the explosion until the maximum is reached (until the greatest possible amount of damage has been determined). This is an important calculation because it allows you to calculate how much damage your dust is capable of doing inside a closed container (like ductwork or a dust collector).
MAXIMUM RATE OF PRESSURE RISE/DEFLAGRATION INDEX ( KST):
This measurement is done in a similar way to Pmax. A mathematical formula converts Pmax to KST, taking the volume (size of the chamber) out of the measurement.
KSTis an extremely important test! The Pmaxmeasures the maximum pressure that the dust could exert exploding in a closed space, but KST is a general measurement of explosiveness. It is a standard measurement for dust collection system design purposes.
The Importance of KST
KST is a measurement of explosion pressure, NOT of combustibility. A low KSTdoes NOT mean that your dust cannot burn and cause catastrophic damage. KSTonly tells you how strong the potential explosive force, not how flammable the dust is.
A KSTof 0 means that dust is not combustible; its Pmin and Pmax are 0 and in a testing chamber it cannot produce any explosion.
A KSTof greater than 0 means the dust is combustible; testing Pmax can create an explosion in the testing chamber. From 0 to 200 (which includes many metal dusts) the explosion class is 1; a weak explosion. NOTE: a “weak explosion” does not mean “no damage”! The catastrophic Imperial Sugar explosion that destroyed a building and killed over a dozen people was caused by sugar with a KST of 1.
A KSTfrom 200 to 300 is a strong explosion (Class 2), and could include things like cellulose dust, other organic fine dust, and some metals and plastics.
A KST over 300 is a very strong explosion (Class 3). Aluminum and magnesium dust are in this category.
Any dust with any Kst above zero is potentially combustible and can cause an explosion. Your system will require appropriate fire and explosion prevention. Fire prevention is key to keep ignition sources out of the dust collector, including spark traps, abort gates, and water or chemical suppression systems. Explosion vent panels are also critical to make sure that an explosion does not cause serious damage if it does occur.
Dust Testing: Putting the Pieces Together
As you can see, all of these pieces of information are important when testing your dust.
– The KST (which is calculated from PMax) tells you how strong an explosion is likely to be.
– The size of the dust is important in determining whether it is combustible.
– The MIE tells you how much or how little energy it will take to ignite your dust
– The MEC tells you how much dust in the air will risk an explosion
A dust with a low KST (sugar, as an example, but also many metals) has a low but not zero KST. It is not going to cause a strong explosion. However, in one facility that had a lot of accumulated sugar dust, an overheating piece of equipment exceeded the dust’s MIE value and ignited it. With so much sugar in the air, the MEC was also exceeded and the dust in the air ignited explosively.
To review: in this instance, a dust with a LOW KST(sugar) was in contact with a heat source that exceeded the MIE and ignited the dust. Because there was a large amount of dust in the air, the MEC was too high and the dust exploded. Secondary explosions caused even more damage because the explosions blew dust into the air and raised the MEC even more. For more information on this incident, see the Chemical Safety Board’s report of the Imperial Sugar Explosions.
While this explosion did not have a high pressure, it did create multiple large low-pressure explosions that blew apart the building and caused numerous deaths. A low KST does not mean your facility is safe from combustible dust explosions.
There are many trades and business operations associated with respiratory illnesses. For example, construction workers are a high-risk group for occupational lung diseases, a study by the National Library of Medicine concluded. There is exposure to high concentrations of dusts in closed spaces and they breathe high levels of crystalline silica. Inhaling free crystalline silica causes a lung disease named Silicosis. Processes like brickmaking, quarrying, and foundry work for making building materials are also high risk to workers. Lung function impairment is the most common respiratory problem among workers with exposure to dusts.
Occupational lung diseases also affect the mining, agriculture, and manufacturing industries. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that crystalline silica is found in the air of mines, foundries, blasting operations, and stone, clay, and glass manufacturing facilities. Further, people at higher risk for occupational asthma often work in manufacturing and processing operations, farming, animal care, food processing, cotton and textile industries, and refining operations.
Warning Signs and Best Prevention
Common symptoms include fever, recurrent respiratory infections, an abundance of mucus, coughing up blood, chest pain, muscle weakness, and shortness of breath. However, occupational lung diseases can be prevented. Avoiding the inhalation of dust and fumes that cause lung diseases is the best thing you can do. Small particles have an easier time reaching the alveoli and settling into the lungs. Trouble begins when this happens in large quantities.
The infographic below illustrates the lung diseases found in various industries and denotes their warning signs in the body. It also presents how an Imperial Systems CMAXX dust and fume collector with DeltaMAXX filters can help save your life.
Contact Imperial Systems today for a review of your dust and fume collection challenges. We will design a system to help keep your employees safe from occupational lung diseases.
Creative Pultrusions manufactures fiber reinforced plastic for the infrastructure, marine, and other corrosion-resistant markets. Fiber reinforced plastic is durable, resistant to corrosion and damage over time, and makes an excellent support material for many projects.
The company not only manufactures large pieces of fiber reinforced plastic, but they also do many kinds of secondary work, including drilling, sanding, cutting, and CNC machining, which produce large amounts of dust. Testing identified this dust as weakly combustible.
When Creative Pultrusions ran into OSHA’s increased interest in combustible dust management, they considered upgrading their current system of vacuums and slide gates, but discovered that a new system from Imperial Systems was just as cost-effective as trying to rebuilt the old one.
Working with Creative Pultrusions, Imperial Systems was able to design for them a turnkey CMAXX Dust & Fume Collection system that met all of their needs. Once main concerns was air flow to the very large CNC machines that the company uses on large pieces of material. With specially engineered and placed fans, the CNC machines got all the airflow they needed, and the rest of the facility got the dust protection that it needed.
In a large facility where there are so many different stations for grinding, sanding, drilling, and machining, there are many locations for dust to be produced. Imperial Systems was able to design a system where dust was safely captured at all of these check points and removed from the work area.
One important aspect of the system designed by Imperial Systems was the complete fire and explosion prevention equipment that helped them meet NFPA standards on combustible dust. The system even allowed them to increase safety and dust control in areas that hadn’t had sufficient dust collection before the new system.
The company feels safer from combustible dust risks, and they feel confident that they are meeting all NFPA standards and they are prepared for any of OSHA’s expectations. Because Imperial Systems products are built to last, the company remains just as happy with their system today as they were the day it was installed, and confident that they made the right decision in choosing to go with Imperial Systems.
At the time, as a company still building our reputation in the dust collection field, the opportunity to work with a local Pennsylvania company to showcase our skills was a great chance to prove everything we are capable of, and the system we designed was, and continues to be, a showcase of the quality of work that we provide to our customers every day.
We continue to provide as-needed maintenance and support to Creative Pultrusions as their needs grow and adapt. Customer service is a hallmark of Imperial Systems and our field service teams are second to none in their level of expertise and skills.
If you are looking for a new dust collection system, please take a few minutes to watch the video and hear the people from Creative Pultrusions describe in their own words how this system has changed their facility and provided them with exactly what they were looking for.