Vehicles are getting lighter and more efficient all the time. That’s thanks in part to changes made in the types of materials used to build cars and trucks. This efficiency is great news for consumers and environmental advocates alike, but it also brings some unique challenges when it comes to repairs. New materials like aluminum require different considerations and tools.

The fumes released when welding aluminum are particularly hazardous, so shop managers need to be prepared with the right tools. A fume extractor is a must. Let’s look at the risks involved with repairing aluminum, plus the solution.

The Problem

When your technicians repair aluminum parts, they could be breathing in some pretty dangerous materials. When you heat up metals while welding, little particles are released in the air. Studies have shown there’s a measurable amount of aluminum in those welding fumes, and overexposure to aluminum can be bad news.

An article published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that individuals who spent a significant amount of time welding aluminum had “about seven times higher concentrations of aluminum in urine than the controls.” They also showed decreased motor function in some areas and had more symptoms related to the nervous system. Safety is a top concern in repair shops, so stats like this can be jarring. Thankfully, the answer is not to ban aluminum (or welding) altogether.

The Solution

The fix is actually pretty simple: get those fumes away from your welders with a fume extractor. Fume extractors capture the smoke, fume and harmful contaminate at the welding source so your employees do not breathe it in. There are several things to keep in mind as you shop for a fume extractor:

How close can you get the collection hood to the site? You’ll want to get the mouth of the fume extractor close to the weld site so it can collect those fumes before they have a chance to escape into the air. Consider how easy it will be for your techs to maneuver the machine. Does it have an adjustable arm you can move close to the worksite without the risk of fire? The closer it is, the less chance of exposure to your employees.

How powerful is the suction? Knowing that the vapor from these welds can be dangerous, you’ll want to make sure your extractor can really move some air. Look at the cubic feet per minute airflow spec when doing your comparisons here.

How good is the filter inside the machine? Of course, once the fumes are suctioned into the machine, you’ll want to make sure there’s a high-quality filter in place to collect those particles and keep them from going back out into your shop. Look for the MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating spec for comparisons.

Aluminum brings a lot of advantages, and it’s going to continue to become more common in vehicles. Make sure you’re prepared for those changes by having the right tools in your shop to get the job done and keep your technicians safe.