By Hugh Abner
[44 Years and Counting Manufacturing Batteries and Battery Machinery]
Of course my Topic Title is a play with words which we will be hearing much about in the next few weeks. So, if you are expecting to glean from the following any needed information about today’s Cap and Trade problems you will be disappointed.
My intentions here are pure because when I think of Cap and Trade I think of industrial smoke stacks. The smoke stacks I am most familiar with are in our battery industry.
Now keep in mind that my initial entry into this industry was made at a time that things like a smoke stack were not common. At my entry our smelters had smoke stacks and this smoke was freely being dispensed into the atmosphere. Our battery factories did not have smoke stacks. Oh there was an isolated little blower arrangement which used a chamber and water spray as a filter. This device was connected to the oxide mixer. It did a certain job and was satisfactory up to a point. It was better than nothing and in fact it still is the preferred way to filter the very moist mixer air.
Now back to my pure intentions. I think our industry deserves much praise for the efforts that have been made to clean our factory air inside as well as outside. Cleaning factory air became a big part of our engineering functions. Hell! My company even sent me back to school at Auburn University to learn how to capture and transport filthy and heavy Pb laden factory air. We then learned about the filtering devices that allows us to release clean air out through our stacks plus it gives back to us the collected Pb oxide powder that has a per pound dollar value. The point being that when we learned to capture and clean up the inside air the result was that we captured what is the life blood of our industry – Pb Oxide – and this helped us to prosper. Now, of course the real objective is to make for healthier places for all of us to work. That health bit fits in with today’s ridiculous political fight because our industry is in many ways a leader in health care. We could make a case for a tax break but that is beyond the purpose here.
I did get ahead of myself one time though with this filtering stuff. Out of the blue a company heard about this young guy that was sold on filtering Pb from factory air but he had run into a situation where the people that controlled the financials were not so keen on the idea because this particular factory was in the far north where the cost to warm the inside of the factory was expensive. It was not immediately acceptable to add to the problem by blowing much of this warm air out into the atmosphere which would then have to be immediately replaced with incoming air to be heated.” No problem”, I was told. This company was way ahead of me because they had a filter that was compact, nothing like the giant bag-houses that are so common, and could be installed at individual work stations. This offered an immediate look at potential savings because the huge baghouses had to be in operation whether it was one or hundreds of people at work. These little individual filters would only be used when a specific work station was in use. The big news though was that the captured air would not have to be blown to the outside because the filter, which had been designed during the Manhattan Project, cleaned the air so efficiently that the air would never have to leave the building. These people certainly got my attention plus all this was beginning to sound good to the holders of the money. Un-ooh. A filter like this cost hundreds of dollars and it could possibly be good for only a day or two of operation before it was too clogged to be of use. Again, I was way behind the times. This very expensive H.E.P.A. filter, (High Energy Particulate Arrestor), had an added magic coating that would keep the oxide dust from sticking and this allows the filter box to be easily cleaned by simple vibrations that we would have to do maybe at the end of each shift. All of us were hooked. We jumped on it.
For awhile it worked and worked well except one of our lady workers had an exceptional ability to smell odors. Anyway, she was not bothered by it for long because all the hoped for magic vanished. The filters boxes began to fall apart after a few weeks use and to replace them even monthly was very expensive. So it was back to the old bag house stuff and the installation of massive heaters to warm the incoming air.
Today, I am sure our early on problems have been overcome in some ways but still it was fun being at the leading edge.
Doing the thousands of calculations which are needed to design a factory size capture hood, ducting and air filtration system can be exciting. The excitement comes from knowing that you can grab a particle of Pb dust which is floating toward a worker’s breathing zone. That particle becomes entrained into a flowing system of air at an optimum speed of somewhere around 4200 feet per minute. A lower speed allows the heavy Pb particle to fall out of the air stream. A higher speed requires wasted energy. At each entry point more air and more dust is introduced and has to be kept flowing Then all of a sudden a massive amount of dusty air enters a big baghouse chamber and the air speed almost stops and the dust begins falling out into collection bins or it gets caught in one of the hundreds of filter bags where it will remain until one of several methods are used by the baghouse designers to clean the dust from the bag so it can start another cycle.
I do not know why but as I said I find this to be interesting. I will not carry on with it today but in the future I might because I know that every worker in a battery factory lives surrounded and underneath huge amounts of sheet metal ducting which is all taken as annoying, unsightly and unappreciated.
If you have read all this then I give you a special thanks but more importantly I hope it has served as a little reminder that our battery industry may not be as modern and exciting as some of the higher tech stuff but it has a good solid history of doing things that are necessary to provide us a healthy work place and for our work place to be known as good neighbors. It has not always been an easy thing for us to do but sometimes even when it cost more than we wanted to spend it has given some return on the investments.
Another reason I will return to thoughts about battery factory safety and health issues is because during my time there has been much activity adjusting to E.P.A., O.S.H.A and other regulations. It has changed our industry in many ways that probably are taken for granted today.