Combustible dust explosion risk is enhanced in enclosed spaces with too much superfine powder, like grain or sugar, in the air. Once these particles are afloat, it only takes a spark.
Then comes the boom.
Powdered milk, flour and sugar dust explosions are common across multiple sectors all over the world. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the U.S. experienced more than 200 dust fires and explosions in 2019 alone. And these events don’t just damage facility infrastructure and contaminate product. They hurt people, too.
That’s because combustible dust is just plain deadly, even though it’s a risk as old as the industrial food processing industry itself. In 1878, a grain explosion at the Washburn A Mill in Minnesota killed 18 men. 143 years later, a fatal blast at a potato starch plant in Singapore killed three workers and injured seven more in March 2021.
These are the worst-case scenarios that keep men like Mike Foreman* up at night.
“We deal a lot with milk powders. And given the right conditions, it can be explosive,” says Mike, a capital projects, maintenance and services manager in New Zealand.
His plant of 400 employees can process up to 47,000 tons of infant and adult milk powder per year. And while the industry has many internal and external systems to monitor safety and quality, it’s also his job to protect his colleagues and facility.
“We want to make sure our people are going home,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is have anyone injured at work.”
That’s where the capabilities of a proactive CMMS+ proves invaluable.
“Some checks are done every three or four weeks, some are done annually and then some have to be done maybe every four years. Don’t quote me on the exact numbers or anything. That’s why we have LLumin: because I can’t remember them.”
CMMS software for manufacturing has existed since 1965. And while its many renditions aim to digitize maintenance systems, only the cloud-based LLumin CMMS+ does that and more. His dairy has used it since opening in 2014, integrating it seamlessly with their ATEX system to monitor the critical abnormalities that indicate imminent explosions.
And they’ve never even come close to a single catastrophic safety event.
That’s all the proof he needs.
“Having a good, robust set of systems in LLumin definitely keeps our people safe, and it keeps our product safe.”
Safer workers are happier workers. A safer product makes happier customers. And when those come together, his plant harnesses a third layer of value: They protect their bottom line. For someone in his position, a dust explosion or powder milk scandal would mark the worst day of his career.
Here’s how he uses LLumin to ensure that day never comes.
Protecting people from dust explosions every single day
No one single action can prevent a powder explosion. It’s avoided through many small maintenance steps done right, every time.
This requires perfection from the people doing the work. But without the right tools, people make mistakes. To close that gap, Mike’s department uses LLumin to:
- Proactively track and schedule repairs
- Organize work requests
- Control inventory spares and automate parts orders
- Keep detailed records for precision preventative maintenance
“It’s critical that we are doing the right checks on those systems and obviously that’s where LLumin comes in. We tell it to remind us to clean and do these checks every certain period and it reminds us,” he says. “LLumin’s just tracking that in the background and basically making sure we don’t drop the ball on any of that.”
Their guardrails are both internal and external. In addition to regulators, his dairy has strict maintenance standards designed to uphold both plant and product safety. To meet them, more than half of the plant’s 400 personnel use LLumin regularly, and his team of 50 relies on it every single day to engineer the safest conditions possible.
“An explosion is not a fun thing to think about. We want to avoid it at all costs, so we have to have confidence in the system we’re using,” he says. “The desire is to be good, so we want systems that enable us to be good. And LLumin is one of those systems.”
When it comes to explosions, maintenance teams and operators must prioritize cleaning combustible dust and ignition control. This includes proper filter use and replacement, frequent ventilation checks, regular housekeeping, dust residue inspections, and adequate equipment maintenance and calibration to prevent mechanical sparks and friction.
It’s a lot to juggle. Plus, every asset has its own dizzying maintenance timeline and condition parameters. But LLumin stores all this information, eliminating the need for paper-driven maintenance management. This CMMS+ is 100% digital — and that’s a good thing.
“You don’t want it to be paper-based. Pieces of paper go missing.”
Nothing ever disappears in LLumin. And from machine manuals to maintenance records, the information is easy for anyone to retrieve.
“And that’s the great thing about LLumin: It’s quite user friendly. All of the team knows how to use it,” he says. “It gives us confidence that the product we’re making is absolutely top notch.”
Using a CMMS+ to ensure a top-notch product
Mike’s dairy boasts several recognitions and certifications, including FSSC 22000 and ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation. This is no small feat, and this focus on quality is especially critical for a company that manufactures food for infants.
More than a decade later, consumer safety is still as crucial as ever. By relying on LLumin’s one-touch record keeping system, Mike can optimize every maintenance detail to minimize spoilage or contamination.
