Employ safeguards to enhance efficiency with a cleaner, safer work environment
By Craig Thomas*
Managing an efficient bulk material process in the food industry requires paying attention to a long list of variables and small details. Any of them could negatively impact the overall effectiveness and ultimate profitability of an operation. Perhaps no single challenge is as out of sight as the impact of material “dusting” at a facility.
Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “Write your injuries in dust, your benefits in marble.” While he was referring to highlighting one’s successes in life, his words are very applicable to the challenges dusting presents to a bulk material operation. Here’s the good news: Finding success in the fight against dusting is within reach, and if obtained, the benefits would be worth commemorating in the finest marble.
Identifying the causes, implementing fixes and understanding the tremendous impact dusting can have on a food processing operation’s bottom line is critical to addressing it—before it becomes a problem.
In the food industry, there can be no product contamination or clouds of dust created during processing. When there is no margin for error, the number of challenges associated with dusting add up quickly – and they cannot be ignored.
In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes the dangers of dusting and has established strict guidelines for the control of fugitive materials and combustible dust. Other organizations around the world do the same. Of course, compliance with these regulations is mandatory, but it brings several additional benefits as well. By controlling dusting at a facility, you can also improve worker safety, increase equipment reliability and longevity, and minimize unplanned maintenance and downtime, all while enhancing productivity improving product quality and bolstering the bottom line.
The threat dusting presents may be daunting, but there are solutions that help control dusting and mitigate the impact it can have on an operation. Whether it’s the choice of conveyor implemented in the daily process or the key points of entry and exit for materials, there are ways to minimize the negative impact of dusting—and it starts with planning.
Because they offer a sealed line, the tubular drag, flex screw and en-masse conveyor solutions are all effective for confining material to the process and eliminating dust. These systems are often even more effective with the introduction of dust hoods and dust collection systems at the entry and exit points along the line.
Central Dust Collection Systems
Comprised of larger, substantial dust collection equipment, these systems are an obvious solution for capturing and removing particulates from the plant environment or larger processes. The primary disadvantage is that these systems remove the material from your process. They are not cost-effective for small operations and may not always adequately capture areas of concentrated dust in far corners of a facility. Point-Of-Use Collectors These dust collectors are used in two primary scenarios. One is assembled on a hood, which can fit on an existing hopper or can be designed with an integral hopper. When ingredient bags are emptied, this integral dust collector immediately captures the airborne particulates on a cartridge filter. These units perform well with minor ingredient additions to a larger process, or in operations utilizing 20- to 50-lb. bags of material.
There are also integral dust collectors for bulk bag unloaders handling 2,000-lb. bags. Equipped with their own filters and bag spouts, these units catch the material and prevent it from seeping out when it is being dumped into the hopper. They also offer the added benefit of reusing expensive material that would be lost in a separate, free-standing collector. Timer-activated solenoid valves release short blasts of compressed plant air inside the cartridge filter(s), returning the dust build-up on the filter surfaces back into your process. These units are also placed directly on the inlets to other process equipment where it is desired to collect the dust from the unloading of bags. CONCLUSION Dust control and risk mitigation go hand-inhand for food manufacturers who process dry powders and other bulk materials. By getting a handle on the challenge of dusting and implementing some of the innovative solutions available from today’s material handling equipment suppliers, the risks can become rewards.
Craig Thomas, Product Specialist with Hapman is an authority in bulk bag handling and dust collection. He has more than 25 years of material handling experience and holds a degree from Indiana State University.