Compressed Air

How much does a dust collector really cost?

Calculating dust collector ownership costs goes beyond up-front cost

By Lisa Frank January 15, 2022
Courtesy: AM Industrial Group, LLC

Industrial operations can generate large quantities of dust, debris, gases, chemicals and particulate matter. Whether employees are present or not, filtered air improves mechanical efficiency and lightens the burden on HVAC systems. If people work in the space, dust collection systems help ensure a safe working environment.

Dust collection systems range from small portable units to complex and customized turnkey options. Because of the wide variety operations managers will encounter when looking at dust collectors, take time beforehand to assess needs, factoring in long-term costs to arrive at the most business-conscious decision.

Dust-collector selection criteria

The first, most obvious detail to decide on is the best size and type of dust collection system for a given application.

  • The byproducts of woodworking, bulk-powder processing and metalworking need to be isolated and contained, but they’re also different in terms of composition and characteristics.
  • For industries that need to filter out gases or fumes, the system they choose will need to be designed for that purpose.
  • Dust collector and filter size and type are also key to determining cost and will vary by industry standards and applicable regulatory guidance.

Large dust collection systems can filter higher amounts of dust and handle a higher airflow and specific temperature requirements. Custom-built dust collection solutions fit a specific need and incur a weightier cost. But before hard numbers are worked out, some key measurements need to be made. These data points indicate to the buyer what’s needed.

Type and quantity of dust matters

A primary number to know is the dust load — the amount or volume of dust in a work environment that must be removed in a given time period. Higher dust loads equate to more filter media, which means the system will need to be larger to accommodate adequate filtration.

As with most things, larger means pricier. That’s also true with most situations where safety, efficiency and productivity are concerned. There’s no room to cut corners on size: If the dust load requires a large system, that’s what needs to be purchased. As a rough guideline, more than two 55-gallon drums of collected dust would best be handled using a large system.

The type of dust being collected also narrows the decision-making process and affects everything from system overall size and type and number of filters to fan size and operation temperature. Special components needed may include for optimal filtration of oils, moisture, harsh chemicals and highly abrasive and combustible materials. These additional features will need to be added on to the base price of a dust collection unit.

A vital measurement

Air-to-cloth ratio is one of the most important factors when deciding on the best dust collector for a given application. Too high or low of a ratio will spell less efficient operation. If the system can’t meet the specifications, it could become overly taxed, leading to additional maintenance costs and downtime.

This key ratio is determined using two calculations: cubic feet per minute (CFM) and total amount of filter media. CFM measures the amount of air a dust collector can move; higher capacity machines need a larger motor and blower, and their cost will also be higher. It also requires more floor space, including areas that would otherwise be available for production lines. Costs associated with setting up and moving equipment also plays a part, especially in industries that frequently reconfigure workspaces.

A similar rule applies to filter media: More filter media means a higher filtration capacity and more filters in general. Again, this will impact total cost. One way to lower overall cost is to reduce CFM by collecting particulates closer to the source, which will require less air to be moved for the necessary level of filtration. Using the correct filter media for the job contributes to a safe work environment and reduces maintenance costs.

Dust collection costs: Upfront and long term

If well-maintained, a dust collector can remain operational for 20 to 30 years. Apart from the actual cost of the equipment needed to outfit a facility with an appropriate dust collection system, there are several key long-term costs that need to be factored into the decision (see Figure 1). These every day operational costs add up and become more significant over time. If purchasing decisions are made solely based on equipment cost and not quality or application, a facility could end up spending less up front, but increasingly more over time. Instead, looking into the following three factors can help decision makers come to the best resolution.

Figure 1: Apart from the actual cost of the equipment needed to outfit a facility with an appropriate dust collection system, there are several key long-term costs that need to be factored into the decision.

