Engineering for Dust Solutions with Diane Cave – Dusty Jobs Podcast – S3 E1

Feb 18, 2022

This is the first Podcast for the third season of the Dusty Jobs Podcast. In this Episode Donovan talks with Diane Cave, an expert in the field of dust collection. They discuss explosive dust and how to keep an eye out for safety with your collector. They also talk about the importance of vessel strength and the overall future of dust collection. To learn more about Element 6, the company Diane Cave works for visit:





[Intro]: Welcome to the Dusty Jobs podcast from Imperial Systems industry knowledge to make your job easier and safer.

Donovan: Hello and welcome to the Dusty Jobs Podcast. This is our first episode of our third season and we’re excited that you guys are still with us. Today joining us is Diane Cave from Element 6. How are you doing Diane?

Diane: I’m good thanks and you?

Donovan:  We’re doing great. It’s a little cold down here in Pennsylvania with the snow. You’re from up in Canada correct? 

Diane: Correct. I’m in Halifax Nova Scotia Canada, where it’s probably colder today. Here it’s pretty chilly.  It’s like minus 12 celsius.

Donovan:  Yeah, we’re not quite there so. Well thanks for joining us, we appreciate it. So, not a lot of people might know you from our podcast but you have done a lot of work and have been in the Dust Industry for quite some time. Is that correct?

Diane: Yeah, this year I have the big milestone of 20 years. I don’t know if that officially makes me old or not, but yeah 20 years in the Dust World.  I don’t really know where the time’s gone.

Donovan: Right, it definitely makes you a veteran in the dust world for 20 years.  I’ll tell you that much. 

Diane: So, yeah for sure.

Donovan: How did you get started in this whole thing 20 years ago?

Diane: So, 20 years ago, I was a recent graduate at a university. And I was working at the customer service desk at Canadian Tire which would be like Lowe’s or Home Depot.  A guy came in and he wanted to know if this is a very random story but it all plays in, he wanted to know if a spark plug matched the picture that he had drawn on this diagrammatic so that he could fix his truck, his bronco. I was like I don’t know man, like take it out of the package. He didn’t want to. He threw the package at me and I caught it with my left hand. In Canada, you, I don’t actually have mine today because I burnt my hand, wear an iron ring on the pinky of your working hand. I’m left-handed and so I caught it with my left hand. He was like, oh, you’re an engineer. Then I made fun of him and I was like, oh, aren’t you smart and he hired me.

Diane: I worked for him for 15 years. Then it was just kind of a decision and what he did was combustible dust, dust collection, industrial ventilation. So then it was just kind of a decision after I’d been there that you know kind of under his wing for however long.  I wanted to prove to myself if I could, you know, make it on my own two feet as opposed to always being under.  So, then about three and a half years ago I guess it would be I left and went to Element 6 to kind of start a dust adventure here.

Donovan: Yeah.

Diane: So, I’ve been here since. Yeah.

Donovan: So that’s a very different path to get into dust collection. But I’m not sure I’ve ever talked to anybody who had a real straightforward one honestly. So it’s a unique industry where people come from all different ways and shapes to get involved in it. So now you’re at Element 6 though, right?

Diane: Yep.

Donovan: So tell us more about Element 6. What is it? What do you do there? What’s the company? Tell us more about what’s going on there.  

Diane: So, in general Element 6 is a much larger company than just the entity group that I work with and the overall company. So, we have an office just outside Toronto, Ontario, and Georgetown, one up near Ottawa, one in London, Ontario, and then here in Halifax. I think we’re starting one soon in the states somewhere. 

As a whole, we’re kind of a multi-faceted engineering company that focuses somewhat more on the chemical industry. We have a particular workflow that starts with 3D design and 3D scanning.  So we’ll start with 3D scanning and then develop it all from moving forward in the 3D world using all sorts of 3D packages. We do all sorts of mechanical, computational fluid dynamics, piping layouts, designs, pressure vessels stuff, and then electrical and civil so kind of anything and all.  We do like big plant designs right down to smaller projects. Then the group that I work with, here in Halifax, we just focus on dust.

Donovan: Right.

Diane:  We do kind of, I always say to everyone that, so if it involves dust then we do it. So starting with dust collection system assessments or DHA’s right through to you know like installation commissioning, troubleshooting, design packages, finite element analysis for vessel strength to make sure that a lot of places don’t do is determining the P Red of a pre-existing vessel. 

Donovan: Right. 

Diane: Yeah, hood design, which I just did my personal plug, just did a webinar on.  Yeah and I like training so kind of anything and all stuff right across the board dealing with dust. 

