Although welding is an activity that has brought progress to mankind, allowing doers to join pieces of metal to create complex and strong structures, is also a process that, due to the gases and fumes involved, can cause harm to human beings. For that reason, in many places where welding is an ongoing process, a fume extraction system is required.
In some countries, there are very strict regulations in place regarding the management of welding fumes. In others, not so much. So, is not a good idea just to rely upon regulations to define how the welding fumes should be handled in our workshop. Instead, caring for the operators’ welfare by installing a welding fume extraction system must be a corporate decision.
What is a welding fume extraction system?
As the name suggests, a welding fume extraction system is a device that captures polluted air and filters it out, collecting the hazardous compounds, in order to prevent operators from breathing it.
The system is typically designed to capture and remove welding fumes and smoke at the source. This is achieved by using hoods, extractors, or fume guns that are placed directly above or near the welding operation. The system then draws the fumes and smoke through a duct network and filters the air before it is released back into the environment. These systems can be portable, mobile, or stationary.
A portable welding fume extraction system is a small device that can be transported by a handle and usually can be found in a hobbyist’s garage. A mobile welding fume extraction system is a light-duty device that can be used for periods of time in welding is eventual. Some brands manufacture mobile welding fume extraction systems with powerful features that can be used for medium-duty work. A stationary welding fume extraction system is a heavy-duty device that requires installation in a wall or column and it has one or several arms to capture the air. We are going to explain all of them in detail later in this article.
Welding is not the only industrial activity that produces toxic fumes, so the need for extraction systems is shared with other industries. Since welding is one of our areas of expertise, so we are going to focus our explanation on the need for welding fume extraction systems.
Some companies have installed dilution ventilation, which is a system that intends to reduce the airborne concentration of pollution by introducing fresh air to acceptable exposure levels. Though this is a way to reduce risks from fumes, is not really an extraction system, because air is not pulled away completely from the work area, but mixed with clean air. So, the dilution ventilation system would not be part of the scope of this article.
Why they are needed
The main reason why a welding fume extraction system is needed is to protect the operators’ health. Welding fumes can cause short and long-term health damage. Among the short-term health damages that can occur is metal fume fever which can be treated and the operator can be back at work in a few days, avoiding exposure to harmful metals from that moment on.
Nevertheless, continuous exposure to welding fumes can cause neurological and respiratory conditions, heart disease, and even cancer. That comes from the gases and fumes that are generated with the welding. Gases and fumes are not the same, but they both are dangerous for humans.
Every welding process requires gases like carbon dioxide, ozone, argon, and nitrogen oxide, among others. Welding fumes are formed when a metal is melted and its vapors get condensed into very small solid particles. As an example, fumes from stainless steel welding contain parts of iron, nickel, and chromium.
In the United States, there are 2 organizations that regulate safety in workplaces. One is the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). They have defined some Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) that can be reached by means of fume extraction systems. The other is The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is actually a branch of the CDC. Other organizations that take care of this important matter are the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety – CCOHS (CAN), and the Health and Safety Executive – HSE (United Kingdom).
Now, you need to protect from welding fumes not only the operators but also your whole company. To understand better this you need to see the big picture regarding welding fume extraction systems.
Everything you need to weld
More than 40 years of welding experience
We started in 1979 and now we are throughout the Americas with all what is related to welding.
The big picture regarding welding fume extraction systems
Usually, the personnel who is directly involved in welding is carefully protected from the fumes. That is a good measure and we encourage you to keep doing so.
Now, in the same building, more people can work. Probably, some of them are the ones providing consumables to the welding operators, or handling the robots, supervisors, or even office staff that need to perform activities on the welding plant floor. None of them might be properly protected from welding fumes but still, they are exposed.
In such circumstances, setting in place some welding fume extraction system for the whole work area or at least the welding area within the plant floor might come in handy. Of course, the need, whether a stationary or a mobile welding fume extraction system, depends on your specific work area. Keeping in mind your whole staff’s health and the laws you need to abide by will help you to retain personnel, improve efficiency (fewer days taken for sickness), and avoid fines.
