The technique of welding is quite a dangerous process, not just in terms of how it is performed but also in terms of the effect it has on everyone nearby. The fumes emitted during welding create health problems and lower the quality of production.
As a result, disturbances and health problems in the workers increase, while the working capacity and profits decrease.
A responsible welding business owner should definitely make an investment in equipment that can handle these hazardous fumes before they cause any harm. The industrial fume extractor is one such tool.
What is an industrial fume extractor?
During many industrial processes like arc welding, thermal cutting, sanding, spraying, grinding, and powder filling, harmful particles are created and emitted in the room in various forms. Most of the time, they are created as fumes and therefore spread across the room almost instantly, being inhaled by the workers. Many international health organizations recognize the need to provide employees with safe indoor air quality to prevent them from acquiring serious health problems.
An industrial fume extractor is a piece of equipment that utilizes high-powered fans to remove harmful fumes and smoke that are produced during such industrial processes. When it comes to welding workplaces, the metals used in welding applications produce welding fumes which must be removed using welding fume extractors.
The metal vapors produced during the welding process are carcinogenic and if not appropriately removed from the breathing zone, can have harmful long-term effects on the people working in that zone. The gases from welding processes also pose a threat to workers on the floor.
Different types of welding fume extractors use different types of filters like HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) or activated carbon filters to improve indoor air quality, lowering the possibility of major respiratory problems.
One main advantage of welding fume extraction systems is that they are cost-effective as they recirculate the same air after removing the particles, thereby, eliminating the need to buy expensive replacement air.
What is welding fume made of?
Metallic oxides, silicates, and fluorides make up the complicated composition of welding smoke. Particles are created when a metal is heated beyond its boiling point, causing its vapors to condense into very small particles. Welding gases are also added to the fumes during the welding process. They should be caught close to the source and filtered because they are all very toxic to humans.
Health hazards related to welding fumes
We already know that the fumes produced by industrial welding processes are hazardous.
They contain hexavalent chromium, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, and lead oxide. When inhaled, these can cause problems as small as a headache to chronic problems like asthma and cancer.
Let us take a look at the short-term and long-term health effects of exposure to welding fumes.
Short-term health effects
- Exposure to metal vapors in welding workplaces can cause metal fume fever. The symptoms can start appearing around four to twelve hours after exposure and may include chills, thirst, fever, muscle aches, chest pain, coughing, wheezing, exhaustion, and nausea.
- Smoke from welding can irritate the respiratory system, chest, nose, and eyes. As a result, you can be at risk of developing respiratory issues like pneumonitis, bronchitis, pulmonary edema, coughing, and wheezing. Effects on the digestive system have also been reported by the workforce in the welding industry.
- Some welding fumes consist of hazardous substances like cadmium, which can prove to be fatal. Additionally, while welding, several gases can develop, including ozone and nitrogen oxides, both of which are fatal at high concentrations. Another dangerous gas that has been found in these toxic fumes is phosphorus.
Long-term health effects
- Lung, throat, and urinary tract cancer are all more common in welders.
- Bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, pneumonia, pneumoconiosis, lower lung capacity, silicosis, and siderosis are examples of chronic respiratory conditions that regular exposure to welding fumes can cause.
- Heart disease, skin conditions, gastritis, gastroduodenitis, kidney damage, and ulcers are a few additional issues associated with welding.
- Welders, particularly those who work with stainless steel, have also been found to have reproductive issues such as delayed contraception and an increase in miscarriages.
Benefits of welding fume extractors in the welding workplace
The process of fabricating and cutting metal can be made safer and more effective with the help of a welding fume extractor. Fume extraction systems can quickly sanitize the room, clear the work environment of dangerous fumes and other dust particles, and restore appropriate levels of indoor air quality. When the fume is dealt with quickly, many dangers are avoided or at least reduced and the product’s quality is also increased. The advantages of welding fume removal applications can be summed up as follows:
- It reduces the negative impacts of welding fumes on health.
- It increases the level of product quality as well as worker efficiency.
- It ensures a safe and secure workplace for employees.
- Because of better overall efficiency, profits also increase.