Donovan: Gotcha. Now do you guys focus a lot more on new projects or do you focus a lot more on existing spaces? Which one would you say is more of? 

Diane: It just kind of depends on what the client needs. Lately, it’s been a whole lot of DHA stuff, everyone, trying to catch up with that DHA deadline, because we’ve already exceeded it. Then helping the end-user the client figure out kind of where to move on next and how to implement the things that need to be in to be safe. But some new projects as well. Lately, I’ve been living my life in breweries. It seems like I’m doing a lot of work in breweries. 

Donovan: Yeah. 

Diane: Has its pluses and its minuses. A lot of beer but then there’s a lot of beer. But I would say predominantly it’s more existing systems or replacement of, determining if an existing system is viable to go through a process change or something like that and then upgrading it.  So that would be what it is.

Donovan: So, Yeah. So when I’m okay. So, if I was a customer and I’m coming to you and I have an existing dust collector already. What are the things that I’m looking for or what you would be looking for to say this is acceptable now for this combustible dust application or it’s not? Well, how do you guys actually go through and look at that evaluation? What would that look like step by step?  

Diane: I guess the first thing would be to determine if they’ve got an adequate collection. Because a lot of times, clients just want dust collectors worn out and we’d like to just replace it with whatever is already there. 

Donovan: Right.

Diane:  It’s notorious in the dust collection world that everything is undersized because it’s the people who are selling it to be the cheapest. But in the long run under-sizing, just causes costs more money in the end. So the first thing is always to assess whether or not they’ve got adequate flow and collection for what they need not for what like what is currently installed. Then from there, they’re going on and then sizing to make sure that the ducting is sized correctly. Then make sure the dust collector is adequate for the application. Then look at the fan to see whether the fan can do what they actually need. Because more often than not the fan is grossly undersized in terms of static pressure requirements. 

Donovan: So a lot of what you’re seeing first is possibly an undersized collector with an undersized fan and then people are saying why do we have problems and you guys let them know it’s because they have an undersized collector and undersized fan.

Diane: Yeah like there’s a lot of forgiveness in with a system if you’re if your fan is oversized. I’m not saying go out and oversize your fan but if your fan is bigger than what you actually need there’s a whole lot of forgiveness there because you’re pumping way more air through. So you’re not going to be having problems with stuff collecting in your ducting you’ll probably get way better suction at your hood so even if your hoods are designed poorly your oversized fan will kind of makeup for it.

Donovan: Right.

Diane: Then even if you don’t clean your dust collector, you have substandard, is that a play way to say it, some standard maintenance on your dust collector, and your static pressure gets high in your dust collector well your oversized fan is going to take care of it.  

Donovan: So still overcome that challenge.

Diane: Yeah well to a certain extent so if your fan is oversized then there’s a whole lot more forgiveness in there but more often than not you know it’s the bare minimum. So then the second you come into one little hiccup or one problem in the system, so your bags don’t get changed or your cartridges don’t get changed as often as they should then that’s just enough of a static pressure bump to then cause your fan to the technical term “crap out”. 

Donovan: So I like what you’re saying here. So if you’re looking at an old system and you’re having issues it could be you have a smaller too small of a system too small of a fan and at that point, the thing that you guys might recommend is to go into a larger system or get a larger fan on that on that system. So those are so if somebody out there is listening right now and they’re thinking man these are some of the issues I’m seeing dust settling in my duct, my filters are you know everything’s just underperforming it could be those two aspects.  Right?

Diane: Yes, yeah more often than not it’s, I’m using that term more often than not a lot today, but I mean the fan is a good place to start looking if you have problems. Because it’s the fan’s a workhorse of the whole system right. So if your fan’s not sucking then your system probably sucks. 

Donovan: Yeah, I do or it doesn’t suck. Right, that’s the problem. 

Diane: Right, yeah so. 

Donovan: Yeah so that’s one size of collector size of the fan so that’s one of the things you look for. So you said ductwork layout is possibly another culprit that you guys look at. Is that correct?

Diane: Yeah so a lot of people really like to run, really small ducting really far. And what that does is it drives a static pressure up. So a lot of times, not everyone a lot of people really like to just kind of oh we put this new piece of equipment in we need dust collection well we’ll just slap in a line slap in a line slap in a line.

Donovan: Right. Yeah sure.

Diane: I’m sure you’ve seen it where you end up them with like the octopus of ducting all over the place.

Donovan: Oh, yes. 

