Extraction torches – the new standard in welding?

Posted by Florian George on May 8, 2024 4:30:00 AM
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Have you ever passed the mandatory vehicle inspection even though the emissions were not right? Have you ever lit a cigarette in a restaurant in Germany in the last 15 years and waited to see the reactions? So why should you continue to weld without a fume extraction torch knowing how harmful welding fumes are to your health?

The TÜV requires that you have the engine of your vehicle correctly adjusted in a workshop. Only then will you receive your new badge for the car. When visiting a restaurant, you always go outside to smoke so that the other guests can continue eating without being bothered by smoke. Rules are set for a reason. Welding is no different.

In Germany, the employers' liability insurance association provides clear information on handling welding fumes. In neighboring European countries, the regulations are now also becoming stricter.

In the UK, for example, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has set stricter requirements for the control of dust limit values since February 2019. Among other things, the welding of structural steel has been reclassified and categorized as carcinogenic for humans, which entails special protective measures. The dust limit value in the UK is 4 mg/m3 for A-dust, i. e. the finest particles of less than 5 µm, which can penetrate the bronchioles of the lungs. These limits are subject to strict controls in the UK.

Since January 2024 Australia have had stricter particulate matter limits. These were reviewed and redefined by the Work Health and Safety Ministers. The limit values have been reduced from 5 mg/m3 for an 8-hour day and a 5-day week to 1 mg/m3. This means that Australia is even below the limit value of 1.25 mg/m3 for A-dust that has been permitted in Germany since 2014. Therefore, manufacturing companies there will have to be prepared for increased controls.

In recent years, a lot has happened to protect welders from harmful fumes. The fact is that more countries will introduce stricter rules for dealing with welding fumes. Why shouldn't fume extraction torches become the new standard for welding?

Why are extraction torches still rejected?

They are bulky, they are heavy, they offer a poor view of the process, too much shielding gas could be extracted ... these are the most common objections raised by welders against the use of fume extraction torches. If you look at fume extraction torches from earlier stages of development, this is inevitably true and you can understand the rejection. Who likes to hold a large, heavy welding torch in their hand, with its weight turning every centimeter of welded seam into a feat of strength?

Today's fume extraction torches are almost incomparable to their previous versions. In fact, the development has progressed so far that just lifting the extraction torch gives you the feeling of holding a standard welding torch in your hand. The materials used for the torches and cable assemblies have been optimized. Their ergonomics are designed to reduce fatigue when working and the extraction torch and cable assembly also have specially developed rotating mechanisms. This results in an optimally balanced weight ratio and maximum ergonomics. The front end has also been slimmed down so that neither access to the workpiece nor the view of the process is restricted.


What characterizes a good fume extraction torch

There are three characteristics that a good welding fume extraction torch must have:

  1. Lightweight and comfortable to handle, good ergonomics
  2. Good accessibility and view of the process
  3. Efficient fume absorption without affecting the shielding gas coverage

Handling and ergonomics


According to the current state of development, extraction torches can only be distinguished visually from their standard counterparts by the visible extraction nozzles and the larger cable assembly. For example, if you pick up a TIG or MIG/MAG extraction torch from the xFUME® series from ABICOR BINZEL, you will have the impression that you are holding a standard welding torch.

One reason for this is the optimized, ergonomic handle. On the other hand, the rotating mechanisms such as the ball joint on the cable assembly, which gives the wrist greater freedom of movement. The extraction torch is ideally balanced in the hand and can be guided more easily.

Good accessibility/view of the process


The size of the extraction nozzle and the complete torch front end are of decisive importance for welders. A clear view of the process is crucial for a good weld seam.

Design of the extraction nozzle

The distance of the extraction nozzle from the process is just as important as the size of the nozzle openings.

The closer the extraction nozzle is positioned to the process, the more fumes can be absorbed. However, too close to the process also means the risk of gas turbulence. In addition, shielding gas can be extracted unintentionally. Too far away from the process, too little fumes may be absorbed. An effective extraction nozzle design is characterized by large nozzle openings at an ideal distance from the process. Developers of extraction technology use flow simulations to optimize the design of extraction nozzles.

Renowned manufacturers of fume extraction torches offer a wide range of combinable wear parts such as extraction nozzles, gas nozzles, contact tips and torch necks. This allows you to equip your fume extraction torch individually for your particular application.

Efficient fume absorption


Pressure drop inside the extraction torch

The design of the extraction torch, in particular the torch neck, the extraction nozzle and the cable assembly, are important factors that determine how effectively an extraction torch can absorb the fumes.

The inside of the extraction torch, including its handle, must be designed with as few interfering contours as possible so that the fumes can flow through as laminar as possible. Protruding geometries or recesses must be reduced to a minimum so that the absorbed fumes can pass through the extraction torch as smoothly as possible.

