An Illuminating Approach to Welding Safety — Custom Lighting Manufacturer Employs Fume Extractors to Protect Employees from Welding Fumes
Welders Ralph Barton (left) and Shawn Valentino (right) have noticed a big improvement in air quality since their use of the FILTAIR MWX-D, and for Production Manager Randy Adams (center), a healthy employee is a happy and productive employee.
Welder Shawn Valentino TIG welds a bracket of a lighting fixture using both extruded and cast aluminum, an application that creates more fumes than welding two extruded aluminum components.
Executive Summary: Amid growing concerns about the potential hazards of welding fumes, custom lighting manufacturer Selux U.S. held true to its commitment to employee health by purchasing mobile source capture fume extraction units for each of its two welding stations. The company’s welders reported immediate improvements in energy levels and breathing ability, as well as reduced downtime.
In the lighting business, it’s the details that count. Proving that axiom, custom lighting manufacturer Selux U.S. masters the details, both in its fixtures and its production operations. From the spotless production floor to the lean workflow system to the plentiful skylights throughout, Selux has built its business by recognizing the importance of the little things. One way the company does this is by valuing its employees’ health and creating an environment where people are excited to work.
"Our company is the sum total of the people who work here, and the more satisfied they are in their jobs, the better they perform," explains production manager Randy Adams. "A big part of that is providing a clean and healthy environment. It might sound corny, but we really consider ourselves family here, and we try to treat our employees like family. That means doing everything we can to protect their health."
After relying on tall ceilings and a nearby window fan to dilute and ventilate the fumes from the company’s two welding stations, a growing recognition of the potential harm caused by welding fumes led Selux to purchase two mobile source-capture fume extractors from Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
The results were immediate and impressive. Selux’s two welders, Ralph Barton and Shawn Valentino both said they could breathe easier and felt better during and after work. Further, the reduction in fumes increased their productivity by reducing the frequency that they needed to wipe away fume particles that stuck to the lens of their welding helmets.
Adams said he also noticed a difference. "Employee downtime and absence have been reduced, they’re more motivated when they get to work and I can tell that they have more energy throughout the day, all of which translates into higher productivity," he said. "When I first looked into purchasing these fume extractors, there was a bit of sticker shock. Now that I see their benefits, I’m convinced it was a worthwhile investment."
A Fixture in the Community
Founded in 1983 as the U.S. subsidiary of Semperlux AG, Selux U.S. built its reputation and business on creating custom-built interior and exterior lighting fixtures with modern design themes. Beginning with only five employees, the company now employs more than 130 people thanks to the quality of its fixtures and its commitment to being a reliable business partner.
Working with architects and engineers to quickly make their concepts reality has won the company contracts for a wide range of public- and private-sector lighting projects. These projects include roadway fixtures on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, building illumination fixtures for the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House in Washington, D.C., and interior lighting at the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Museum in Milwaukee, Wis., and many more.
"People come to Selux because our products are made to order," Adams said. "We have a full team of designers and engineers who create customized lighting fixtures based on a specific project’s needs. That’s something very few lighting companies do."
Focusing on custom, high-quality fixtures enabled the company to win new contracts and even grow throughout the recent economic recession, most recently with a 16,000 sq. ft. expansion, bringing its total footprint to 68,000 sq. ft.
Adams, who’s been with Selux for more than 19 years, helped the company remain profitable during recent years by implementing lean business practices, including the Kanban inventory management system, which helps them meet their just in time (JIT) production goals. Bringing their powder coating needs in house further improved the company’s ability to meet its deadlines and manage quality control.
Responding to Fume Concerns
Selux’s welding operations consist of a pulsed MIG welder and two TIG welders that are used primarily to weld cast and extruded aluminum assemblies. The company also welds mild and stainless steel, though to a lesser extent. The pulsed MIG welder handles most of the large, extruded-to-extruded weldments, while the TIG power sources are used to join extruded to cast aluminum — in mating the pole to the base, for example — and for the smaller weldments that require very precise bead placement.