Diane: There always seems to be one line or somebody decides to use it as a vacuum system. Oh, let’s just put this inch and a half hose on here, and then we can use it for housekeeping. You’ll look at it and you’re like well that’s what’s causing the static pressure drive in the whole system. So if you just take and lop off that kind of one gangly limb that’s hanging out all over the place then a lot of times it can change the whole flow of the system. Then all of a sudden everything…

Donovan: Comes back to life.

Diane:  Yeah I was gonna say perks up but yeah comes back to life and then your flow can take off. So then if you kind of look at what the ducting layout is and what’s going on then you can a lot of times work with what’s there. So it’s not always I’m not a big pro always a proponent of oh rip it out start again. 

Donovan: Right. 

Diane: Because not everyone has the, well, first of all, you want to try and not throw as much stuff in the landfill as possible but there isn’t always the time, capital, or even ability to rip it all out. So it’s you know okay well if we change this or change that and we get rid of this ducting or hey if we just even improve these hoods or get rid of your as I always like to call them the elephant trunks, which are just like rounds of duct if you get rid of the elephant trunks and put hoods on there that might even be enough to reduce your static pressure to then get your fan to bring it back to life as you said.

Donovan: Yeah. Okay, so we’re looking at a system we have a couple of things that you’ve mentioned that you guys use to kind of troubleshoot or evaluate. What would be the thing when you get to a point you’re like I’m sorry this is it, yeah you have to change your system out? What would be a couple of those things that no matter what the old one has to go and we have to get a new one? What would cause that?

Diane: I would say, and you mean like the whole like because it’s kind of different for different things. So like if you’re looking at the hoods and you’re like all right these hoods have to be ripped out because you just look at them and you’re like and they’re doing nothing they’re in the wrong spot. They’re held together with tape. You know binding tape has many uses and apparently one of them is to hold ducting together.  With ducting, I would say that the to like go with the rip out and tear apart or rip out and do again would be that if it’s really just slapped together like if you look at it and you’re like okay this like it’s undergone a lot of morphing over the years right and has all kinds of new branches and lines and nobody there’s never been any thought or care taken to it and you just kind of stand there and you’re like it just has to go. It’s just…

Donovan: Right. So there might have been an initial design but that has gone out the window years ago and many things have been placed and put into there that shouldn’t be there.

Diane: Yeah.

Donovan: They were never initially considered.

Diane: yeah or if you’re dealing with sometimes if you’re dealing with really combustible dust and you’ve got spiral ducting or really heavy loading or abrasive dust and it’s all spiraling you’re like you know it’s in your best interest and you’ve got a poor design then it’s in your best interest to just replace it and then put in some smooth-walled single seam ducting.

Donovan: Right yeah because that could you know that spiral duct could potentially be a spark hazard. Right?

Diane: Exactly. Yeah or even have an increase of static pressure because it all comes down to static pressure. But yeah, it could be an increase for spark hazard, and then it’s known that spiral ducting doesn’t quite handle internal pressure as well so if you do have some sort of deflagration event you want to make sure that it doesn’t unwind your spiral ducting.

Donovan: Right. So now we went from the hoods to the duct to the collector so what would be something on the collector that you’re just like listen this is one you’re gonna have to just abandon and get a new one.

Diane: If you can poke your finger through the side of it that’s usually the start. Or if patchwork has been done where it’s like oh we just tarred this whatever here that’s usually another sign so like the physical appearance of it if it’s past gone then you’ll have to replace it. If it’s a combustible dust application and there’s and you’re not certain of the vessel strength so you do the vessel analysis on it and you do a finite element analysis and it’s just going to have to put way more reinforcing on it in order like it’s going to cost more to do the reinforcing and to actually buy a new one then that’s usually you know the time to put in a new one. or 

Donovan: If you’re going to be building a new collector around the old collector it’s probably time to get a new one. Right? 

Diane: Exactly when you’re like well we got to put on a thousand pounds of angle on this sucker…

Donovan: Right.

Diane: Then you know it’s probably not worthwhile. or if the like if the requirements of the air that are needed drive the air to cloth ratio to a really high level where it drives your static pressure up or if it’s a baghouse and then you have some a very high interstitial velocity or whatnot where you’re not certain if the dust collector will actually function for what the application is you know what I mean where the dust won’t fall out then it’s usually time to at that point to get a new one.

Donovan: To get a new one, yeah. So when you get to a collector and you determine that it is combustible dust that you’re dealing with and now the collector initially wasn’t set up for combustible dust. How do you determine you’ve talked a couple of times about determining the vessel strength to see if it actually can handle that? Then what are the steps you do to do that and how would you actually go about maybe trying to retrofit that collector because I know that’s a little bit of a tricky area to do that?

