Indianapolis-Based Custom Manufacturer Sees Safety and Productivity Improvements with New Fume Extraction Systems

Indianapolis-Based Custom Manufacturer Sees Safety and Productivity Improvements with New Fume Extraction Systems

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For nearly 70 years, customers have depended on Major Tool & Machine (MTM) to provide custom manufacturing, engineering, precision machining, assembly and fabrication solutions to companies across the United States and overseas. The Indianapolis-based company is a contract manufacturer that builds to customers' specifications in industries such as nuclear, power generation, defense, aerospace and commercial industrial, with a client list that includes well-known names like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Caterpillar. Major Tool has the ability to machine and fabricate complex contract manufacturing jobs — ranging from material acquisition to assembly and testing. They also provide dedicated services for high variety and medium-volume production.

Indianapolis-Based Custom Manufacturer Sees Safety and Productivity Improvements with New Fume Extraction Systems

Published: November 7, 2014
Updated: May 12, 2020

“We build things that go 20,000 leagues under the sea, things that go into space, and everything in between,” says Barry Shoemaker, custom manufacturing manager for the Major Tool weld shop. “While we don’t have a specific product, we build what our customers would need to be manufactured."

With more than 600,000 square feet of manufacturing space and the ability to not only fabricate parts, but also to machine large components in-house, Major Tool aims to distinguish itself through quality work, and the size and type of jobs the company can complete.

“At the end of the day, our customers definitely receive a high-quality part from us,” Shoemaker says.

Employees are a large part of that mission. The experience of the company’s employees allows Major Tool to fulfill each customer’s specific requirements. Most of the projects are technical and complex in nature, and require a highly trained work force.

Among the company’s workers are approximately 55 fabricators, most of whom are trained in MIG, TIG and Flux-Cored welding processes. Major Tool is also certified to use submerged arc welding, plasma cutting, and laser cutting and welding.

Just as Major Tool places a priority on hiring qualified welders and training its fabricators in order to provide the best product for customers, the company also views employee health and safety as the most important key to a successful manufacturing operation.

Major Tool has benefited from the addition of five FILTAIR® Capture 5 fume extraction systems from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., which capture fume generated during the welding process and provide a cleaner environment for its fabricators and employees.

“We want every person that comes here to be safe. We want our people to be here for their entire career,” Shoemaker says. “They are too valuable to have them get sick or injured, so safety is a No. 1 priority here at Major Tool.”

Addressing the issue of weld fume

During three production shifts each day, Major Tool completes many critical applications that require the company to meet certain weld code specifications. The components are manufactured from a wide range of steels and alloys.

The areas where Major Tool fabricators were performing a lot of heavy Flux-Cored welding operations were seeing an increase in smoke and fume generation.

“We wanted to protect our people, so we knew we had to do something to ensure their health and safety,” Shoemaker says.

Major Tool purchased powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) for every fabricator to protect him or her from the increased smoke and fumes. The only downside is that this equipment didn’t protect the other employees working in the vicinity of the welding operations. The source capture fume extraction units the company was previously using were also out-of-date and not the most efficient for removing fume and smoke in the welding area.

A Miller representative approached Major Tool about testing a Capture 5 unit on their manufacturing floor.

“Miller knew we were always looking to improve air quality and the safety of our people,” Shoemaker says. “We brought the units in, and within 15 minutes I was sold. You could visually see how far it was drawing the fumes away, and it was fantastic!”

After Major Tool saw the results from the demonstration of the system, the company immediately chose to put five Capture 5 units to work in its facility.

The Capture 5 difference

Addressing air quality and fume generation is especially important for companies, given the increasingly strict regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other regulatory agencies. The Capture 5 units — used along with PAPRs — provide the level of clean air that Major Tool expects to ensure employee safety and regulatory compliance.

The Capture 5 fume extraction system features ZoneFlow™ technology, which works by way of a negative pressure zone. The extraction arm suctions in air at a standard fume capture rate of around 900 cfm, while simultaneously, clean filtered air moves out of the arm (at a point just above the hood portion of the extraction arm) at approximately a 90-degree angle. Additionally, some of the air that discharges out of the extraction arm “short circuits” and circles back around, effectively allowing a portion of the filtered air to capture more fume particulates before being suctioned up again.        

