If cleanliness is next to godliness, food facilities should be a place the gods would frequent. When it comes to food manufacturing, being clean comes with the territory. But can you remember the last time your metal ducts were thoroughly cleaned?
Food manufacturing facilities don’t only need to regulate microbial growth, temperature and humidity levels more rigorously than most industries, they also need to ensure the HVAC diffusion system responsible for moving air throughout the facility remains clean while staying effective.
Many operations and facilities in the food industry lend themselves to a retrofitting project involving fabric air diffuser systems that generally offer cleaner solutions and additional operational efficiency when compared to alternative options. They typically can do it for less cost than their traditional metal ductwork counterparts, too.
If your metal ducts aren’t performing the way you want, are starting to show rust from years of condensation, are difficult to clean or are not properly balanced, a fabric diffuser retrofit might be in your future.
One of the first — and most important — considerations in a retrofit project is installation. Is it logistically possible in this facility? Are the costs reasonable? These basic questions narrow the list of solutions.
Fabric diffusers typically score well in these categories and it’s part of the reason why food manufacturing facilities have been using them for more than 40 years. Metal ducts, which are typically more expensive than fabric, are about 90 percent heavier than fabric and therefore also more expensive to ship.
Another advantage to the lightweight composition of fabric ductwork systems is that installation time is drastically reduced. The labor time need to install insulated/double-wall spiral metal ducts might be 10 times longer than fabric diffusers.
Metal ductwork generally needs power lift equipment, which requires facility equipment, processes and other obstacles to be shifted or re-organized during installation. This hassle can bog down operations for days.
In contrast, most fabric diffusers can be installed by two people using ladders. This makes it much easier to work around equipment and normal plant operations during installation, even when lengthy runs are being hung.
Smaller sections of fabric use zippered fitting to form longer routes. Additionally, fabric can use stainless steel hanging to keep operations as clean as possible.
I am not sure this is accurate and depending on the height of the building they are still going to need a lift. Can we just say fabric is an easier opton when working around existing obstructions in the ceiling?
Fabric Delivers An Enhanced Performance
Of course, easy installation isn’t the only consideration when retrofitting a new duct system in a food manufacturing facility. If it doesn’t do the job, it’s not worth anything. Fabric diffusers can do the job and they do it efficiently.
Unlike metal ducts, an entire run of fabric acts as a diffuser. This allows a facility to provide targeted, precise and efficient air dispersion throughout the length of their path. In contrast, standard metal ductwork using localized diffusers spaced many feet apart can create hot and cold spots along the length of the system. Fabric diffusers use various methods to achieve this uniformity, including: air porous fabrics, linear vents, nozzles and orifices.
Air dispersion is nearly 25 percent more efficient in fabric diffusers than metal ductwork. This allows them to heat (or cool) rooms faster, which increases energy savings by reducing the runtime of mechanical equipment.
The various types of fabric air dispersions products allow facility managers to specify the performance requirements that will best serve their environments. For example, runs of fabric can follow food production lines and process machines that need regular cooling.
One of the benefits of fabric ducts is ease of customization for each application. Products are application-specific and are designed for precision airflow by targeted air speeds, elimination of drafts and hot/cold zones. Additionally, they can be made in any color or pattern to provide an aesthetic element to any environment.
Food Facility Advantages
Advanced fabric diffusers have a number of benefits in food facilities. Top of the line models use UL fabric that passes mold growth in humidity testing and some have an anti-microbial agent woven into the fabric to inhibit bacteria growth.
Using linear vents in a run of fabric, ceilings and walls can be dried faster after they are washed down. This is particularly advantageous in food operations such as meat processing facilities or stand-up coolers whose doors can condense, requiring wash-downs on a regular basis.
Linear vents in fabric diffusers also reduce the opportunity for bacteria to grow, as they reduce moisture buildup. Growing facilities and food manufacturing facilities that handle produce with a high water content are two types of operations that can take advantage of linear vents designed into fabric diffusers.
Fabric is ideal in freezer applications, which is not true for all metal ductwork. In freezers, uniform temperatures are often required in storage areas. Temperature variance is not good for stored product or the equipment cooling the space. This makes them more valuable in cold storage warehousing operations.
Another major benefit to fabric diffusers is that they are easy to maintain. Like any type of duct system, they will collect dust and other air particulate. But instead of needing to clean them at ceiling level or disrupting regular food manufacturing operations to bring down sections of metal ducts, fabric can be easily taken down and washed in commercial washing machines. Fabric can also be cleaned by vacuuming or with compressed air.
There are also durability benefits. If bumped into by equipment, fabric is more resilient than metal ductwork. Fabric won’t dent or scratch, making it a good long-term option.
Food manufacturing operations whose metal ducts are falling into disrepair, or who are moving into a new building without proper ductwork, can find advantages in a fabric diffuser retrofit. Fabric serves as one large diffuser, which provides more uniform air movement. Installation of fabric is easier than metal ducts and it’s easier to maintain. Fabric diffusers work well in nearly any food application, from post-washdown to freezers.
Gerry Flores is the business development manager of DuctSox.