A recirculation extraction unit ensures process reliability and product quality
By Tony Lockwood
The need for fume extraction continues to be inherently linked with health and safety laws and compliance. Within the developed Western markets, such legislation is well defined and in the main compliance levels are high. International companies who operate manufacturing facilities within the emerging markets typically implement global health and safety policies as well. Most encouraging is the growing trend for improved employee welfare and environmental responsibility in regions where historically there has been less regard for either. This is a welcome and significant step change for our planet, and one that at the macro level will drive an even greater demand for fume extraction.
While legislation continues to be the main purchase driver for fume extraction, there are other significant benefits to be considered that justify the use of an effective fume-extraction system. Process reliability, whether directly related to the laser or to the line on which it is located, can be compromised if debris from the fumes is allowed to build up. Product quality can also be impaired by contamination from fumes, and where traceability codes are applied, the readability of such codes may also be compromised. The use of an effective extraction system is also likely to reduce the associated risk of costly rework and unplanned downtime while maintenance and repairs are carried out. And, of course, extraction improves operator comfort and well-being, thus reducing absenteeism and improving productivity.
Those companies that offer recirculation fume-extraction solutions (the filtered clean air is returned to the workplace) have always had to argue the merits of such a system over venting fume out of the building into the atmosphere. Clearly the increased awareness of environmental factors and general tightening of legislation has affected attitudes, but there are also very practical differences in the way that production units now work that reinforce the benefits of the recirculation option. Greater productivity and flexibility are among the key goals of any modern production facility. Traditional production lines have made way for cell production units that typically are able to be moved around the factory space and up- or down-sized as product demand changes. In such environments, the benefits that a self-contained and portable recirculation extraction unit offers over inflexible and often far more costly, centralized ducting alternatives is clear.
Technical innovation is also changing the business landscape. The introduction of new and faster laser types, together with falling laser costs has broadened the range of applications for which lasers can now be considered as a technically and commercially viable solution. Where product identification and traceability codes are required, lasers have been developed to meet the growing demand for more complex codes and increased production throughput. The greater range of products and materials now being laser processed means there are now far more fume variants to consider. This combined with the general increase in fumes has challenged extraction companies to invest time to learn about new applications, evaluate the suitability of traditional filtration methods, and in some instances develop new solutions. Gone are the days when a simple “fan in a can” could be considered an effective and safe fume-extraction solution.
BOFA is recognized as a leader in fume-extraction technology. A commitment to R&D and product innovation has enabled the company to develop the AD Advantage range of cost-effective laser extraction solutions that are ideally suited to today’s laser processes.
Some examples of how fume-extraction technology has developed to meet the changing needs of laser applications and markets follow.
The BOFA DeepPleat DUO pre-filter (FIGURE 2) has been specifically developed for the growing range of substrates and increase in fume now being generated through laser processing.
Fume generated from laser processing plastics contains a large amount of “sticky” particulate that has a tendency to coat the filter surface, causing premature blockage and replacement (FIGURE 3). While this coating process cannot be avoided, the patented DeepPleat DUO design enables BOFA to combine a drop-out chamber, into which larger particulate is collected, with an exceptionally large filter surface, resulting in fewer filter changes, reduced maintenance costs, and increased productivity. These same features enable the DeepPleat DUO to capture higher volumes of particulate with the same cost benefits to the end user.
Global products for global markets
The migration of manufacturing into new territories such as Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe has created new challenges for the fume-extraction manufacturer to consider. Culture and language, certification, supply logistics, and pre-and post-sale support all have to be considered. BOFA has developed an international distribution network to ensure timely and reliable support for its products, which feature multivoltage, universal power options, and internationally recognizable control, warning, and alarm icons to reduce the complexity of inventory management and to ensure ease of use wherever the unit is located.
Solutions for reduced maintenance and safety assurance
In most industrial applications and especially where production is 24/7, the term “downtime” is the dreaded enemy of the production manager and his team. BOFA’s iQ operating system helps address such concerns in an innovative and unique way. iQ performs at two distinct levels. Where operators benefit from the ease of operation and clarity of real time information, the system also provides a cache of analytical data enabling users to download performance and operating parameters for evaluation purposes.
iQ uniquely incorporates a sensing system that monitors the status of both the pre-filter and combined (main) filter. The ability to report and display individual real-time filter data (FIGURE 5) not only ensures that operators have ample time to prepare for a filter change, but most significantly that they also know which filter requires change. In so doing, the system takes away the uncertainty and reduces the time to do a filter replacement.
The iQ system enables users to uplift setup files to quickly and reliably “clone” units within a factory or across multiple sites and to download files for remote analysis and or verification. The ability to share data over the internet ensures a fast response for the end user and has proven to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the need for costly service visits.
The recent introduction of smart filter technology provides end users with the added safety assurance that they are using a proprietary filter of the right type for their application and chosen extraction unit. SF Technology incorporates proven RFID Technology. Each filter has a uniquely coded nonremovable label, allowing the iQ operating system to establish authenticity and suitability of the filter being used.
The growth in demand for fume extraction seems set to continue the world over, giving manufacturers that have sufficient vision the confidence to invest in resources to develop new products and features to challenge convention and “raise the bar” in the fume-extraction world.
Tony Lockwood ([email protected]) is sales & marketing Director for BOFA International Limited.