Air can be measured in terms of quantity. The New England Patriots were accused of not putting enough of it into their footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship Game, leading to a $1 million fine, the loss of two draft picks, and a four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady.
But air is more commonly measured in terms of quality. It can be bad outdoors: In India, it’s so wretched that it’s considered a “national crisis.” And it can be bad indoors: Companies are always trying to improve it in confined environments where work is churning up dust and debris.
Stoughton Trailers wanted to improve the working conditions at its 450,000-square-foot main manufacturing facility in Stoughton, Wisconsin, by reducing the amount of weld smoke that was in the air.
So it contracted with air filtration technology company RoboVent, based in Sterling Heights, Michigan, to invest in a new clean-air system. The system, which became operational in December 2014, has resulted in a brighter, cleaner facility that boasts even better ventilation and less dust.
RoboVent systems drastically reduce fumes, dust and smoke that welding produces within the manufacturing environment, providing workers with the cleanest air possible.
“We’re thrilled about the many positive effects the new RoboVent system is having on our workers, facility, and production,” says Stoughton Trailers president Bob Wahlin. “Production is more efficient, and the air in the facility is even safer and cleaner. Smoke and dust are virtually eliminated, and employees on the floor feel better about coming to work.
“Our old air filtering system relied on bringing in clean air from outdoors, which requires heating, so this system also has significant energy savings for us.”
The air cleaning system was one of several major energy-saving projects undertaken by Stoughton that cost a total of $10 million and were recognized by local utility companies, which awarded $316,941 in energy incentives. The incentives were made possible through a partnership with Stoughton Trailers, Stoughton Utilities, Brodhead Water & Light, Evansville Water & Light, WPPI Energy (the three utilities’ wholesale power supplier) and Focus on Energy, Wisconsin utilities’ statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program.
“We consider our workers our greatest asset and want to do all we can to make Stoughton Trailers a great place to work,” Wahlin says. “We will continue to use the dollars we’ve earned in incentives to complete more projects that benefit our workers and reduce our company’s carbon footprint.”
Stoughton marketing manager Ron Jake says the new system might even marginally improve the quality of the trailers Stoughton is producing.
“It affects the product maybe slightly by the fact there’s less dust in air,” he said. “The welding previously created a lot of dust that would find its way onto our equipment and in our components. There might be some improvement. Components are cleaner before they go into some of the processes. That would be a small benefit. We haven’t really quantified what that is, but our operations are cleaner now.”
Stoughton Trailers began working with RoboVent early in 2014, when it asked the company to produce the perfect clean air solution for the welding department of its primary fabrication facility in Stoughton. RoboVent engineers used VentMapping, an airmapping process using computational fluid dynamics to identify specific airflow patterns and filtration requirements for each of the areas targeted.
Through the use of fume guns, Vortex towers and air control curtains, specific spaces in the production environment were able to be quarantined, preventing dust and fumes from escaping to other parts of the facility.
“RoboVent is in the welding area only, but the benefits of having the equipment is realized throughout the entire plant,” Jake says. “Previously, there was smoke visible throughout the plant far beyond the welding area. Now that’s virtually gone. It’s much clearer, and the lighting is much better now because it’s not going through a haze of smoke. It’s a great improvement in how much light is making its way down to the shop floor. Employees talk about how much they like it. They just don’t have that feeling of working in that grit. They like the investment we’ve made.”
Stoughton likes the RoboVent system so much that it is installing it in the four different weld areas in its Brodhead plant, located 30 miles south of Stoughton. One area already has the system installed and operational, two other areas are in progress, and the entire project will be finished in the fourth quarter.
“RoboVent rose to the top as the one we wanted to work with, mainly because they had a really comprehensive system where you’re talking about how you seal off the welding space, what kind of air flow they mapped that was through our welding shop, and then having air filtration towers that help clean the smoke and then integrating that with new guns that helped pull smoke away from the source,” Jake says. “They were able to provide this complete system for us and do the install, and really do a turnkey.”