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How to Get the Maximum Benefit Out of Your Process Filtration: Part 2, Saving Your Workers

When working with highly technical equipment and toxic chemicals, safety in process filtration remains the top priority on the job. Fortunately, with the right technology, you have tools available to stay safe and get the work done quickly and efficiently.

This article is part 2 in a series where we are digging deep into getting the most out of your process filtration. In this article, we will be focusing on how advanced process filtration technologies can make for a safer workplace. Workplace safety, domestically, has seen significant improvement in the past 4 decades, but when lives are on the line there is always room to improve. Federal data shows an average of 13 workers per day died on the job in the United States. That’s down from 38 worker deaths per day in 1970. However, 8.8% of the nearly 130,000 workplace deaths recorded since 1992 are attributed to “exposure to harmful substances or environments”.

Furthermore, an analysis of the three major accident databases in the USA found that 57–63% of all accidents were initiated by equipment failure. A specific analysis on process equipment failures carried out in the Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries found that the majority (79%) of equipment failures were caused by technical aspects including faults in design, interface, and safety analysis.

In summary:

1. Exposure to hazardous chemicals caused nearly 10% of all workplace deaths since ‘92.

2. ~60% of accidents in process industries have been caused by equipment failure.

3. 79% of those equipment failures were caused by bad design.

Now let’s think about this in terms of your process:

1. Have you mitigated your worker’s exposure to hazardous chemistries as reasonably as possible?

2. Are you 100% certain you’ve followed the correct preventative maintenance on your process equipment and thus limited potential for near-term failure?

3. Have you used technologies that minimize rotating and mechanical equipment as far as reasonably possible?

4. Are you confident that your process equipment was designed, installed, and programmed correctly with operator safety in mind?

If you answer yes to all of these questions, maybe there is no need for you to read further because I’m not going to teach you anything new. You’re already top of your class. If you answered no to some or all of the questions, then fear not, help is available.

Let’s put this in perspective of your process filtration technology. If you’re currently using a filter press or pressure leaf filter, how safe of an environment have you really provided? You’re using an open-loop system in which your chemistry is regularly open the environment, and thus potentially a hazard to your workers. Additionally, you are operating a filtration system that requires constant maintenance in terms of replacing cloth, plates, and cleaning. An increase in maintenance activity directly increases risk for injury, especially in a repetitive task, complacent scenario like regular servicing. Centrifuges and pump based technologies both require extensive rebuilding of mechanical components and low reliability and uptime.

Why not avoid ALL of that and have a completely closed loop system, with no rotating equipment, that’s operated from the safety of a control room? A filtration technology with fully automated control would mitigate several risks that you’re tolerating today.

Four Safety Benefits You Will Gain by Switching to Advanced Porous Metal Filtration Technology:

Backwashing the filter system

Backwashing the filter system at the end of a filtration cycle does not have to be dangerous, not when it is accomplished internally through a controlled pneumatic/hydraulic pulse. This clean-in-place system uses fluid dynamics to rapidly discharge the filter cake that has built up on the surface of the filter elements. With a fully automated control system, the backwashing of the filter system is accomplished without operator intervention. Through this backwashing process, you are eliminating any exposure to the process fluid. Beyond that, you are limiting equipment down-time, and are also able to reduce the spare parts inventory.

Here’s just one story of how this kind of filter system can enhance safety and workflow. One of Europe’s leading chemical manufacturers required the removal of platinum-on-carbon catalyst from a continuous catalytic oxidation reaction. The high cost of the precious-metal catalyst made high-efficiency capture essential. To enhance productivity further, cleaning operations had to be performed without interruption of process workflow.

Mott provided a total of 6 Mott HyPulse LSX crossflow modules arranged in three parallel trains. Each module was engineered to perform individual back pulse cleaning, enabling the system as a whole to deliver uninterrupted filtration, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week —thereby eliminating the operator exposure and costly downtime caused by having to replace disposable filter elements.

Minimizing maintenance

Minimizing maintenance is not just about saving on labor costs, though that is definitely a benefit. Minimizing maintenance is one more way of limiting exposure to dangerous process fluids.  Less maintenance means less repetitive tasks, less fatigue, and less complacency.  This all translates to lower injury risk for your workers.

Here’s an example: A major United States gulf coast chemical producer required continuous, clear filtrate in conjunction with the removal of Raney nickel catalyst from a butanol solvent. The Mott HyPulse LSM design was chosen for its ability to remove this heavier catalyst particulate efficiently. And, because the open-ended LSM allows concentration of solids in a hopper, the particle loading on the filter elements is significantly reduced, resulting in longer cycles. This particular LSM was fully automated and skid mounted and has provided clear filtrate quality along with maintenance-free operation since commissioning. In addition, the Mott LSM’s multiple operation modes afford operational flexibility for this end user.

Unlike centrifuges, Mott HyPulse® series of filters have no internal moving parts and therefore will require minimal maintenance throughout the life of the filter. Element change out frequencies can be measured in years.  Your operators simply need to swap in a set of spare elements when the time is right, and then get right back to production.

The summary here is that using Mott HyPulse® filters will reduce time spent on maintenance which helps minimize the exposure of your maintenance workers to the process fluid, minimize risk of injury, and maximize valuable production.

Durability of filters

Durability of filters also plays an important role in worker safety. The durability of Mott porous metal filters allows operation to higher differential pressures as compared to conventional plastic, paper, or cloth media. Filter element life is described in years rather than days – or worse – hours. Some Mott filter elements used in harsh environments, such as in the filtration of FCC slurry oil, have not required replacement for upwards of 10, and sometimes 15 years.

One refinery customer ordered a second system when they saw that the original had lasted 10 years without showing signs of slowing down. Each installation was a triple vessel system designed to provide continuous operation at capacities in excess of 10,000 BPD. This customer has doubled their capacity, increasing their revenue while maintaining a commitment to safety and sustainability.  For our customers, being built to last means more years of safe operation.

Process conditions

Process conditions are another area where safety can be an issue. Mott filtration media is available in a variety of alloys to meet cryogenic to high (>1700°F) temperatures and corrosive process conditions. Elements which are sintered from 100% stainless steel, nickel, or Hastelloy offer unsurpassed chemical compatibility, and the ability to withstand years of continuous use under the worst conditions. Using the right materials is just one more factor in keeping workers safe on the job.

Maintaining a safe work environment does not have to be a challenge. Advanced technologies offer a distinct benefit over aging systems or antiquated process equipment.  With a fully closed-loop system, with no rotating parts, that can be monitored from the control room, workers can stay out of harm’s way, and maintenance crews can be prioritized elsewhere on your site. That’s what we are working toward—a process and technology that is as safe and maintenance free as possible.

Let’s keep up the conversation. I would love to hear about your top considerations and stories from the field as it relates to safety in process filtration. Feel free to shoot me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn if you have questions.

Also, be sure to check out our video on filter feasibility testing, which is the recommended first step to designing a filtration system that’s right for your process.