The same requirements apply for the extraction hose as for the handle. The extraction hose requires a certain diameter so that sufficient welding fumes can be removed and the negative pressure does not exceed the maximum permissible value. Therefore, when developing a cable assembly, the technique of flow simulation also helps to visualize the path of the air. Visible turbulence indicates interference contours, which must be avoided. This is the only way to ensure that the extraction performance is efficient enough and that the absorbed fumes are extracted through the cable assembly as laminar and turbulence-free as possible.

There is only one answer to the question of how strong this volume flow should be: as strong as possible without affecting the process. In other words, only as strong as is necessary to fully maintain the shielding gas function. More detailed information on extraction performance values can be found in the relevant standard DIN EN ISO 21904. High-quality extraction torches are certified in accordance with this standard and have been proven to meet the minimum requirements necessary for compliance. You can easily tell whether an extraction torch actually meets the applicable extraction standard by the sticker that must be attached to the rear of the cable assembly.

Important: Team match extraction torch and extraction system

Nowadays, there are a large number of suppliers and models of fume extraction torches on the market. However, simply connecting an extraction torch to any extraction system and trusting that the two will work together is too simplistic. If fume extraction torches and extraction systems are not matched to each other, there is a risk that shielding gas will be extracted and pores may form.

If the extraction system is too weak, on the other hand, it can ensure that not enough fumes are absorbed, resulting in inadequate occupational safety for employees.

The extraction torch and extraction system must be perfectly matched. Therefore, it is best to ask the torch manufacturer or your distributor to measure the actual extraction performance values of your systems during your next visit.

Recommendations for extraction torches

If you want an extraction torch that is easy and comfortable to hold and doesn’t obstruct your view of the weld seam, nor be afraid that the shielding gas coverage will not be sufficient, you should test the xFUME® series from ABICOR BINZEL. The xFUME® PRO is best suited for high-performance MIG/MAG welding with fume extraction technology. The extraction torches in the xFUME® PRO HD series can reliably cope with particularly high temperatures and above-average welding times. Light welding work, minor repairs or reworking in a robot production line can be carried out safely and in a health-friendly manner with the xFUME® COMPACT.

The xFUME® TIG is highly recommended for TIG welding. Although this process is considered to be a virtually fume-free welding process, it is still very dangerous for the human body. When welding stainless steel, high-alloy stainless steel or aluminum, welding fume particles that are invisible to the human eye but highly toxic are released. If these are inhaled, serious long-term consequences can occur, such as considerable damage to the respiratory tract and even carcinogenic diseases.

Of course, other manufacturers also have ergonomic extraction torch solutions in their product range and every extraction torch installed for extraction directly at the source of the welding fumes helps to keep welders healthy. It is important to increase the acceptance of fume extraction torches and to abandon old experiences. Therefore, I would like to motivate people to actively engage with the topic and give new developments on the market a chance.

Unfortunately, many welders are still not fully aware of the dangers that can result from years of welding without fume extraction. Fortunately, general awareness of this is growing among welders and company managers alike.

Objectives of institutions

The demand for extraction technology for manual welding, but also especially for automated welding with robots and cobots, will continue to increase.

Various associations and institutions work closely with and connect industry, research and training within welding and related technologies. Such an association is, for example, the IIW (International Institute of Welding), which has been defining standardization (e. g. ISO) for over 75 years. It also supports the development of best practices and the exchange of knowledge between the industry and educational and research institutions. This also includes promoting training, further education, qualification and certification of personnel and companies (source: DVS, IIW statement on welding fumes, February 2023).

A working group within the IIW focuses explicitly on “health, safety and the environment”. This is made up of the world's leading experts in safety and protection research for welding specialists and welding personnel. EWF (European Welding Federation) and EWA (European Welding Association) are other international organizations that cooperate with the IIW within Europe.

These have the following objectives, among others:

  • EU-wide harmonization of protective measures for welding
  • Clear, comprehensible, measurable and communicable occupational exposure limits for those substances that are most hazardous to the human body
  • International adequacy of the new EU limit values
  • Europe-wide information system for the education and training of welding specialists and their employers as well as the uniform application of guidelines
  • Financial support programs for small and medium-sized companies to introduce personal protective equipment and extraction systems

Realizing the great potential of the extraction torch

It may still sound a bit like wishful thinking, but fume extraction torches should become standard in the future. Just a few years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine the current state of development. Development and technology will continue to progress in the coming years. Many more institutions, such as those already mentioned, will consistently pursue and expand their objectives. And all for the benefit of the welders who do a great job every day.

What do you think of fume extraction torches?

Topics: Fume Extraction