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What is “Active Workstation Utilization” in On-Demand Dust Collection?

Active Workstation Utilization

Active Workstation Utilization in Dust (Fume, Mist) Collection

This is a term we use throughout our publications and user guides, but what is it? In the simplest terms, this is the time that a machine is actively producing particulate matter (or fumes at welding systems, or oil mist) and requires extraction. In our definition it is the percentage of the shift time when a particular workstation is producing dust (fume, mist). This isn’t something that traditional dust collection systems ever need to know, but for On-Demand Dust Collection this is a critical metric that helps our engineers design your system efficiently.

On-Demand Dust Collection

On-Demand Dust Collection is a method designed to optimize both energy usage and extraction efficiency for industrial ventilation systems. Unlike Traditional Dust Collection Systems, which operate at full capacity regardless of need, the On-Demand model uses gates installed at each workstation (or drop) that open or close based on real-time demand. A Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) adjusts the fan speed to meet the specific requirements of all open gates at any given moment. This targeted approach ensures that suction is provided only where and when it's needed, reducing energy consumption and operational costs. The entire system is managed by a greenBOX Control Unit, which continually communicates with the gates and VFD to maintain efficiency, and safe minimum transport air velocities.

The Principle of On-Demand

The purpose of an On-Demand Dust Collection System is to only target workstations that are producing particulate matter (or fumes, mist). It wouldn’t make sense to extract from machines that may be on but not producing anything that requires extraction. This would not only be a waste of energy, but it’d defeat the purpose of the On-Demand system.

To get to the Active Workstation Utilization of each machine, we factor the amount of time the machine is on, and subtract the time when the material is loaded or unloaded to the machine, when the machine is programmed, cleaned, maintained or simply not used. During those times, the machine isn’t really producing anything that requires dust collection, therefore the On-Demand system would know to keep gates at those workstations closed. This is very important as this is how we achieve significant energy savings and top system efficiency.

Huge Potential for Savings

Sure there are some workstations that are cutting material nearly 100% of the shift making their Active Workstation Utilization nearly 100%. These however, are exceptions. The average Active Utilization of all workstations in factories is typically under 50% (unless you are running a fully automated factory where the average Active Utilization is around 85%). This is great because the lower your Active Utilization the higher your potential for savings.

If you operate a traditional dust collection system and would like to know if switching to an On-Demand system would yield significant savings, then knowing your Active Utilization would provide you the answer. If you’re among the many and your Active Utilization of all your workstations is below 100%, then an Ecogate On-Demand System makes perfect sense. If we can close at least 20% of the total drops, we can achieve 50% fan operation savings–based on the Fan Law of physics. In our 20+ years of experience, we can confidently say that most, even the biggest, factories operate well under 100% Active Utilization.

How to Calculate Active Workstation Utilization

We now understand how Active Utilization factors in On-Demand Dust Collection, but how do you calculate this to get a glimpse of your savings potential? We’ll briefly cover the four options at your disposal for this task:

Option 1: Production Tracking

Some factories employ a data-driven approach to gauge workstation utilization, tracking the quantity of products or operations each workstation completes per shift and per month. This data is then used to determine the maximal capacity of each workstation, expressed as a percentage. To calculate the average utilization, divide the actual production number by this maximal capacity.

Option 2: Stopwatch Measurement

In the absence of the first method, you can utilize time-based measurements to assess utilization. By timing the full production cycle with a stopwatch, you can calculate average utilization as the ratio of the cutting cycle time to the total cycle time, also expressed as a percentage. You need to do it workstation by workstation.

Option 3: Snapshot Assessment

If the above methods are impractical, a snapshot assessment serves as an alternative. Begin by listing all workstations, then walk from machine to machine, noting which are actively cutting material. The ratio of active to total workstations gives you a utilization percentage. While this snapshot approach lacks the precision of other methods, it offers sufficiently accurate estimates. To refine the accuracy, multiple snapshots can be taken across various shifts.

