A successful welding operation is about a lot more than the torch and workpiece. Because of the hazardous materials emitted during the welding process, the right fume extraction setup is essential for not only removing harmful gas particles and protecting the health and safety of employees, but also protecting against explosions or fires.
It’s also required as a part of most state and national compliance regulations.
Depending on the type of welding operation being used, the fumes can include various types of gases and submicron-sized metal particles. And, because welders hover very near the workpiece, those fumes are released into the same air that they inhale. To keep that air clean, many welding shop operators choose from one or a combination of three different types of fume extractors — fixed, source-capture, and wearable.
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Fixed, or engineered, fume extraction systems are the largest and most complex of the three. They usually include a complex system of installed ductwork, hoods, filters and fans that collect any hazardous welding fumes and expel them from the work area. A fixed system in itself works to remove fumes from the air in general, but generally speaking, they do not capture the fumes at the source (ie., the welding gun.)
Fixed systems are an effective way to remove fumes from a large workspace, but the amount of engineering required to build and install them also makes them the most expensive.
Source Capture Systems
Unlike a fixed system, a portable system includes a source-capture device that removes welding fumes right at the arc. Often, they work by cleaning the fumes and releasing the clean air back into the environment. These systems include articulated arms and downdraft tables that can be moved around the shop to where they are needed, making them more flexible — and less expensive — than their fixed counterparts.
Typically the least expensive form of fume extractions, wearable systems include a wide variety of masks that fit tightly to the welder’s face. A personal air-powered respirator (PAPR) then uses an air filter and blower to circulate clean air right into the welding helmet. If your welding work is happening in a small space where an articulated source-capture arm won’t work, a respirator can provide excellent protection for the welder.
However, a respirator doesn’t account for the fumes that make their way into the rest of the workshop. It’s for this reason that many operations choose a combination of extraction systems to keep the entire environment as clean as possible.
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Benefits of Fume Extraction
It goes without saying that above all else, the health and safety of the welding crew is a top priority. And workplace factors such as the welding process, factory location, airflow, types of welding rods, and base metals in use, welders could be exposed to fumes that contain particles of everything from aluminum and arsenic to copper, iron and lead, all of which could lead to both short and long-term health issues.
In addition, a healthy worksite can be a competitive advantage and recruiting tool, especially in a time where the best welders have their pick of jobs. Having a best-in-class fume extraction system can also help with negotiating lower insurance rates, increasing the lifespan of your equipment and power sources, and lowering maintenance costs.
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