For a socially responsible company, the number of sick days taken or compensation to pay to a worker are not the main reason why to set up a welding fume extraction system. The idea is to avoid health-related issues and keep everyone safe.
Also, whether a mobile or stationary welding fume extraction system is set in place, this is a plan for the company’s long-term production plans. So, seeing the big picture of this can help you make a good decision and take the first steps toward accomplishing it. Let’s now describe both stationary and mobile welding fume extraction systems, with pros and cons.
Stationary welding fume extraction system
A stationary welding fume extraction system is a wall-mounted device that can have one or several flexible arms to capture the polluted air right at the source. Where robotic welding is applied, the extraction arm does not need to be moved. It is usually fixed some 6 to 18 inches away from the welding spot, according to the extraction system’s capacity. Most of them have reusable filters for saving costs.
Most stationary welding fume extraction systems have an area of around 15 inches to capture the polluted air. If the welding beam is longer than that, some of the fumes could roam free in the environment. In these cases, it is convenient to find out if the welding beam should be shorter, in order to make sure all contaminated air is eliminated.
In many workshops, these stationary welding fume extraction systems are installed close to the area where welders tackle their projects. When manual welding is applied, the flexible arm can be moved around to capture immediately the contaminated air. The closest they are to the welding spot, the better.
Later in this article, we will introduce you to one high-quality stationary welding fume extraction system from Miller.
Advantages of stationary welding fume extraction system
The main advantages of stationary welding fume extraction systems are:
- They are usually the most potent fume extraction system available
- They can be configurated to handle several arms and serve several operators at the same time
- They are ideal to continuous welding operations
- They do not take floor space
Disadvantages of stationary welding fume extraction system
Despite the benefits of a stationary system, there are still a few disadvantages that we need to consider:
- They are not portable or mobile
- They are expensive
- They need to be installed by experts
- They are bounded to a specific area in the workplace
Mobile welding fume extraction system
Following along with the description of welding fume extraction systems, is the turn to talk about mobile devices. They are lightweight systems that are wheeled and come with one arm to capture the polluted air. They are to be used for one operator only. Depending on the manufacturer they can be considered for light duty or medium duty. Most of them have reusable filters for saving costs.
Mobile devices are one thing, and portable ones are another thing. To explain better this concept, you can picture a vacuum cleaner. They come in different sizes and shapes. You have industrial-size ones (which are to clean high-traffic areas), regular-size ones (to clean a house), and small-size ones (which are battery-powered and ideal to clean cars). You will never try to clean a high-traffic area or even a house with a small-size one.
Along the same line, a portable welding fume extraction system could be a good idea for a hobbyist who barely welds now and then, and just need to avoid the fumes on those rare occasions. But if welding is part of your job, at least to some degree, the lower equipment you should get is a mobile welding fume extraction system.
Advantages of mobile welding fume extraction system
Mobile welding fume extraction systems are ideal for a number of different reasons, among these:
- They can be used in different places in the work area and other locations because of their mobility
- They are less expensive than stationary systems
- They are easy to use and do not require installation
- They are ideal for confined or difficult to reach areas
Disadvantages of mobile welding fume extraction system
Despite the benefits of a mobile system, there are still a few disadvantages that we need to consider:
- They can be only used by one operator at the same time
- They have a limited capacity, lower than stationary systems
- They should not be used for robotic welding
- They can wear out more easily than stationary systems, due to the handling and changing locations
Ask the experts
Our experts are ready to help you
We have experts in welding, cutting, industrial finishing and automation. Take advantage of our experience.
How to define which one is ideal for your workshop
Defining that you need a fume extraction system is not hard. If you weld, it is evident that you need some fume extraction device. The difficult part is to define which one is ideal for your workshop.
The effectiveness of the fume extraction system will depend on various factors such as the type of welding process, the materials being welded, and the size of the area where welding is taking place. The fumes produced vary according to these variables.