Figure 1: Apart from the actual cost of the equipment needed to outfit a facility with an appropriate dust collection system, there are several key long-term costs that need to be factored into the decision. Courtesy: AM Industrial Group, LLC

Energy needs: Dust collectors comprise several electrical loads, but the blower required to move air is the largest portion. Since industrial electric motors are the single largest consumer of domestic energy, any place energy can be conserved is a net positive. One way to control air flow and energy use is to manually adjust air flow using the damper, allowing for more air as filters become soiled. But what is initially saved in energy costs might end up as compensation for the operator. Installing a variable frequency drive (VFD) enables the system to automate air flow to save energy and reduce operating costs, decreasing a machine’s overall energy use by 20% to 40%. It adds an additional fee up front, but the return on investment is typically about a year.

Another way to reduce energy use is to recirculate air within a facility, saving the HVAC system from excessive heating or conditioning cycles. To ensure the air is clean, an additional filter will need to be installed before air recycles in case of a leak in the main filtration system. This is an additional cost on the front end, but the savings in heating and cooling costs could justify this option.

Cost of consumables: Filter media used varies depending on the type of particulate being collected, but filter media also plays a key role in system startup and long-term maintenance costs. Polyester is often used and is an affordable option but is insufficient for certain applications. More cost-effective filters could fail in key areas like air flow, ultimately leading to more regular filter replacement, system maintenance, delivery and transportation fees and disposal costs, while causing the system to expend more energy to adequately filter the needed air capacity. Stocking extra filters onsite allows quick replacement and minimal downtime but is an additional cost. Premium filters often allow longer operation, less cleaning and maintenance and create less energy waste and downtime.

An additional “cost” to consider that does not translate to tangible cost savings but does have a long-term impact is the level of CO2 emissions, which are typically lower with premium filters. These also can be coated with additional treatments for specific applications, adding a cost but making them more efficient and safer to operate. An optional but effective filter-extending mechanism can be used to periodically pulse or shake filters, reducing particulate buildup. The compressed air used to pulse-clean filters is expensive to produce but it will increase filter life. This cleaning process is most effective on vertically oriented filters, and ample pleating allows for effective collection and cleaning. Opting for a dust collection system and filters that can handle an operation’s dust load with minimal additional cleaning but can also stand up to pulse cleaning when necessary could be the best option to save in the long run, since premium filters can last as long as 50% longer than standard filters.

System maintenance: Even the most efficient dust collection system will require filters to be changed along with other routine maintenance occasionally. Instituting a regular bi-weekly, monthly, semi-annual and annual maintenance schedule will keep a dust collection system running at its best. But selecting a system that reduces this need, even if more costly upfront, will be guaranteed to provide a solid return on investment. Beyond the cost of the filters themselves, the costs of labor and filter disposal will also factor into total cost assessments. Depending on the material being filtered, disposal costs can vary, so opting for filters with a longer operational life can offer savings. Production or operational downtime is another factor that varies but is always related to the quality and capability of the filters and overall dust collection system. Outside of filters, other components — gaskets, motor bearings, pulse valves, door seals, latches, etc. — may need regular maintenance or replacement, and these should be noted when computing total cost.

Prefabricated dust collection systems such as a bin vent or cartridge dust collector can handle between 2,000 and 10,000 CFM and may cost anywhere from $10,000 to $80,000 based on unit size, filter media and fan size. For those whose operations require a custom-built system, the engineering involved and additional features will cost from $50,000 to $1,000,000, and possibly more.

Final thoughts

These factors must be thoroughly evaluated and discussed to select a dust collection system robust enough to handle a facility’s filtration needs, while proving to be efficient and offering cost-saving features. Manufacturers should be able to provide up-to-date averages and factsheets on their equipment to help decision makers in their choice.

In the end, the true cost of owning and operating a dust collector takes into account many factors, of which purchase price is just one. To determine which system is right for any given application can take time, planning and serious evaluation. Sometimes a less expensive system will end up costing more in the long run — a price tag is just part of the story. Once total cost of ownership is known, comparisons can be made and the best system can be put to work, helping to ensure a safe working environment and improving operational efficiency.

Lisa Frank
Author Bio: Lisa Frank is a marketing specialist at AM Industrial Group, LLC.