Option 4: Data Loggers–Ideal Method

Onset HOBO UX90 Motor On/Off Data Loggers
Onset HOBO UX90 Motor On/Off Data Loggers

For the most accurate utilization measurements, you can install sensors (data loggers) on motors driving the workstations' cutting tools. Data Loggers are crucial instruments for accurately capturing the operational status of your cutting tools. Specifically, Onset HOBO UX90 Motor On/Off Data Loggers are designed to record the exact times when a machine's cutting motor is active or inactive. Here's a quick guide to get you started:

  1. Attach the data logger sensors securely to workstation’s cutting tool motors.

  2. Calibrate the sensor before commencing operations.

  3. Monitor the sensor's LCD screen to ensure proper tracking.

  4. Run the sensor for a minimum of two weeks for comprehensive data.

Note: Make sure to place the data loggers only on motors driving cutting tools to avoid skewed data.

For a detailed setup guide, complete with images and step-by-step instructions, click here to read the full article.

Misconceptions About Active Workstation Utilization

Factory floors may often be busy. A good amount of machines producing a lot of the noise, workers in constant motion, and products being produced everywhere. At a glance, a plant or shift manager would assume that their busy factory likely has an Active Utilization close to 100%. It’s easy to assume that at least for the busiest machines, like a CNC, but even these don’t reach over 85% - 90%...usually.

The reason for this is because busy doesn’t require dust or fume extraction, it doesn't mean Active Utilization. When it comes to On-Demand Dust Collection, it only matters when each workstation requires dust extraction - not when the machine is on or in use.

A large woodworking manufacturer producing furniture at high volumes challenged this. The managers confidently guessed their Active Utilization to be at least 90%. Most would reasonably guess at least 80% and we don’t blame them. The results surprised everyone.

Big Factory Case Study

For privacy reasons, we’re leaving out the name of the large furniture manufacturer and we’ll only share our results. We installed HOBO Motor On/Off Data Loggers for one week on the busiest workstations. Considering that this factory has a huge output, the expectation was at around 80% or at the very least, 50%. However, the data showed that the six busiest machines actually averaged an Active Utilization of 23.9%!


Machine #1

Machine #2

Machine #3

Machine #4

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These results are consistent with our long-term monitoring of production facilities.

Data Analytics

Workstation Active Utilization is part of the data analytics that the intelligent greenBOX Control Unit captures. We’re able to see the Active Utilization from many manufacturers of all sizes, in different industries and regions all over the planet. Take it from us, nearly all factories, no matter how big or busy, have an Active Utilization way below 100%.

The greenBOX sends data to our cloud servers every 10 seconds, compiling insightful information about all of your workstations and their Active Utilization. They then get packaged into user-friendly Daily and Monthly Reports that get delivered straight to your email. These reports also show you your system’s savings, which is always encouraging.

Why Care About Active Utilization?

If you have an On-Demand System like Ecogate, you can already see your Active Utilization and use that data to make informed decisions. If you have a Traditional Dust Collection System, it is very valuable to know what your Active Utilization is as this could give you an idea of the potential savings your system could achieve if you install Ecogate. Knowing that your Active Utilization is way below 100% makes the decision of installing Ecogate a no brainer.

Dust/fume collectors are usually the largest motors in factories running the entire shift and consuming a significant amount of energy. For the smart manager, this represents “low hanging fruit” in decreasing electricity consumption in your facility. Many utility companies offer cash incentives for installing energy-saving equipment. This is an investment that begins paying for itself from day one and could even secure you a rebate shortly after its installation - immediate gratification. As electricity costs increase - as well as supply chain costs - having Ecogate will only become more valuable.

Wrapping Up

You should now understand what Active Workstation Utilization is and how to measure it. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Active Workstation Utilization is the metric that defines the actual need for extraction at each workstation.

  • Ecogate On-Demand systems efficiently direct airflow to active workstations only, leading to substantial energy and cost savings.

  • Even busy, high-output factories have Active Utilizations well below 100%, which means there's an excellent chance you could benefit from transitioning to an On-Demand system. Active utilization for the average US factory is below 50%.

  • Understanding Active Utilization is the first step in realizing these benefits. The next is installing an Ecogate system, which provides real-time data analytics, including Active Utilization, delivered straight to your inbox.

Author, David Vera


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