Dust Collection and Energy Management

Written by Kyle Roseneck
Taurus Craco Machinery Inc.

A popular topic of conversation these recent months has been the rising electricity rates in Ontario. We can all relate to the rising prices of our bills on homes and businesses throughout Ontario.

For a typical BWA manufacturing member, the largest demand of electricity is typically in two areas of the shop; dust collection & compressed air. Dust collection alone can represent up to 50-60% of the total electrical consumption of a woodworking facility. Many of my client visits in recent years have been focused around looking for more energy efficient solutions for interior and exterior dust collection.

Dust collection is a necessary evil when it comes to manufacturing. It offers little value to a business to increase sales & production, and to develop new products or markets, so naturally it’s low on the list of capital budgets. It may not be as exciting as a new CNC, moulder or automated sliding table saw, but there is a strong case to support investment in an existing or new dust collection system to obtain huge reductions on your monthly cost of operation.

Small or large, custom or mass volume, amperage and Kw reduction will put money back in your pocket. Typical dust systems are silent money-burners, usually getting turned on when the first operator hits the floor and getting shut off when the last person leaves. Yes, many have systems to reduce usage or peak demand with soft start motors, shut-offs during breaks or multiple units or fans to target areas of intermediate demand but there is still a lot money being left on the table that can be recaptured.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the best conservation of energy is made when the system is off. There are zero electricity costs when shut off, but surprisingly we don’t do it often enough. Reasons range from “I’ll be back to the machines shortly”, “the on/off switch is the other side of the shop”, or possibly the high peak amperage draws on start up or the cycling of the motor is a concern. The easy solution to this is simply interlocking the machines to the collector. If the machines aren’t on, the dust collector shouldn’t be either. In fact, it’s required by Ontario code, so there isn’t much argument on this point. Do it, it’ll save you money.

The second-best solution is to manage demand. Ideally to use only the power required to create dust collection on the machines in demand. Since the machines should already be interlocked, we can also use this signal to determine what specific machines need dust collection. An energy management system installed on a dust collector is comprised of three things; a small control system, a Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) and automatic blast gates. As machines are turned on, the collector adapts fan speeds via a VFD control in order to provide adequate CFM as needed. Each machine has a programmed minimum CFM requirement. The control system ensures the collector is always operating while machines are in use, as well as maintains the necessary CFM and velocity in the ducts. The benefits to doing this can be surprising. A slight reduction in RPM on the fan equates to significant drop in energy usage. Slowing down the fan as little as 20% reduces your power usage by 50%. Combine this with the Ontario saveONenergy grants offering up to 50% of the project costs and there can be a very quick return on investment. For more information and help, reach out to your local electricity supplier and ask for the Conservation Account Manager. I’ve worked with many who offer experience and assistance to find the you the most value.

If you have an example of how you saved energy on your dust collection system, please share it. I know some of you have great examples of projects on indoor and outdoor collectors with great success stories.