Welding made breathable: Reducing haze and improving overall air quality on the shop floor

In this installment of What Works, an Ohio manufacturer boosts air quality with fume extraction measures.

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As one of the nation’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of OEM and aftermarket diesel fuel tanks, Cleveland Tank & Supply operates a busy shop floor to keep up with customer demands and its “immediate shipment” promise.

About 10 years ago, the company, which occupies a 33,000-sq-ft facility less than five miles east of downtown Cleveland, first made its mark as a buyer and seller of tanks and evolved into niche manufacturing for companies requiring 1,000 tanks a year or less. Even while employing less than 50 total workers and running only two shifts, this company has become a powerhouse in the diesel fuel tank market.

In any given week, Cleveland Tank produces tanks to fit various makes of vehicles, oil fields, specialty equipment, and trailers, as well as ones made of steel, aluminum, or stainless steel and designed for specific custom applications. The company serves a variety of industries, including oil field, medical and fire/rescue, safety, mining, hydraulic fracturing, recycling and refuse, construction, forestry, and school transportation. The largest tanks manufactured are 200 gallons for side-mount applications and 300 gallons for non-side-mount.

Besides its long-established goal to provide immediate shipment of in-stock tanks to its customers, the company also prides itself on the fact that all of its tanks — in-stock and custom orders — are “Made in the USA,” fabricated in the heartland out of the U.S.-produced materials.

“All of our products are made only from domestic aluminum, steel, and stainless steel,” notes Rich Ferris, the company’s vice president and general manager. “All of our tanks are stamped with ‘Made in the USA,’ and we mean it.”

The manufacturing process for standard, in-stock products, as well as tanks custom-designed to customer specifications, involves plasma cutting and welding on every tank. Cleveland Tank’s shop floor, which encompasses nearly 17,500 ft of space, features a high-definition plasma-cutting station; approximately 10 MIG and TIG welding booths for steel and aluminum products, roughly 250 to 300 tanks per week; and a stainless steel welding booth. The company also is in the process of installing a robotic MIG welding system.

This heavy, constant production boils down to one thing — a lot of welding. And with all that welding comes the potential for weld fume in the various production areas.

“Everything we build gets welded,” notes David Wilson, Cleveland Tank & Supply’s operations manager. “Depending on the application and material used, we can easily weld 10 tanks per day per booth. We obviously generate fume all day long.”

The company took a threefold approach to reducing haze and improving overall air quality on the shop floor. First, it installed a free-standing fume extraction system that reduces the overall concentration of welding fume on the floor. Both Ferris and Wilson say the company initially looked at fume extraction systems that have arms extending to individual welding booths but decided the facility would be best served with a system that provided comprehensive protection for the entire shop floor. They started investigating options by talking with about 10 different vendors.

When they heard about the Circulator from Lincoln Electric, they were intrigued, says Ferris. This stand-alone system uses continuous filtration and airflow to extract and filter welding fume released during the most common welding fabrication processes. It supplements natural, draft ventilation or forced ventilation through the roof and wall fans, if necessary. For Wilson and Ferris, this system made the most sense for Cleveland Tank’s needs.

“There used to be a haze overhead throughout the whole facility, and, to mitigate that, we would have to run exhaust fans all year, even in the winter. This made it pretty cold in the work areas,” says Wilson. “Now, using the Circulator, we rarely, if ever, need to turn on those fans.”

Next, they focused on the high-definition plasma table. Plasma cutting is an application that inherently generates dust, fumes, and potentially hazardous sparks. At this particular table, workers run between 200 and 300 aluminum and stainless steel sheets per day, ranging in size from 36 x 96 in. to 72 x 120 in.

Cleveland Tank wanted to eradicate the fume and particulate matter in this work zone, in light of the high production and the materials used. It also sought a fume extraction solution that could stop sparks created during the cutting process from entering the extraction system’s filter.

“We wanted to be assured that the system would suck up everything that burns on the table and pose no filter fire risk,” says Ferris.

The answer was Spark Guardian, part of Lincoln Electric’s Guardian fire safety solution for fume control systems. This system, working in tandem with the Circulator, now prevents sparks from passing through and on to the extraction filter’s system. It also serves as an in-line, pre-separator that reduces dust load in the connected system.

“It has exceeded our expectations,” says Ferris. “Because we can use it with our comprehensive fume extraction system, we have been able to cut stainless steel on the table. That’s something that would be unheard of if we hadn’t put these fume extraction measures into place.”

As Cleveland Tank officials were formulating their air-quality-improvement measures, they also knew from the start of this process that they also wanted to install extraction measures in the shop’s stainless steel welding booth. Welders in this booth fabricate up to five stainless steel tanks per week, as well as stainless steel straps and brackets.

“While developing our specification plan for this particular area, we discovered that our levels of hexavalent chromium were 1.5 times over the allowed limit,” explains Ferris. “This discovery gave us even greater incentive to select the best system and get it up and running.”

The company ultimately specified Lincoln Electric’s Downflex Downdraft table, a dual-purpose workbench and extraction unit designed specifically to remove weld fume at the source — a must for the regulations governing stainless steel welding. The addition of this unit made notable improvements to the booth’s air quality.

“The air is so much cleaner in the booth,” says Mike McAvoy, welder at the facility. “It’s definitely noticeable.”

And furthermore, the hexavalent chromium levels are now well below the limit after installing the downdraft table in the stainless steel booth.

“The remediation has been phenomenal,” notes Ferris, adding that all three installed fume extraction solutions have produced significant increases in air quality throughout the manufacturing facility. “The functionality and versatility of these three units working together is terrific.”

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