Diane: Yeah, so the first thing is in terms of determining a vessel strength. Basically, we’ll take a scan of the vessel like a with our like a 3D scanners and then also because the scan is good for overall bigger measurements. But we’re looking for the kind of precise stuff, size of bolts and bolt holes, and whatnot. You can likely get it with, people will argue that you can get it with a scanner but I’m a little bit old school in certain things and then I know that we’ve got the information. 

So you go through and then make sure you get all the information, as in like the size of angles and where they are on the unit and then we create a 3D model and do a pressure analysis on it. Then from there determine what’s going to go… 

Donovan: Right. 

Diane: And what it’s going to hold so we like to work to two-thirds yield but it’s not always the case on some older vessels. You don’t always get the option to then reinforce it to two-thirds yield. So sometimes it’s to two-thirds ultimate and then it’s just creating a package so creating a design package that says okay well this is where you’ve got to put your reinforcing and this is what you have to do. There have been cases where we’ve gotten so far and just been like you can’t like the pressures that you want to get to we just it’s to the point of being ridiculous. It looks kind of like I don’t know…

Donovan: Like a Mad Max version of a dust collector.

Diane:  Yeah I was going to say like the Shredder Technodrome or something like that from the Turtles. Yeah like it’s just it’s this is just unbelievably ridiculous and you’re like oh this is stupid. So then you just kind of have to approach the client and be like okay so this is what you know this is what it’s going to look like ish you really want to proceed down this route and if they do then okay then we’ll go that way. Or you end up being like okay well we’ll do it to two-thirds ultimate and then knowing that the dust collector will be not usable but you know we’ll be able to make the changes needed for you know it’ll be safe until you…

Donovan: You’re saying two-thirds ultimate is that correct.

Diane: Yeah so two-thirds yield strength versus two-thirds ultimate strength of the material. So the difference between it is that at two-thirds yield you basically if you have a deflagration event and that’s two-thirds of like the material strength based on whatever your p red will be on right on

venting or you’re I always get the letters wrong tsp for suppression basically your p red for suppression. So two-thirds ultimate you won’t have deformation in your vessel so you can have an event a deflagration that will happen but the dust collector would basically be like all right change the filter media carry on right yeah but with two-thirds ultimate, you’ll have deformation but not rupture so your square dust collector might go from square to roundish. 

Donovan: Right gotcha so those are pretty important things to know as well.

Diane: Yeah and you’d be surprised there are all kinds of things that you run into when you’re at sites that people don’t know or end users don’t know because they’re making whatever it is.  So whether they make granola bars or tires or brew beer or whatever it is that they do that’s what they do they’re not aficionados in the world of dust collection and explosion protection.

Donovan: Right, they don’t have 20 years experience.

Diane: Yeah, so then that’s why they bring in trusted consultants to handle all that right but I would say that one of the biggest things that I see gets missed in terms of explosion protection is vessel strength.  So often you’ll be like, oh can I see the venting calculations for this and then so you get the venting calculations and they’ll say that you know it’s the P Red is I don’t know I’m gonna pick a number six-bar and then you’re like, oh let’s look at the vessel strength and the vessel strength is you know 2.9. You’re like oh sorry your P Red I got the [inaudible] six-bar but six psi and then your vessel strength your P Red will come out to be like 2.9 psi and you’re like whoa so this it’s the vessel is going to blow long before…

Donovan: Yeah it’s not going to be able to contain the explosion or be directed in a safe way.

Diane: Yeah and it’s and that’s one of the biggest things that gets missed. Then people will just put vents on a dust collector without even thinking about oh well it’s got to be good and it’s like oh this is basically you know aluminum foil stretched over a frame it’s like it’s not going to hold any pressure. A big one is bucket elevators so bucket elevators are supposed to be designed to a strength of like half a bar and most of them are lucky if they do one psi.

Donovan: Right, yeah so they’re just yeah so people are there’s a and this is all I would say recently more education on this a lot more people are coming to this understanding and unfortunately it’s probably been through a lot of the events that have happened but I think that’s what’s happened in the past and it’s helped get people closer to a safer work environment. The goal is to get there every day closer and closer to better safer so that you know people can go home to their loved ones at night because their dust collector didn’t blow up and I know that’s what you guys are doing and that’s what we’re trying to do here so so that’s a little bit of the past. What do you guys do? What do you think’s gonna be like in the future as you guys are doing more of these DHAs and do you know what’s going on out there? What’s your finger on the pulse of where you think the industry’s going and what people are doing?

