Cutting a swathe through the hand drying debate

The Dyson Airblade, model A01, has managed to succinctly address the major issues that have previously prevented the use of hand dryers within food processing environments and now, having arrived on Australian shores and gained HACCP Australia approval, the industry is beginning to take notice.

For a long while Dyson were best known for having reshaped the way we think about the domestic vacuum cleaner; the outward appearance was unique and appealing, but it was thanks to the ingenuity of the bag-less design that earned the UK company its well deserved accolades. In a move away from vacuum cleaners, the Dyson team spent more than three years pouring all their problem-solving creativity into the rethinking of the hand dryer.

Seen next to the typical warm air hand dryers that the Dyson Airblade was created to supersede, there is little crossover in appearance. With smooth grey lines and a curved trough for the hand well, the Dyson Airblade stems undoubtedly from the same design vision that brought the vacuum cleaner. But even down to the gentle wave-shape of the plastic molding, the Dyson Airblade is an example of form following function.

The great debate

There has been a long running debate concerning the relative merits of air dryers, compared with paper towels, for use within the food industry. Quality Assurance, Environmental and Food Safety Managers have been divided on the matter, with much of the controversy centring on the argument that air dryers take too long to perform their function, while also producing an ill-effect from the high-pressured movement of air within in a toilet environment. On the other side of the coin, paper towels can block drains if not disposed of correctly; restocking can be both expensive and environmental unsound; while an empty paper towel unit is an all too familiar problem.
There have been numerous university papers and other research reports addressing the issue in recent years, with many having been sponsored by interested parties. But aside from the research conclusions, the majority of research has drawn on three issue of particular importance: efficacy, time and air quality.

Warm air hand dryers can take up to 40 seconds to be effective and, as James Dyson has mentioned, "you put your hands under…rub them for a bit, then give up and wipe your hands on your trousers". The Dyson Airblade, however, with a 10 second drying time, is much more likely to encourage correct usage. This significant reduction in drying time has been achieved by both a redesigning of the air channelling process and an ergonomic approach to the hand slots.

Form follows function

The hand slots have been designed to mimic the shape of the hands as they are lowered into the dryer and is operated by a non-contact system. Once inside, the motor is triggered, which draws in air, channels the current through a HEPA filter, before emitting two high velocity blades of air, which are blown through two continuous apertures the width of an eyelash at a speed of over 640kmh. As the hand are drawn up out from machine, moisture is essentially scrapped off by the blades of air.

One of the major health concerns regarding traditional hand dryers is the circulation of unclean air. The Dyson Airblade tackles this problem by drawing in air from the surrounding environment and then passing it through the HEPA filter (a pleated 600,00mm2 membrane impregnated with anti-microbial addictives), which captures 99.9% of airborne bacteria. This clean air is then used to remove moisture from the hands, but rather than being blown back into the toilet area (or worse still, on to the user’s clothes), the pressure of the air blast, which is scrapping the water from the hands, sends the moisture downwards, away from further contact and is dispersed as vapour.

Having been available in Europe for some time, the Dyson Airblade is beginning gain interest within the Australian food manufacturing industry.
John Gillman of the Australian based Fletcher International Export said the company installed the machines about 12-months ago and they have since received favourable responses from both employees and management.

"Previously all our washrooms were fitted with handtowel dispensers, but after successfully trialling three machines, we now have a total of 12 in place."
Mr. Gillman referred to both the reduction of waste and improvement of hygiene as motivating their choice to invest in the Dyson Airblade.

"We have installed them in our meat processing facility, where they get a high volume of use and we have had no problems with them", Mr. Gillman added, "From our point of view, so far, they’re a pretty handy asset".

Simon Evans, the amenities manager at Cargill Meat Europe said that "using paper towels was costing £18,000 (AUS$29,000) per annum. There are a lot of hand dryers on the market and it was important for us to find a time-saving alternative". Cargill installed the Dyson Airblade hand dryer for a trial period and said afterwards, "We were very impressed. Using the Dyson Airblade means we save money on waste paper and we also save on man-hours".

At Macrae’s seafood plant in Scotland, Steve McLean, the facilities engineering manager estimates the saving as being $40,000 per annum and adds, "the units look great, they’re quick and efficient".

Stamp of approval

Dyson recently submitted the machine for certification and endorsement by HACCP Australia. Industry experienced food technologists at HACCP Australia have reviewed the machine, the design, performance and efficiency and have found it to offer a safe hand drying process.

Karen Constable, of HACCP Australia, who headed the research into this product, commented "this is not to say other methodologies are not appropriate to the food industry, however, the Dyson Airblade certainly addresses the concerns we have with some electric hand dryers and is able to offer a very appropriate solution. We look at many new products and initiatives that are aimed at the food market and it is encouraging to see a new product that is economical, functional and also hygienic."

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