Modernizing its resin filtration system enabled Neville Chemical to make significant productivity gains, reduce waste, and eliminate a laborious task that was risky to workers' health.
When the company opened its Anaheim, Calif., plant in 1958, its major competitors in the burgeoning hydrocarbon resin industry were domestic giants such as Eastman and Exxon. Neville Chemical makes a variety of hydrocarbon resins for applications such as printing inks, e.g., coumarone-indene resins, adhesives and various coatings. Today, with a strong lineup of Asian competitors, the market has become much more competitive, particularly for smaller, family-owned manufacturers like Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Neville.
"With all of the competitive forces out there, productivity and safety are essential to our survival," says Rob Lonergan, general manager of the Anaheim plant. "Of course, given cost and labor issues plaguing the California manufacturing environment today, those challenges have become even more critical here."
The filters became a focus for improving our process. "The call to upgrade our filtration on the solid resin line was beneficial in several ways," Lonergan says. "It not only enabled us to operate leaner through improved productivity and reduced waste, but also led us to vastly reduce the health and safety hazards that were present with our old system."
Neville has used a variety of different systems for filtration of impurities from its finished resin products for many years. While filter bags performed well in removing impurities from resin, they were costly, required continual changing that interrupted production, was a difficult task for workers and also potentially hazardous.
All of those problems were completely eliminated when Neville replaced that bag filter system with a state-of-the-art self-cleaning Eco Filter system from Russell Finex (www.russellfinex.com) of Pineville, N.C.
The bag filters in question were located on the molten resin line, where the resin material is heated to 400°F to 500°F to permit flow. After being filtered, the resin goes through a flaking process and becomes solidified and then packaged.
The combination of the heat of the resin and build-up of contaminants causes filtration bags to load up and decompose to the point that they have to be changed at regular intervals. "Unfortunately, those intervals require stopping resin product flow before a batch is complete," Lonergan explains.
In contrast, the Eco Filter is a self-cleaning system that integrates directly into the pipeline and completely eliminates the need to change filtration bags. A spiral wiper design ensures the filter element is kept continuously clean, and so maintains optimum efficiency. Because of its self-cleaning design, cleaning of the filter between batch runs is quick and easy with minimal disruptions during production changeovers.
The totally enclosed Eco Filter prevents pollutants from outside the system from contaminating the product, and protects the operators from harmful fumes and spillage. This filter also features the Russell Filter Management System, to continuously monitor the filtration system, thereby enabling the filter to be operated efficiently without operator involvement.
The Eco Filter also has a Q-Tap valve that allows the sampling of freshly filtered material, so the quality of the resin can easily be monitored on the fly without interrupting production (Figure 1). At Neville, use of the filters has resulted in substantial savings of both downtime and labor.
Due to the heat and "stickiness" of the resin running through Neville Chemical's line, changing filter bags was difficult, messy and potentially dangerous. "Each filter bag was about three feet long, and they became quite cumbersome when full. If the person changing the bags spilled resin on himself, the molten resin would stick and possibly burn him. The new Eco Filter system completely eliminates that risk," says Lonergan.
"Too often the workers would have to muscle out the filter bags because they were sticky. So, to some extent the filter bag changing task was a back injury waiting to happen," Lonergan says. "Fortunately, we have not had any serious injuries in this area."
Lonergan points out that his workers had to be wary of other risks when changing filter bags in the past. For instance, exposure to the hot resin posed potential respiratory risks due to heavy resin fumes. "You couldn't really control the fumes while the filter system was open," he says. "And of course, you had to protect your face from the heat and resin." For all of those reasons, filter bag changers wore face shields, respirators and high temperature gloves.
"All of those risks have now been eliminated because of the new Russell Finex Eco Filter system," says Lonergan.
The Eco Filter's reusable filter element eliminates the need to replace and dispose of messy bags or cartridges. These self-cleaning filters fit neatly into existing production lines, in many instances adding significant capacity without requiring excessive space. Most users also see substantial improvement in product purity as well as throughput and waste elimination.
"I'm sure the Eco Filter has paid for itself in terms of productivity and waste elimination. But perhaps the health and safety benefits have saved us even more. We're safer now, and our workers love the Eco Filter system because it eliminates all those physical demands. It dumps all the junk directly into a drum. The filter does all the work (Figure 2)."
The competitive advantages of installing the new filter system have surprised Lonergan. "I have to believe it is making us more competitive. The Pittsburgh operation tested an Eco Filter system a few months after we installed ours, and they have ordered some based on our success. Also, we're planning to expand the new filter throughout our Anaheim plant."
Shaun Edwards is director of operations for Russell Finex, Inc., Pineville, N.C. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org