Diane: What I hope anyway is so in as you know in this world of dust collection there are very few people that do it and do it well.  Therefore it puts a demand well I assume you know so and therefore puts a demand on a lot of people and I hope that the industry is moving so that there are more knowledgeable people that understand things like that they don’t just like sign off on stuff because it’s like oh whatever this will never happen yeah sure fine. That’s where I hope the industry is going. It seems to be that there are more and more people that are taking an interest in things like if we’re dealing with combustible dust in terms of explosion protection and whatnot there are more people aware and educated in that field. I think it’s because like you said there’s been so many there’s been more incidents and instead of people wanting and the push to be in a safe work environment as opposed to being like oh whatever it doesn’t matter it’s fine right it blew up today so it’s not gonna you know we got another 20 years before it’s going to happen again you know lots of lots of statistics.  So I think, that though I hope anyway in terms of combustible dust I hope that that’s the way that the industry is moving because of education and awareness because of things like this were to bring the information to people. Or like what Chris Cloney is doing right. It does safety science so making people aware of what the hazards are because I think a lot of it in terms of dust collection a lot of it dusk so when I say dust collection I also include like combustible dust in that umbrella. I think a lot of it is just education and so the way I see it going is that people want to do the right thing now as opposed to just wanting to check the box and wanting it to be whatever that you know we just need a solution yeah whatever this will get us by for now people are…

Donovan: Right 

Diane: We want to do the right thing.

Donovan: Yeah, yeah I see that too. I see a lot more people not just concerned about getting it done to check a box but they are concerned with their workers and the health of you know the people around them and the health and the environment.

Diane: Yeah.

Donovan: I think we’ve seen a lot of that change over the last 20 years.  Probably in the time you’ve been in this industry there’ve been a lot of people changing in that regard. It’s good. I don’t think hopefully we don’t go backward at all in our industry. We continue to make things safer and cleaner for everybody who’s involved, especially people who are out welding or the people who are out working in those workshops that we want to help them have a better life.

Diane:  Oh, for sure but I don’t see how it can go backward.

Donovan: Right.

Diane: Because going backward would be, I don’t know, getting rid of dust collectors and then we just have to do a dollar thing. Yeah, it would be and I don’t think the people working in those environments would let it happen in this day and age.

Donovan: I think you’re right I hope that you did. So we’re both saying we’re hoping for a brighter future with a safer work environment I think that’s what we’re seeing.

Diane: I think yeah. I think that’s where we’re going. I think a lot of things are pushing the trend that way because people don’t want their companies to be in the headlines. You know company XYZ had an incident where whatever. They don’t want to be the imperial sugars for lack of a better way to say it I mean that’s a bad way to analyze it but that’s what it is they don’t want to be that one in the headline that you know

Donovan: We had negative things first 

Diane: Yeah we had so many mortalities and however many you know injuries on-site because of because we…

Donovan: something that’s preventable, something that’s very preventable.

Diane: Because we didn’t have inlet isolation or because you know our explosion vents were appointed at the company daycare which I’ve seen more than once. 

Donovan: Yeah, so well Hey Diane, we’re so glad that you guys are out there helping people solve this and figure it out, and do what you do. If someone’s interested in getting a hold of your company or learning more about you guys or they’ve heard something here they’re like man she could really help me out. What would be the best way for them to get a hold of you? 

Diane: You can google me. It’ll probably pop up there are not too many Diane Caves out there. I’m on LinkedIn. You can email me at You can give me a, yeah if you are on our company website which oddly enough I don’t know off the top of my head. We’ll put a link to your website in the notes for the podcast so if anybody’s listening or on Youtube watching this they can just look at it there so we’ll do that for you don’t worry about it. Perfect, because I was like I’m not sure if it’s Element 6 Solutions or if it’s shortened down. I probably should have remembered that beforehand but it’s not a big deal. I’m sure if someone Element 6 Dust Collection they’ll figure out explosive dust it’ll come up if you googled it. Put in Element 6  Dust Collection you’ll probably find me, yeah we’ll find you guys. 

Donovan: Hey, I just want to say thanks so much for coming on. We really appreciate it. Hopefully, we get to talk to you again sometime because I feel like we just scratched the surface of the knowledge you have.  If you’re interested in learning more about us here at Imperial Systems and Dusty Jobs you can follow us on Youtube Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or learn more about us on our website. So thanks for listening to everyone out there and stay healthy, stay safe. Thanks so much.

Diane: Thanks for having me.

[Outro]: Thanks for listening to the Dusty Jobs podcast.  Breathe better work safer.