For instance, the International Organization for Standardization has defined 3 levels of welding fumes, according to the materials present in the welding, according to the following:
- Class W1: Filtration efficiency of at least 95 percent or greater. Filters in this class are suitable for unalloyed or low-alloyed steel (low nickel and chromium content in the steel)
- Class W2: Filtration efficiency must be greater than 98 percent. The steel alloys being welded must have no more than 30% content of nickel and chromium
- Class W3: Filtration efficiency must be 99 percent or greater. The steel alloys being welded might have more than 30% content of nickel and chromium
We can help you to define what would be the ideal system for you. Some of the questions any of our experts are going to ask you are the following:
- What is the size of the workshop?
- How much welding is done?
- How many welders are there?
- How many other employees are in the area?
- Is all the welding done in the same area of the workshop?
- Is there a robotic welding cell?
- What welding processes are in use?
- What metals are being welded?
- How much floor and wall space is there?
- Can welding operations be relocated within the building?
With your answers, a solution (not just equipment) will be customized for your specific needs. Let us know show you some equipment for fume extraction.
Equipment for welding fume extraction systems
There is plenty of options when it comes to welding fume extraction systems. Is safe to say that each welding products manufacturer has something different to offer. That is good because it shows how important it is. But, also can be overwhelming when deciding what route to take.
Now we are going to show some options designed and manufactured by Miller. Since we have been international Miller’s distributors for over 40 years, we know very well these products. We have helped some clients to set up these welding fume extraction systems with success many times. So, we feel assured about their performance.
Miller FILTAIR® 130 Portable Fume Extractor
Portable fume extraction system designed specifically for welding. This system is ideal for contractors, maintenance and repair, and light fabrication.
Miller FILTAIR® MWX
Mobile fume extraction systems designed specifically for welding. The powerful high-volume system is ideal for fabrication shops, manufacturing, repair work, and training centers where mobility is needed. Self Cleaning Filter, 7 ft. Arm.
Miller FILTAIR® Capture 5
The Capture Zone, redefined. Innovative, extended-capture, fume extraction system designed specifically for welding. Exclusive ZoneFlow™ technology creates a much larger capture area than existing source-capture products. Ideal for fabrication shops, manufacturing, and training centers. 10 ft. Arm
Miller FILTAIR® SWX-S
Wall or column-mounted fume extraction system designed specifically for welding. This powerful high-volume system features ZoneFlow™ technology creating a much larger capture area than existing source-capture products and minimizing arm interactions. This system is ideal for fabrication shops and manufacturing environments. Self-Cleaning Filter. Single-Arm Package, 10 ft. ZoneFlow™ Arm.
Miller FILTAIR® 4000
Centralized weld fume extractors are custom-engineered solutions designed for multiple capture sources that require ducting and accessories to complete the system. 10 HP, Front Inlet.
After you get a welding fume extraction system
After you have defined what type of welding fume extraction system you will get, you need to set it up. If is it mobile, you will only need to get it close to the area where welding is performed and teach the operators how to use it. Some basic instructions are how to detect when is time to clean the filters, how to do that, and how to move around the arms.
If the system is wall-mounted, you need to define where it should be installed and probably make some adjustments in the welding area. If the system has several arms, every operator must know how to handle the one he is going to use. Someone must be in charge of cleaning or changing the filters every time that is needed.
In any case, if is the first time that you will get a welding fume extraction system in your facilities, your staff might not be acquainted with it. Some of them might even think that such a thing is not needed. So, it would be a nice idea to hold a seminar so everyone might be aware of the importance of using the system and how to do so. We can help you with such an event.
Get help from experts
Installing a welding fume extraction system in your workshop is a good idea that will make you comply with health regulations and improve the morale of your operators. Nevertheless, it is also an investment that should be considered carefully to take the best decision.
We have decades of helping companies with their welding needs. The need for clean air is one of them. We would be delighted to help you to set up a welding fume extraction system in your workshop. Let us know what your circumstances are and we will come up with a customized solution for you.