Keeping labs, production lines and other work areas safe and hazard free starts and ends with the right combination of proper workplace hygiene practices and containment solutions. The isolators, hoods and other enclosures Flow Sciences designs and produces help keep workers and workspaces clean and safe across a spectrum of industries, from pharmaceutical packaging and production to rare-earth metals refinement to Nano-material production.
Often, clients require a controlled atmosphere for testing, weighing, manufacturing, packaging and producing oxygen or humidity sensitive materials. The engineers at Flow Sciences have answers to those needs: sealed enclosures filled with nitrogen.
“You’ll see nitrogen in use in a variety of places. Most of the time it’s used to purge oxygen from a container, be it a bag of chips or a lab or production line container like Flow Sciences provides. In the case of Flow Sciences, they use nitrogen to create highly stable environments that allow only the reactions they, or rather, their customers, need to mix, batch, weigh or manufacture their specific products,” says Charles Metzler, Industrial/Military Sales Manager at SouthTek Systems. SouthTek makes nitrogen-generators that supply Flow’s controlled-environment enclosures with on-demand nitrogen without the expense of using bottled gas.
SouthTek’s nitrogen generators provide 99.999% pure nitrogen, even nitrogen with less than five parts per million, then stores it for later use.
“Most people forget what they learned about the atmosphere in high-school science: it’s 78% nitrogen. That means our generators are always surrounded by a ready source of nitrogen and it also means we’re only half joking when we say we pull nitrogen out of thin air,” Metzler says.
Once air is pulled into SouthTek’s generators, it goes through a process of physical separation. A carbon molecular sieve attracts oxygen molecules and the purified nitrogen passes through to a tank for storage and use in the process. Oxygen is expelled as exhaust and the scientists and production line employees have the pure nitrogen they need to perform their jobs safely.
Metzler says that nitrogen has several benefits that chemical, API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) and Nano-material producers and handlers need. For starters, nitrogen isn’t flammable or combustible, and is often used as a fire suppressant, which greatly reduces the risk of fire in the enclosure, unlike lithium, which is pyrophoric and can spontaneously combust in the presence on H2O. Secondly, nitrogen-filled environments can be kept at incredibly low relative humidity levels with dew points in extreme negative numbers, which means moisture-sensitive products like delicate Nano-materials and APIs prone to clumping are clear for handling.
Nitrogen’s use in the agricultural industry also has applications with select sectors of Flow Sciences client base as well. By storing perishable goods, like apples, in nitrogen-rich or nearly nitrogen-exclusive environments, farmers and grocers can slow or even pause ripening and decay, effectively lengthening the storage shelf life of time sensitive goods (it’s how, he says, we can have fresh, crisp apples in the summer). Many APIs and chemical compounds have a limited lifespan, and by storing them in a nitrogen-sealed container, waste is eliminated and product life lengthened.
While a number of labs and production facilities rely on bottled gas, the nitrogen generators Flow Sciences incorporates from SouthTek provides both a cost-savings and a convenience benefit to end users. With an integrated nitrogen generator, users have a constant supply of gas without having to change bulky bottles, schedule tank deliveries or refills, or worry about monitoring flow and reserve levels. Given the expense of traditional bottled gas, an integrated nitrogen generator is nearly 90% cheaper per cubic foot of gas used, meaning that most units pay for themselves in savings in 12-16 months.
All of Flow Sciences’ containment solutions are designed with an eye on the limited real estate on bench tops, in labs and on production floors, and the SouthTek nitrogen generators are no exception. Nitrogen generators the size of tractor-trailers are available, but Flow Sciences and SouthTek found that the smaller, cabinet sized generators were more than adequate for most applications. These units are compact, making them ideal for single-enclosure use in one room, or an exterior setup to feed multiple enclosures their required nitrogen.
“Flow [Sciences] is introducing something to this industry that sounds, and is, so logical, but for some reason was ignored by a lot of folks who could use it. Utilizing nitrogen to stabilize environments is the next step and Flow is one of the few who have seen the benefit of combining containment and nitrogen.”
Jason Frye produced this story with the assistance of Flow Sciences Inc., which produces containment systems for laboratories, pilot plants and manufacturers. These products are designed to protect operators from exposure to hazardous particulates and vapors while performing delicate operations. For more information, visit quiet-harmony.flywheelsites.com or call (800) 849-3429.