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Industrial Vacuum Cleaners Vs. Shop-style Vacuums

Posted on May 7, 2008

While at the Electric Power show this week I seemed to hear this alot: “Why can your vacuum handle coal dust when my shop vacuum won’t?” That seems to be a big question in the industrial vacuum cleaner world. Whether its coal dust, wood shavings or some other fine dust or debris, people want to know just what exactly an industrial vacuum has that their shop-style vacuum does not. Well, not being sold on the shelves of your local hardware store is just beginning.

Equipped with the right hose and accessories, high-quality industrial vacuums are built to meet specific challenges like collecting crumbs in a hot oven or removing spider webs on overhead pipes, but despite all the advantages, many manufacturers still opt for the low cost alternative of shop-style vacuums. Take a walk-through any manufacturing plant and you’ll find dozens of these portable units scattered throughout the facility, stored in janitor closets or near machinery. They are to industrial plants what a household vacuum is to consumers, and while they may be a purchase of convenience, sold on the shelves of nearly every Home Depot, Sears, or Lowes, shop-style vacuums are by no means built for efficiency or reliability (go ahead, shake your head because you agree), and like mops, brooms and compressed air, ultimately cost more in the long run.

The most common problem with shop-style vacuums is frequent motor burn-up. Typically equipped with low-cost, unreliable motors that overheat quickly, these vacuums are normally short-lived, especially when used to collect fine dust and debris several times a day for a lengthy period of time. High-quality industrial vacuums are equipped with superior motors, specifically designed to handle longer run times and industrial applications.

Aside from motor burn-up, shop-style vacuums also do an inadequate job of retaining collected materials due to poor filtration. Quality industrial vacuums are equipped with oversized filters which allow the vacuum to filter more efficiently. The larger the filter, the more space there is to trap particles that would otherwise clog or “blind” the filter, reducing suction and performance.

Industrial vacuums also have graduated or multi-stage filtration systems. These systems require debris to pass through several steps of filtration, such as a paper bag, main cloth filter and/or HEPA, with each level acting as a barrier to the next. By the time the particles reach the last stage, the majority of debris has been trapped by previous filters. Shop-style vacuums are usually only equipped with single-stage filtration systems, allowing particles to pass through the motor and disperse back into the facility through the exhaust stream.

 Unlike most shop-style vacuums, i-vacs are also available with many different features that increase run time and help prolong the life of the vacuum, features like an automatic filter cleaning system, which frees the filter from caked on dust and debris before it can clog the filter and reduce vacuum suction. Industrial vacuums can also be customized for specific applications, such as machine integration or multiple users. 

Aside from contamination control and labor costs, mops, brooms, and compressed air do little in preventing a combustible dust explosion. In fact, shop-style vacuums can actually cause an explosion if used to collect hazardous materials. Although workplace blasts have been occurring for years, the issue became a national headline last year when the Imperial Sugar Factory near Savannah, GA went up in flames when finely ground motes of sugar combusted. If 14 fatalities weren’t enough, OSHA fined the company more than 8 million dollars in workplace safety violations. Blasts like these could be prevented if a certified Explosion-Proof Vacuum (EXP) is used consistently to clean the plant thoroughly. Certified by a nationally- recognized testing agency, these vacuums are tested from the ground up to insure they are safe to use in high-risk environments. An EXP might be priced higher than basic models, but the return on investment is immeasurable, saving not just money, but lives. 

Despite all the clear advantages, companies are still hesitant to invest the money in a quality industrial vacuum cleaner, thinking only of the short-term costs. But believe it or not, the investment can easily save you thousands in the first year alone.