Spoilage risk increases during unplanned downtime, whether its cause is labor- or machine-related. While Mike can’t control the former, he does rely on LLumin to proactively schedule planned downtime far in advance. This lets the plant clear the production calendar to work on critical assets like dryers and pasteurizers without leaving unprocessed milk on the line. And when it comes to scheduled maintenance, LLumin optimizes tasks and actions, improving speed to completion by up to 35%.
The CMMS+ also helps Mike assess and plan workforce capacity. If needed, he can supply proper staffing before major repair sessions ever start.
“LLumin gives me the idea when the team’s getting a bit overloaded. We might need to bring in some contractors for a week or two to help them to get through this peak of workload at the moment.”
When it comes to powdered milk contamination, pathogens like Cronobacter and Salmonella are serious concerns during production and storage. That’s why Mike uses LLumin to track assets that control the environment, like the filters and conditions on the HVAC system.
“Auditors want to check your HVAC system to make sure that the air that you’re supplying into the plant is at the right temperature and the right humidity to ensure that we’re not going to create an environment where bad bugs can grow,” he says. “Those calibrations are all recorded in LLumin.”
These actions ensure that the plant meets every standard to sell in target markets. And in an industry subject to frequent audits for entry, his dairy has never had a problem passing them.
“We have periodic audits and the auditors love LLumin. It’s a nice central repository,” he says. “It’s also really helpful if we have any issues and we need to do a traceback and we need to work out when was the last time that valve was looked at. It’s really easy to just bring that data up.
Faster and easier audits
Audits occur regularly at powder milk plants. In addition to regulatory inspections, Mike’s plant also faces frequent external customer audits before gaining approval to sell in various international markets. And while these outside pressures are unsurprising, he must also meet high internal standards for plant and consumer safety.
“We generally have two types of audits: one is a health and safety audit, and one is a food safety audit. And the health and safety audits are generally done by our team. We had a critical risk team that tried to identify all ways in which a significant explosion could occur,” he says. “They’ve gone through and looked at ways that the worst event could happen. And then they’ve made sure we’ve got good controls in place to stop those bad things happening.”
When quality auditors visit, they might ask about anything from the health of the pasteurizer divert system to properly calibrated HVAC systems for food-safe humidity levels.
“Those calibrations are all recorded in LLumin,” he says. “We can show them this is the work history on that particular asset or that pump or valve for whatever piece of equipment it is. We can show them all the work we’ve done on it since we’ve built the place, because we’ve been with LLumin since then.”
In manual maintenance management, locating information for internal, external customer or regulatory audits is hard to find and compile. For auditors accustomed to slow reporting, this easy, instant record retrieval is refreshing at plants that use LLumin. Even when auditors ask for requests as specific as, ‘Show me your last two calibration certificates for the pasteurizer,’ he can retrieve the records in less than a minute.
“They are used to dealing with things that are a bit more antiquated and not quite as fast and efficient,” he says. “LLumin is great for the auditor. They get the information they need really quickly and it makes us look really organized. And the auditor, because we’re not wasting their time, they love it. Happy auditor is a happy life.”
“I suppose the thing with LLumin is, we almost take it for granted. It just sits in the background, chugging away, doing all the good stuff, keeping the work history, which auditors love to see.”Mike Foreman*, capital projects, maintenance and services manager
When your CMMS+ works well, you forget it’s there
LLumin is the only CMMS+ that Mike’s dairy has ever needed. While there’s no “before” state to compare the experience against, he only has to look at the CMMS other dairies use to understand LLumin’s value against competitors:
“I’ve worked with the guys from our sister company, and they’ve highlighted some of the headaches they have with their existing system. And I’ve said, ‘Oh, we don’t have those headaches.’”
At his plant’s sister company, maintenance teams struggled with a manual and “clunky” program that couldn’t link its spare parts usage to its inventory in real-time. These are all problems Mike never even thinks about because LLumin has never failed him.
That’s the funny thing about a CMMS+ that fits your exact needs — you’ll forget it’s there.
“We don’t actually think about LLumin that often,” says Mike. “You sometimes have to focus more on your problem children, the things that are misbehaving, not doing what they should be. And 99% of the time, LLumin’s not one of those.”
From combustible dust mitigation to easy day-to-day proactive maintenance, LLumin’s CMMS+ gives Mike the peace of mind of knowing that his people, product and plant are safe.
For more information about how LLumin works, read this. And if you’re ready to engineer Mike’s success at your own facility, request a free demo today
*name changed for anonymity