Stop Computer-Killing Dust in its Tracks

It attacks your computer like the South American army ant. Tiny, harmless looking critters by themselves, in larger numbers they can cover, kill and dissolve a full grown cow in a matter of hours.

Okay, maybe not exactly like that. But, wood shop and machine shop owners are experiencing the devastating effect manufacturing dust can have inside their shop computers. And they are looking for answers.

It doesn’t take much to ruin your day, especially, when metallic dust meets sensitive electronic components. Electricity chooses to travel in the shortest route possible, and little bridges of metal dust make great short cuts. Zap! WRRrrrrrr…

And wood dust makes a great insulating blanket. That’s okay if you’re lost in a big wood bin and freezing to death, but to a hard working computer it can be bad news. Heat sinks and fans attempt to dissipate the heat from within your computer, but a layer of dust can reduce or prevent this transfer of heat. Also, computer fans can malfunction when dust and grime are allowed to build up. Things heat up. Computers die. Data is lost. Business suffers.

Okay, what’s the answer then? How do you protect your computer from dust?

The actions you are willing and able to take to protect your computer equipment from dust depend on a large number of individual circumstances. Regardless of your situation, I recommend you take a three-front defensive position and optimize for each of the following areas:

o Computer room environment

o Protective computer dust barriers

o Computer maintenance

Let’s look at each of these areas individually.

Computer Room Environment

Control the environmental conditions surrounding your computers. The ideal solution would be to keep your computers and monitors in a clean, climate controlled computer room. In other words, take them out of the danger area. Of course, this is unrealistic or undesirable to many shop owners, who want, or need the computers to operate in the immediate work area.

So what then? Do what you can to control the dust and air pollutants in the shop. Use and maintain dust collectors for woodworking machines and a ventilation system for the shop area. And, if you can’t move the computers out of the shop, try to move them across the room, away from welding, grinding or direct contact with billowing sander dust.

Protective Computer Dust Barriers

These include computer dust covers, dust filters, computer dust bags, and computer enclosures. Each has its advantages and limitations as described below. Determine which option is the best solution for you.

Standard computer covers are made by a number of manufacturers. Usually plastic or vinyl, they are cheap, but effective in keeping dust off your computers and monitors. However, they may only be used while your computer equipment is shut down. And, you must remember to put them on. Every day. In other words, they are almost useless in a busy shop.

Computer filters, on the other hand may be used while the computer is running. Also very cheap, these small pieces of loose mesh material are placed over fan air intakes in the computer case to remove dust from incoming air. Some have experimented with using panty hose, Brillo® Pads and other household items with some success. The main drawback with computer filters is their small surface area. They clog up quickly in dusty areas and must be cleaned, or changed frequently to allow the unimpeded flow of cool air into the computer case. Another drawback is that they leave other openings in the computer case unprotected, allowing fine dust to infiltrate the CD ROM drives, floppy drives and other small openings.

Relatively new on the scene, computer dust bags are a combination computer cover and computer filter. Designed for the harsh, dusty and smoky conditions inherent to wood shops and machine shops, these innovative covers entirely encase the computer processor or monitor at all times, allowing the entire surface of the bag to act as a huge dust filter to remove dust from incoming air. Monitor dust bags have a see-through, anti-static front to allow a clear screen view, and are very effective in keeping dust, wood chips and other debris out of the cooling vents. At around $20 or less, the recommended life-span of the computer dust bag is 3-12 months, depending on the level of dust in the shop. A possible drawback to using the computer dust bag is reduced access to CD and floppy drives. However, it is possible to use these drives if you cut a hole in the dust bag and cover it with a door flap, which is included with the bag. You may also have to cut an access slot to use your USB ports.

Finally, computer enclosures are typically metal or wood, box-like cabinets which your computer processor and monitor are placed in to protect them from the surrounding environment. A variety of fan and filter combinations introduce fresh air into the enclosure. Computer enclosures have the added advantage of protecting your equipment from blunt force trauma, such as a falling 2×4, chemical splashes and other things harmful to your computer. Filters must be changed regularly. Disadvantages include high price, greater amount of space required, and filter maintenance.

Computer Maintenance

Finally, the third part of a sound computer dust protection strategy is computer maintenance. Yes, that means cleaning. Does that scare you? It’s easier than you think. You don’t have to buy all kinds of expensive tools and cleaning agents, and no heavy scrubbing or complicated disassembly is needed. The most important thing is to maintain a regular computer cleaning schedule. It may be as simple as opening the computer case once every three months to blow out the dust. Educate yourself on the computer cleaning basics and decide the right course of action for yourself. For a copy of the Standard Operating Procedure, “Computer Cleaning and Dust Protection in an Industrial Environment”, which you can modify to fit your own requirements go to http://www.computerdust.com. It’s free when you sign up for “The Computer Dust Solutions” newsletter.

Just as numerous insects and animals perish when attacked by the army ant, a great number of computers are killed by dust every day. Don’t let it happen to you. Follow the common sense ideas shown here and stop computer-killing dust in its tracks!

Erik Keranen is the founder of Computer Dust Solutions and publisher of the Computer Dust Solutions newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter and get a free copy of the Standard Operating Procedure, “Computer Cleaning and Dust Protection in an Industrial Environment” at the web site, http://www.computerdust.com

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