At its core, combustible dust is defined as any fine material that has the potential to catch fire (and in some cases, even explode) when mixed with air. This includes not only solid organic materials like sugar, flour and wood-related dust, but also many metals as well.
These types of dust-related fires and explosions are also a lot more common than one might think. In Vermont in 2017, for example, three people were sent to a local area hospital after a dust explosion at UTC Aerospace Systems. That same year, a dust explosion in a hopper at a food texturizer and stabilizer manufacturer caused $30,000 in damages, though in this case nobody was hurt.
Thankfully, preventing this type of dust collection fire in your own facility isn’t nearly as difficult as one might think. You just need to keep a few key things in mind along the way.
Pay Attention To All Ductwork and Isolation Valves
In the unfortunate event that your environment is subject to a dust collection fire, making an effort to proactively protect all ductwork can help contain the fire at the very least, preventing it from spreading to other areas.
Along the same lines, if some type of combustion occurs in the air, you should have flow-activated isolation valves already installed on your ductwork to help protect employees from the release of smoke and fire.
At that point, if a deflagration pressure wave happens within your organization’s dust collector, that flow-activated isolation valve will immediately close – thus preventing flame and smoke to pass through it and impact other areas.
Clean Your Dust Hoppers on a Regular Basis
Another one of the best ways to prevent a dust collection fire is also proactive in nature – you need to make sure you’re cleaning those dust hoppers as often as possible. One of the most important things to understand about any dust hopper is that it is NOT designed to be a long-term storage unit for dust collected from around the building. It’s designed to make collection as easy as possible so these combustible materials can be removed right away.
If you make the mistake of allowing the dust hopper to grow too full, all you’re really doing is dramatically increasing the risk of combustion in that particular area. Not only that, but a hopper that is too full can also back up and essentially “clog” the system – all while reducing its effectiveness and increasing the risk of fires or explosions in other areas, too.
Make Sure You Have the Right Equipment For Your Environment
It’s also critically important to make sure that you’re using the right dust collection system in the first place – one that has been designed and engineered to your specific application. Not all dust collection systems are created equally, and there are a number of options in the agriculture, food, chemical and mineral industries that you’ll want to make sure you’re leveraging.
A reverse air dust collection system, for example, is an ideal choice for environments where high air volumes and heavy dust loading with no need for plant compressed air are common. Cyclones, on the other hand, are typically used for larger particulate applications and act very well as a stand-alone dust collector. Finally, bin vents usually get mounted on top of a piece of equipment that generates dust like silos, mechanical conveyors and more.
Making sure that you’re using the right kind of system will dramatically improve your ability to keep dust collection fires and other issues under control.
Change Your Filters Often
Changing your filters on a regular basis may be a simple preventive measure, but its importance cannot be overstated. All your filters will have manufacturer suggested intervals regarding when they should be changed, and you should absolutely follow those directions to the letter. You should even be monitoring those long-life cartridge filters as often as possible, particularly in areas where heavy dust loads are the norm.
Identify and Remove Ignition Sources
Finally, remember that while dust itself is inherently flammable, it still requires an ignition source nearby to turn into a serious problem. This can be either an airborne ember or spark, or something else entirely.
Therefore, one of the most essential steps that you can take to avoid a dust collection fire involves identifying and removing as many of these ignition sources as you can. Pay attention to processes like cutting or welding, and make sure that all employees engaged in these activities are doing so as far away from the dust collection system as possible.
If you’d like to find out more information about the best ways to avoid a dust collection fire, or if you’d just like to speak to someone about your own needs in a bit more detail, please don’t delay – contact CAMCORP today.