Whether your factory is already on the digital transformation journey and Industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions or just beginning the process, increased productivity, reduced waste, improved worker safety and more sustainable operations are common expectations
Factories often first look to improve their primary customer value streams or core processes and certainly this is a logical starting point but a factory’s digital strategy should not end here as many opportunities exist within supporting activities that can have significant impacts on improved production and overall operations. One such opportunity is factory indoor air quality and the industrial air filtration systems responsible for creating and maintaining this air.
Air quality may not be an obvious next step for IIoT investments but creating and maintaining a clean working environment through smarter operation of dust, mist or fume collection equipment will directly impact critical areas including employee health and safety, reduced energy consumption and sustainability. Furthermore, factories rarely possess the in-house expertise to fully understand these systems or the available resources to properly maintain these solutions let alone optimize their performance. IIoT presents the opportunity for industry expertise to be built directly into the solution and allow factories to take control of their air.
Let’s review how an IIoT supported filtration systems will improve factory operations.
Compliance with applicable exposure limits and safety standards is an important component of any factory safety plan. IIoT brings the ability to ensure that the filtration system is functioning properly and protecting workers. Direct measurements near workers breathing zones, ambient dust concentration or opacity levels can each be used to activate control systems or alert workers of problems to minimize the hazard exposure. Additionally, IIoT can be used to measure and track worker use of contaminant control devices in order to encourage adoption for even the most stubborn employees. The filter’s effectiveness and efficiency can be monitored through regular emission monitoring and ensure that the factory remains within their permits or that recirculated air remains safe.
Filtration systems not only protect workers from airborne contaminate, they also protect facilities from fire and explosion hazards due to combustible dust. In 2018 alone there were over 250 reported factory fires or explosions related to combustible dust that resulted in over 100 injuries and 17 fatalities making compliance with global standards such as NFPA or ATEX a critical part of the safety plan. However, the complexity and constantly changing standards also presents challenges for companies to keep up. IIoT can help ensure that standards are being met during everyday operation through algorithms developed by industry experts. Ensuring that safety devices are active and properly maintained prior to allowing a process initiation or that enough airflow exists to sufficiently transport dust through the duct system to avoid dust accumulation within ducts and associated increased fire risk.
Beyond just standard compliance, awareness of personal safety and working conditions is greater than it has ever been. Given the competitive job market and broader work-force shortages impacting manufacturers across the globe, consistently providing clean air and improved safety can be a positive factor in employee recruiting and retention.
Studies show that 70% of the manufacturing electricity consumed are on industrial motor systems like fans, compressors or material handling devices which are included most industrial filtration systems. Leveraging IIoT solutions to actively monitor the process and initiate adjustments to the system can reduce the demand on these industrial motors and identify problems that may prevent efficient operation. For example, ensuring that filter pressure drop is being properly monitored and interpreted to clean the filters effectively and only when necessary can lead to reduced compressed air requirements and associated power consumption.
For many industrial processes such as welding, contaminant is only generated during select phases of the process. For example, workers (or robots) may spend a significant percentage of time on set-ups or material handling and not require fume during that time. Therefore, IIoT can work to integrate process information with the filtration system operation and only operate during functions which produce contaminant minimizing the energy demand. The more information that can be shared through each machine, the more opportunities there are to optimize the process.
95% of the world’s population is exposed to poor air quality and consumer pressure on companies to be a responsible member of their community grows stronger each day. Improving filtration system performance with IIoT solutions can be a significant part of a sustainability plan that protects their workers, their production facility and the planet.
Particulate matter that is not controlled and captured properly within a factory inevitably makes it outside and contributes to the poor air quality so actively monitoring indoor air quality and ensuring proper system use helps avoid fugitive emissions. Properly maintained and operated equipment have filters that last longer reducing waste and requires less energy to operate. Measuring particulate emissions provides valuable data that can be used to reduce overall levels, but it will also safeguard against upset conditions.
So as your IIoT journey moves beyond your company’s primary value stream or you are looking for an impactful place to begin the process, consider filtration as the next area of focus. Taking control of your factory air using a smarter filtration system promises a safer working environment, reduced operating expenses through reduced energy consumption and reduced downtime and position your company to be a more sustainable operation.
This article is published in Manufacturing Technology Insights.