When it comes to fabricating air distribution components for sterile environments, there is no room for error. And because perfection is required for functional and durable HVAC components, the right material and the right manufacturing processes are important factors.
For everything from stainless steel grilles to air diffusers to HEPA filtration systems, the stainless steel air distribution industry is vitally important for commercial use in hospitals, laboratories. , pharmaceutical production, etc.
Types of stainless steel used in manufacturing
Stainless steel HVAC products are generally made from type 304 or type 316 stainless steel.
Type 304 includes chrome-nickel and is a widely used austenitic stainless steel. Type 304 alloys are modifications of 18 percent chromium and 8 percent austenitic nickel alloy.
Type 316 stainless steel is a molybdenum stainless steel, with only 2 percent molybdenum to increase resistance to corrosion and oxidation. Type 316 is also more resistant to many chemicals, including sulfuric acid, chlorides, bromides, iodides, and fatty acids, even at high temperatures. This strength makes it ideal for use in pharmaceutical manufacturing applications.
Both are easy to fabricate and clean, and can be available in a variety of finishes and appearances to blend seamlessly into or aesthetically complement clean or commercial environments.
The manufacturing process
Manufacturing stainless steel HVAC products to order requires a multi-step process to fulfill jobsite orders. Because each item is manufactured especially for specific sites, it is important that manufacturers complete their work on time to meet the needs of individual projects.
The process begins once the customer places an order. Once the order is placed, the stainless steel fabrication company can create intelligent 3D models, which will be used in the workshop to fabricate each component.
Using intelligent 3D models, automated software arranges the parts on the sheet metal to minimize material waste.
The high-tech lasers then cut each part as fast as 400 inches per minute and are with impeccable precision, which is required in the air distribution industry.
CNC press brakes
After the laser cutting is complete, the metal shapes are moved into CNC press brakes, where the stainless steel parts are bent into the correct shape, again following the 3D models entered into specialized software.
The process is overseen by human experts to ensure that each part is manufactured to the most exacting specifications.
Then the bent and shaped metal is transferred to a robotic welder. This six-axis computerized welder precisely joins airtight joints.
Consistency is key, and robotic welding tools ensure that it happens.
Now that the frames have been bent and welded, the individual grille fins and blades, including the single return grilles, are cut to size and turned to their appropriate angle. It is at this point in the process that it becomes easy to identify what is being manufactured.
The washing system ensures that each HVAC component is free from dirt and oil accumulated during the production process.
Each piece goes through a heated alkalized wash cycle, with a heated deionized rinse and a fresh water rinse.
Each piece spends time in a drying oven to remove all traces of moisture before obtaining a varnish or powder coating. For critical and sterile environments, an antimicrobial coating is applied during this step.
Finalized manual assembly and leak test
After cleaning, production staff manually assemble the rest of the components. Precise movements and expertise are required to meet strict quality standards. Once construction is complete, it’s time to verify that these standards have been met.
This is performed during a leak test in a HEPA unit leak test booth. Equipped with a photometer, the stand ensures that each product meets the standards for critical environments established by the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technologies (IEST). If the HVAC product passes the test, it proceeds to packaging and shipping.
If it does not pass the test, the problems are corrected or the part is completely redone.
Packing and shipping
While it is important to meet high standards and be manufactured to exact specifications in the manufacturing process, it is just as important in the packaging and shipping stage.
Each item should be packed in a custom box to avoid damage during shipping. Minor dents and dings can render a stainless steel air distribution component unusable, particularly because they can cause air leakage, which is unacceptable in critical environments where the air must be clean.
Once packaged, the items are stacked on pallets and packaged together for protection during shipping.
* All images are courtesy of Shutterstock