Types of fume extractors
There are three main types of fume industrial fume extractors:
Welding system fume extractors
These are made for the welding industry in movable and stable units. Their job is to extract carcinogenic elements like beryllium, lead, aluminum, and gases like argon, carbon dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, and more from the welding fumes to render a safe workplace for welders.
Fixed fume extraction systems
These are typically designed to suit large workspaces. They have the same function as any other fume extractor but are more complex and heavy, and therefore, require engineers to set up their hoods, arms, and filters. They are also comparatively more expensive.
Source capture fume extraction
These are often portable and capture the harmful particles at the source of their origin. These include benched extractors, enclosed-mounted extractors, wall-mounted extractors, etc.
Types of fume extraction filters
Filters used in fume extractions can be made of different materials like cellulose or cellulose blend, non-woven composites of microfibers, non-woven polyester, activated carbon, and so on. They are rated according to the particle size they filter, as well as their efficiency in doing so through MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating. These standards of rating are set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning.
Some examples include HEPA filters, ASHRAE filters, and ULPA filters.
These filters trap particles using four main methods:
- Impact– Particles that are large in size get trapped in the pleated fibers of the filter and eventually, fall.
- Interception– Medium-sized particles are able to pass the fibers but get trapped in microfibers.
- Diffusion– The smallest particles are first slowed down using the principles of Brownian motion by interfering with their flow with the introduction of other molecules, and are eventually trapped using interception.
- Electrostatic attraction– This uses the idea of positive and negative charges. Opposite charges attract each other. The particles in welding fumes are attracted to the filter fibers and therefore, get trapped in its media.
Applications of welding fume extraction
As is understood from the above discussion, welding fume extraction is a necessary process in welding workplaces. It helps in smoke filtration, leaving safe and healthy indoor air quality for the employees to work in.
This process is applied in processes of laser making, oxyacetylene welding, electroslag welding, spot and seam welding, resistance welding, brazing, soldering, and more.
Welding fume extraction at source
It has been seen that fume extraction at the source is the best and the most effective way to capture and remove welding smoke and related substances. Of course, this can be done only if the setup of the industry sees it as a viable solution. By using this technique, you can drastically reduce the chances of keeping operators and workers exposed to harmful gases.
Using this technique correctly requires a comfortably positioned fume extractor with good quality extraction hoods and a mindful worker who will know how to position the hood such that it takes the fumes away from their breathing zone and work premises.
An at-source welding fume extractor also has applications of its own that benefit the workplace and create a healthy working environment.
With an average extraction volume of 500-1000 CFM, the extraction arm effectively helps remove welding fume close to the source. They must be able to reach a distance of at least twenty feet. Its different styles and design can fit different applications depending on the workplace, and whether they are needed on mobile or stationary vacuums.
On-torch and fume guns
Sometimes, when the use of extraction arms is not viable due to a large envelope, extraction is done at the end of the welding torch. But as an alternative, fume guns can also be used for extraction in both mobile and stationary units.
Equipment that is handled by a welder is also automated now. Fume extraction at the source can be applied to semi-automatic or completely automatic robotic welding processes with the help of extraction arms or extraction hoods.
Thermal cutting processes
Thermal cutting processes include the use of oxyfuel, air carbon arc gouge, plasma arc cutting, and laser beam cutting. These procedures may be applied in many settings, ranging from a small bench to a large room. Some of the by-products of these procedures include high heat, molten metal, and fume particulate. While extraction of these fumes in such processes has been done through grates of a cutting table, near source extractions are also a possible solution.
Energy saving systems
A welding fume extractor is cost-effective equipment. They save a great deal of energy and operation costs. Therefore, in stationary units that complement energy-saving practices, in-torch fume extraction can be used. One can find fume extractors that are priced effectively and reduce energy exhaustion from welding units.
Its application also extends to some arc welding processes like:
- Submerged arc welding (SAW)
- Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW)
- Metal inert gas welding (MIG Welding)
- Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW)
- Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW or stick welding)
- Spot welding and seam welding
- Electroslag welding
Without a doubt, welding fume extractions are not just an effective tool but necessary equipment to keep at your workplace, especially if you work in dangerous industries and with harmful substances. If you can find the right design and the right technology that suits your business, you will be on the way to creating a more profitable and safer work environment that all your employees will appreciate and so will you.