Identifying Risks Yields New Technology
by: By Mary Lou Jay

Section: Features-Summer 2023

Spray foam companies want to keep their workers safe while providing a quality insulation job for their customers. When they want to make improvements to their operations, however, it has been difficult for them to determine where to start. What behaviors or activities or equipment should they first be addressing to achieve these goals?

SPFA’s Equipment Committee is working on a project led by Dan Dorneanu of Palmetto Spray Foam Insulation referred to as Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) that will help the industry identify, prioritize and address the different risks of the spray foam business. One immediate benefit of the FMEA has been the invention of a new face mask component that significantly reduces the spray foam accumulation on it.


Breaking down the process

Dorneanu and the committee have been building the FMEA model with the assistance of Chad Johnson of APiS North America®, LLC. Its parent company, APIS® Informationstechnologien GmbH, is the author of the APIS® IQ-Software, which has been used for many years by the automotive, aviation and medical industries for risk analysis.

Dorneanu and Johnson first identified the main components of the spray foam process: rig preparation; travel to site; job completion, travel to shop; and close up rig. Each of these sections is further subdivided into specific functions, describing what the item or process is intended to do, and failures, which describe the way functions can be performed wrongly or incompletely.

Under rig preparation, for example, the committee had to consider the steps the operator takes to prepare the rig, how any of those activities could go wrong and how the overall spray foam process could be affected. Could the operator load the rig wrong or read the work order wrong? What would the result be if that happened? This kind of analysis was done for every step in the spray foam process, and all of this information became part of the APIS® IQ-Software structure.

All of the data is linked in the structure so that users can look at a particular type of failure, see all the effects it might have and identify all of the potential reasons for it.

"The goal of this process is first to make sure that you’ve identified all of the possible risks, but also to ask yourself for each failure what are the ways that you are preventing or detecting any failure," said Johnson.

The committee also scored every function on three factors: the severity of what could happen if something goes wrong, the likelihood it will be detected and the number of times it’s likely to occur. The scale goes from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst case. These three scores are multiplied to create a risk priority number (RPN) for each function; the higher the RPN, the more urgent the need to address the issue.

The APIS® IQ-Software makes it possible to view these results in a variety of formats, including red, green and yellow bar graphs which make it easy to see which problems should be an industry priority.

The FMEA gives the industry a databased approach to determine what it should focus on and to illuminate areas that could benefit from innovative approaches, said Johnson.

Cleaner face masks

Using the FMEA to identify a high-priority risk inspired Dorneanu to develop a device that addresses the problem of overspray and inadequate lighting on respirator masks. When technicians spray the foam, some of the overspray settles on their masks, greatly reducing their vision. Workers who can’t see well are more likely to injure themselves by tripping over wires or falling through the ceiling. The quality of the work suffers as well.

The only way to overcome this problem has been to stop the work, scrape clean the visor and then reapply spray release to the mask to prevent the foam from permanently adhering. It’s a time-consuming process that has to be repeated frequently, so technicians often don’t take the time to clean the masks as often as they should.

Dorneanu developed the Q-Flow as way to reduce the accumulation of overspray on the mask and limit the associated risks. The Q-flow, which, for Bullard masks for example, replaces the regular ring around the exhalation cover, has vents at the top which deliver a high velocity flow of air across the face of the mask, preventing overspray from adhering to the mask. (It reduces the amount of closed foam by 60% and open foam by 80%.) Two LED lights mounted on the Q-Flow illuminates the dark areas where the technicians are working, putting the light where they need it. This light is not intended to replace the primary lighting, but to enhance it.

Reducing the overspray on the mask will allow technicians to see better so they can avoid tripping hazards and reduce the risk of injuring themselves. The added light will make it easier for them to see into dark corners and behind pipes so they can apply the foam more evenly.

Another benefit is that technicians will reduce the number of times they have to apply the potentially harmful spray release to the mask.

Next steps

The SPFA’s equipment committee is currently working on another FMEA-identified high-risk issue, the lack of information about the safety and quality implications when the spray foam ingredients aren’t combined at the optimum one to one ratio. Dorneanu said the industry needs to know what happens if the percentage off that optimum mix is 2%, 10% or 20% off ratio. When does it affect the occupant’s health? When does it impact the quality of the job? The committee has been talking with the chemical manufacturers to try to obtain this kind of information.

By using the FMEA to identify high risks like these the spray foam industry will no longer have to take a shotgun approach to industry problems. It will be able instead to concentrate its efforts on those areas where solving problems will have the biggest payoffs in safety, quality and performance.