Industrial areas are best kept as clean as possible for safety, to prevent slips, trips and falls on obstacles, and for hygienic reasons, as bacteria grow and multiply more quickly and easily in dirty and dusty environments. Unhealthy working environments therefore contribute to increased infection risks, while ineffective cleaning methods, such as brushing, sweeping or blow-away, usually only temporarily move dust and dirt. This is where industrial vacuums enter the scene.
Packing enough suction power to outdo 10 domestic vacuums working at full throttle, these leviathans are a potent force when it comes to clearing up dry and wet waste at factory scale. Formidable performers when it comes to collecting large quantities of dust or granular materials that inevitably escape during the working process, they also help to prevent product contamination and ensure far fewer stoppages on site.
Richard Eve, managing director at supplier DISAB UK, points to an upswing amongst companies that are turning to portable industrial vacuums. “Our own portable industrial vacuums come in various shapes and with slightly different purposes, but what they all have in common is that they can easily be transported around the plant with the help of a forklift or telehandler (pictured at right). Most important to our customers is the time saved on the cleaning processes. Added to this, it [vacuuming] cuts down on manual handling and raising potentially dangerous dusts into the air, and often the material can be recycled back into the process,” he explains.
DISAB offers several portable models, but most popular are the SkipVAC, BagVAC, and CompVAC.“All of these powerful portable vacuums can pick up microscopic dust to 50 mm debris over long distances, either horizontally or vertically, without loss of suction,” adds Eve. “DISAB has experience across all major industries in the UK and our units have cleaned up pretty much every type of material you’re likely to have to deal with – from grain to cement, shotblast to brick dust – and can provide machines that will collect from 3-50 tonnes per hour.”
The VAC range are standalone units, which means they can run by themselves, making them suitable for large or small plants alike. “It can be a very effective and economical solution to connect these models to a fixed pipe system in different work areas/buildings, wherever they might be needed at any particular moment. These units are designed with different discharge options and suction power, depending on what material needs to be handled; and with regular filter changes, the maintenance cost remains low. They are really easy to use and operate – just plug in and start cleaning,” Eve concludes.
In addition to sales, DISAB also hires units, which might provides a ready and cost-effective means of trialling the technology before purchase.
Aside from being much larger versions of the domestic vacuum cleaner, industrial portable vacuum units are also designed to run 24/7, with minimal maintenance. How is this achieved? “By using three-phase vacuum motors, instead of smaller brush motors,” explains Ciaran Wilkinson, sales director, LAJAC. “The filters used to clean the air are industrial grade/size and selected specifically for the application at hand. The end result is vacuums that can provide 30,000pa of pressure and air flows of up to 500m3/hour. To give an example of how powerful this is, they can lift water in a 50mm diameter pipe three metres in the air, making them something like 30 times more potent than your standard home appliance.”
It is this level of performance, along with ease of use and manoeuvrability, that has seen these vacuums gain growing popularity across a wide range of industries, from aerospace to pharmaceuticals. “In fact, one UK-based aerospace company is now using 30 LAJAC portable industrial vacuum units to provide local extract ventilation [LEV] for all composite air-driven tools – for the cutting, trimming and buffing of composite parts – to remove airborne contaminants,” he adds. That duty calls for a high degree of in-built resilience. “The units are constructed to withstand the negative pressure created by the high vacuum loads. They are normally of a cylindrical design, with heavy-duty steel plating and internal deflector plates to ensure heavy objects that have been vacuumed up do not strike the filter material directly.”
LAJAC’s products include the NS (NonStop) MOB suction unit – a small, compact mobile vacuum cleaner with a simple design to make it usable for both intermittent and continuous operations. The vacuum pump’s construction includes a built-in cooling air valve and overheating protection control, aimed at ensuring a safe and long life. NonStop also maintains a low noise level, thanks to an enclosed muffler, as well as shock absorbers that form part of its metallic frame.
When it comes to remote control, the standard for this unit is a 24V low-voltage cable. The dust container has a volume of 40 litres and comes with a washable polyester filter, which complies with BIA class M (dusts with maximum allowable concentrations ≥ 0.1 mg/m³) and has a surface of 180dm². This large expanse ensures that the vacuum pump’s airflow and heavy vacuum can be maintained for long periods. The unit comes either on a platform, or optionally with trolley wheels to make it mobile.
LUNG CANCER FEARS
Another reason why portable vacuum systems are winning increasing favour can be attributed to new scientific evidence that shows exposure to all welding fume may cause lung cancer, according to the HSE. There is also limited evidence linked to kidney cancer (see www.is.gd/ahuroq). This has led to a change in HSE enforcement expectations, in relation to the control of exposure of welding fume (HSG258), including that from mild steel welding. “All businesses undertaking welding activities should ensure effective engineering controls are provided and correctly used to control fume arising from those welding activities,” states the HSE. “Where engineering controls are not adequate to control all fume exposure, adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is also required to control risk from the residual fume.”
The updated regulations have left organisations with two choices, says LAJAC’s Wilkinson: either an overhead arm or on-torch extraction, with the latter using high vacuum technology (high-speed extraction and low air volumes) to remove the fume. “For on-torch extraction, you need an industrial vacuum system, hence the big uptake in this type of portable unit.”
Ease of maintenance is another plus point for industrial portable vacuums. “They only require servicing every 30,000 hours, if used in applications with no high temperatures involved,” he points out. “The filters, however, need to be cleaned regularly.” Industrial vacuum units may have in-built cleaning systems to achieve this, either by pulsing with compressed air or by pulsing a relief valve to expand and contract the filters. “The filter life is totally dependent on the application and the efficiency of the filter cleaning system, with filter life around 2,000-4,000 hours for general clean-up applications.”