Dust extractors are essential for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment where ever laser cutters or plasma cutters are operating. Their function is to draw away toxic fumes and dust that are produced as part of the cutting process. Making sure they are functioning correctly is essential to maintaining air quality in the factory and protecting yourself and your employees from potential respiratory illness, and they must also be maintained properly to reduce the risk of fire.
Dust extractors should be inspected and cleaned at regular maintenance intervals to ensure that there is not an excessive build up of dust and slag in the vacuum chamber and filters. The material collected is very fine and may be made up of dissimilar metals if various types of metal are cut in the time frame between cleanings or if the extractor services more than one machine. These dust-like fines can be combustible. Delay in attending to the extractor when required can create a fire hazard.
Some extractor systems are fitted with a vacuum gauge which should be checked regularly. Change the filters before the gauge is in the red line area. If the gauge suddenly red lines it may indicate a clog in the system which should be attended immediately. If the system is in the red line area it's putting strain on the extraction motor and is not doing the job it is intended to do as the system does not have adequate air flow. If there is no gauge on the extractor, a regular inspection of the filters is required - ensure that manufacturer's instructions are followed and appropriate PPE is worn for this job. Similarly, some extraction systems have a baffle chamber to catch heavier material. This chamber needs to be inspected and emptied regularly as per manufacturer's recommendations.
It is also important to note that cutting material that is non-metallic, such as plastic, is not recommended for many extractors and can cause premature failure of the filter membrane. Check your manufacturer's recommendations to ensure that you are only using your equipment for the purpose for which it was intended. Special filtration devices may be required for cutting non-metallic materials.
How can you tell if your extractor is having a problem? You may be able to see dust being vented into the area near the extractor outlet, or you may notice that the extractor fan is covered with dust. If either of these signs is observed, check your gauge, done the appropriate PPE, check the chamber and the filters for leaks or a blown (pierced) filter.