The system creates a much larger fume capture area (up to 3 feet wide and 5 feet away) than many other source capture products and minimizes the amount of time that welding operators must interact with the arm or stop welding to reposition it.

“The Capture 5 has come as a surprise to us, because we’ve never had another air handling system that would do quite what it did,” Shoemaker says. “With other air capture systems, if a man wasn’t welding right there with it [the extraction arm] positioned exactly where it needed to be, we’d lose a lot of the collection ability. But Capture 5 will capture smoke 5 feet away in most cases.”

Major Tool uses the systems for welding operators who are doing heavy fabrication with large-diameter wire that produces more fume, such as jobs using 3/32-inch flux-cored wire, which requires a two- or three-bead pass. In some cases, the products are large (up to 57 feet long) and require multiple people working on them at any given time. Major Tool can even use one Capture 5 system to draw fumes away from two fabricators working in the same area.

Safety improvements

 “Our air quality has improved. Before, you could actually see smoke in the shop, and now it is much less visible,” Shoemaker says. “The Capture 5 — any smoke or fumes that you see, it’s going to capture.”

The fabricators say they feel and notice the difference, with less fume and smoke in their work area.

“The fume extraction units we used before didn’t work as well so they didn’t get used a whole lot. These new units work really well. We are very pleased with them,” says Bob Mottweiler, a fabricator with Major Tool. “It’s a lot less smoky. The biggest difference you’ll see is when you look up toward the lights. If you didn’t have them running, you’d notice a smoky haze up around the ceiling.”

Productivity benefits

Beyond the improved safety and work environment for Major Tool fabricators, Capture 5 also offers productivity benefits in an easy-to-use system.

Much of the manufacturing and fabrication work at Major Tool requires completing multiple passes and long weldments, sometimes 5 or 6 feet long. Other systems may require the source capture arm to be directly above the weld, which means the operator must frequently stop to reposition the arm for the most efficient fume capture (or another worker must adjust it while the operator welds). These constant adjustments impact productivity and can affect we ld quality.

Major Tool welding operators are more productive with the Capture 5 units, since they don’t have to stop as often to adjust the arm placement, and the process doesn’t require a second employee to reposition the arm as the operator welds.  

“With our previous collection systems, a person was constantly having to move the arm to get it positioned just right, or someone else was having to come over and readjust it,” Shoemaker says. “I know that the Capture 5 units are making them more productive, because they’re not having to worry about positioning the arm as often.”

The arm is easy to move, but also stays put once the welding operator has positioned it, Shoemaker says.

“Before, getting the arm positioned just right was a struggle with some of our other units,” he says. “The guys love the Capture 5 units. They move it [the arm] and it stays right where they put it.”

Attracting qualified welders

Providing a clean working environment also helps Major Tool attract and keep qualified fabricators, giving the company a competitive edge in the welding job market. One fabricator had been working for the company for several months as a temp, and Major Tool offered him full-time employment. He noted that the company really cared about the safety of its people, Shoemaker says.  

“We supplied him with a PAPR and we’ve got these Capture 5s, and he said he’s worked in several places and he has always dealt with a lot of smoke,” Shoemaker says. “He says here at Major Tool, it’s obvious that we care about the people because we’re taking these precautions for the health and safety of our employees.”

Even current and potential customers notice the clean work environment at Major Tool.

“They comment on how clean the air and the shop is, especially when they are sitting there watching somebody run a 3/32 weld and the smoke is pouring out of it and you’ve got this unit sitting over there drawing the smoke out so effectively,” Shoemaker says. 

Satisfied employees, satisfied customers

At the end of the day, it’s all about having satisfied customers and happy employees. Producing a wide variety of high-quality parts on time — mostly on tight deadlines — requires a skilled and dedicated workforce. The success of the company in this regard hinges on the productivity and safety of its employees, and the Capture 5 system helps deliver those results for Major Tool.

“If the Capture 5 systems weren’t working properly, the guys wouldn’t use them; but they are.” Shoemaker says. “To me, that says our employees can definitely see the benefit of the units cleaning the air.”