Managing Fire Risk When Using Shrink Wrapping Machinery

Shrink wrapping is common in a variety of industries and is used to wrap a large number of materials, including combustible ones, but it is most commonly used for wrapping pallet goods. Products are covered with a plastic film, which is then shrunk upon heating, even over irregular shapes to pack your goods.

Shrink wrapping is incredibly useful for packaging, especially shrink wrapping machinery which can package your goods faster than ever before. There is also less of a fire risk because of the less flammable nature of shrink wrap as a packaging material, compared to paper, cloth, and timber. PVC shrink film and polyolefin shrink wrap are difficult to ignite a sustainable fire from, particularly if the wrapped product is non-combustible.

However, like anything involving heat and flames, there are still fire risks associated with shrink wrapping. In this guide, we cover some of our top advice for minimising risk and maximising fire safety. When it comes to shrink wrap machinery, the key risk is burning caused by sealing mechanisms and the shrinking equipment itself. Read on to learn how to mitigate these dangers.

 

Dangers from Shrink Wrapping Equipment

Goggles must be worn sign

Four main kinds of shrink wrapping machinery use heat to operate:

Batch Units

Batch units are either lowered over a loaded pallet or the thing on which a pallet is loaded. In either circumstance, the batch unit holds the pallet and acts as a sort of oven, heating the enclosed unit with the shrink wrap on it.

The key danger from a batch unit is someone being burned by touching or being inside the batch unit when in operation. Even though shrink wrap can be used for heat-sensitive products like chocolates, shrink wrapping machinery operates at around 210˚C, and can be as hot as 900˚C in some places on the equipment. Make sure people are aware of the heat and the dangers associated with your batch unit. This is an integral part of shrink wrap machine training. People should also not use the batch unit in flammable or dust-laden environments, nor near combustible or explosive materials.

Shrink Tunnels

Far safer than batch units, tunnels are the most popular way of encapsulating products to allow them to be shrink wrapped. Their constant exertion of heat in an enclosed area typically does not create flames but uses electricity to heat the space and cause wrap shrinkage. For heat-sensitive items, the rollers of a tunnel might be insulated to prevent your product from being marked.

The key risk for tunnels is the same as batch units: the inside of the shaft can grow extremely hot, and people need to know when the unit is in operation and avoid touching the heated areas. And like batch units, people should also not use the tunnel in flammable or dust-laden environments, nor near combustible or explosive materials.

We offer a range of shrink tunnels here at Kempner – take a look at some of our options online.

Heat Shrink Machines

Our manual chamber machines, semi-automatic and our automatic shrink wrap packaging machines all use heat in varying ways to shrink your film over your product. To stay safe, your equipment should be constructed, installed, calibrated and operated in such a way as to ensure the product will continuously surpass expectations. Furthermore, the shrink wrapping machine ought to be consistently maintained and cleaned to remain in top form.

Heat Guns

Heat guns are unique on our list. Portable or mobile shrink wrap machines are typically the most dangerous to use, which is made worse because people generally are poorly trained before using one, especially smaller businesses. For all except the lowest volume order, we do recommend a shrink wrap machine instead.

Most heat guns have a dead man’s handle type trigger and come with clear instructions to avoid LPG cylinders or other combustibles when using the heat gun. For more information, check out our heat gun risk assessment.

 

General Precautions

Man moving pallets after shrink wrap machinery

Shrink wrapping machines should not be used near flammable products, aerosols, explosives, or other high-risk items. Shrink wrap machines should also only be used by people who have undergone formal training to use the equipment, and only according to the shrink wrap machine manufacturer’s specifications.

Once heated, wrapped goods should be allowed at least half an hour to cool before being put somewhere for more permanent storage. They should also be checked for smouldering material after wrapping and when put away to make sure the areas are safe. While cooling, the shrink wrapped good should not be left unattended.

Fire extinguishers should be available near all shrink wrap machines in case of a fire. Ideally, more than one fire extinguisher should be made available, with a rating of at least 13A. The fire extinguisher should ideally use either dry powder or C02 – the former as it is effective on almost any sort of fire, or the latter because it is especially useful for combatting electrical fires.

 

Creating a Fire Risk-Free Environment

An unclean work environment is a fire hazard for shrink wrap machinery

While it is impossible to eliminate any risk of fire completely, you can minimise the chances of a fire breaking out and spreading by working in a safe, clean, and uncrowded environment.

Shrink wrapping machinery should always be in a clean and clearly defined area of your warehouse or working environment, separated by fire-resistant walls or screens. Ideally, the shrink wrapping operation should be segregated in a separate room or detached building specially constructed from combustion-resistant materials. Once cooled, wrapped goods should be moved out of the area as quickly as possible. They should not be allowed to accumulate to the point of causing a hazard.

Your shrink wrapping machinery should never be stored in the same place as flammable gases, vapours, mists, dust, or LPG cylinders. Liquid or gaseous fuels especially should be kept away from any machinery exuding heat, including shrink wrapping machinery.

Finally, wherever you use your shrink wrapping machinery, make sure that all openings in the compartment walls, like doorways, are protected by fire-resistant shutters or door sets. Even if a wall has high fire resistance, doors can undermine their fire resistance if they are especially vulnerable to heat and fire. A clean, fire-resistant environment without any nearby flammables can be kept under control for a long time, protecting lives and preventing property damage.

 

We hope this basic examination of shrink wrapping machine fire safety is of help to you and your business. If you need more advice on shrink wrap machinery, get in touch with our team, and we will be happy to be of assistance.

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