Welding mostly aluminum throughout the day, Barton and Valentino, as well as the other employees in the open-concept production facility, began to grow concerned about the potential hazards of the welding fumes they were breathing over the course of the day. Adams said the potential hazards of their mild and stainless steel operations were also factors in purchasing fume extractors.
Stainless steel and other metals that contain chromium release a compound called hexavalent chromium [CR(VI)] during welding, which is subject to new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations for permissible exposure limits (PEL). Although Selux doesn’t weld enough stainless steel to fall under the new OSHA regulations, the company wanted to take every precaution possible to protect its employees against all possible dangers.
"We conducted an air quality test, and it showed a level of particulates present that we weren’t comfortable exposing our employees to on a daily basis," Adams said. "At that point we decided to look into fume control systems for our welding operations."
Adams contacted his welding distributor, who recommended a mobile source capture device that uses a unique nanofiber to capture and remove over 95 percent of the welding particles from the air. By selecting a source capture device, the company is able to remove the welding fumes where they are created, thereby protecting all employees on the work floor. Welders Valentino and Barton felt the difference right away.
"I feel better at the end of the day. It’s as simple as that," said Barton, who’s been a welder for more than 25 years, the last six at Selux. "My helmet doesn’t fill up with welding fumes and I can go home at the end of the day feeling good. I’ve welded in a lot of places, and at Selux I feel like I’ve finally found a home. The company’s decision to buy these fume extractors tells me that they really do care about our health."
Those experiences were echoed by Valentino. "I noticed a difference right away," he said. "I can breathe easier throughout my shift. The difference is like night and day."
Valentino said the fume extractor also reduces the amount of welding fumes that stick to the lens of his welding helmet, which in turn reduces downtime spent cleaning off his lens.
"I used to have to stop every five minutes or so and wipe away the fumes that stuck to the lens so that I could see what I was doing," Valentino said. "Now I rarely, if ever, have to clean fumes off my lens."
As an added benefit, fewer fumes floating in the shop also means fewer fumes sticking to all of the equipment in the shop, reduced maintenance and longer equipment life.
An Effective Solution
The benefit of a source capture device is that it protects everyone within the facility by removing the fume particles before they can escape the welding stations. Other types of fume extraction systems provide individual protection to the welder or remove the fumes through costly HVAC systems.
Because their welding processes don’t produce copious amounts of fumes, Selux’s welding distributor recommended a unit that uses a disposable filter. A self-cleaning model is also available, but is generally best suited to welding applications in which the filter fills to capacity relatively quickly, either as a result of processes that produce a lot of fumes or that weld nearly continuously over the course of multiple shifts.
The company was also impressed by the performance of the product’s surface-loading nanofiber filter. Unlike depth-loading filters, which trap particles within the filter, the nanofiber filter traps particles on the surface of the filter to reduce the loss in efficiency that occurs as depth-loading filters fill up with particles. With a nanofiber filter, the amount of fumes trapped by the filter increases as the filter becomes coated with particles, yet the suction capacity of the blower fan is only slightly diminished.
Designed specifically for welding applications, the nanofiber filter is also able to capture more of the sub-micron particles found in welding fumes than filters designed for general purpose filtration and adapted for welding applications. The unit they selected has a Minimal Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 15, which means that it removes up to 95% of fume particles between .3 and 1 micron, which is the size typically found in welding fumes.
The fume extractor provides 875 cubic feet per minute air flow, which is rated at the hood, not the blower cabinet, to provide an accurate representation of the true airflow that can be expected.
"We were concerned initially about investing in a piece of equipment that wouldn’t directly translate to increased profitability," Adams said. "After witnessing the change in our welders energy levels and performance following the installation of these fume extractors, we’re convinced that not only do these products improve our employees health and safety, they also improve our company’s productivity and profitability."