It spells curtains for flying chips

Posted on Written by David Shaw

41_curtains_01Manufacturer says its zip-together nylon panels take the risk out of paint removal and other boatyard jobs

In Greg Silver’s business, baking soda is king. He owns Southcoast Sodablast LLC, a soda-blasting company based in Westport, Mass., and he makes a living removing old antifouling paint from boat bottoms.

It’s a messy job. Care is required to contain spent soda-blast media and the toxic paint chips that fly off hulls, ensuring that no environmental regulations are violated and that contaminants don’t spread to neighboring boats or work areas.

Silver typically erected a plastic tent around the boats and laid additional plastic as ground cover. But when a breeze piped up, there was always a chance the tape holding the plastic against the hull would rip away, creating the need for a big cleanup. The risk increased when he was working on larger boats that required longer and wider sheets of plastic to make the tent.

“Soda blasting is a pretty dusty business, and all the dust will blow around the boatyard and get all over the surrounding boats if the plastic falls down,” Silver says.

Now Silver, 43, doesn’t worry when the wind kicks up. He ditched the plastic in favor of a simple yet innovative product called a Bad Dust curtain containment system — a series of ballistic nylon curtains with a fire-retardant coating that zip together to form a secure enclosure around the bottom of a boat. The curtains are tied to deck hardware or stanchions, which means they won’t unexpectedly come off.

“It eases my mind a bit when I’m doing a large boat and it gets windy,” Silver says. “I’m not worried about the plastic blowing down.”

Bad Dust enclosures aren’t simply fabric alternatives to plastic tenting. Technically they’re a positive pressurized-containment system that eliminates the need to build a wooden frame to create room in a sealed work area that will contain dust within the enclosure or keep dust from entering it when painting or varnishing. Here’s how Bad Dust enclosures work.

41_curtains_02The curtain panels are zipped together to cover the length of the boat, adding or subtracting panels for any given boat size from 10 feet to more than 200 feet. The curtain ties are adjusted to the proper height to ensure that the sealing flap on the underside of the curtain is aligned just above the waterline. The bottoms of the curtains are secured under the jack stands or are rolled and clamped to the plastic ground covering. The sealing flap is then taped along the waterline to make an airtight enclosure.

Next a variable-speed blower is used to pressurize the enclosure, billowing the curtains outward to provide a sealed and roomy work environment. “Essentially, you’re creating a really tough, durable balloon around the boat that can be reused for years,” says Roxanne Winslow, president of Positive Containment Systems LLC (www.baddust.com) in Colchester, Conn., which makes and markets the Bad Dust curtain containment system. The company also produces Bad Dust bag containment enclosures.

41_curtains_03Air vented from inside the curtains can be passed through a particle filter or a dust-collection box to decontaminate it. The intake air creates a centrifugal air current inside the enclosure that draws dust and other particulates to the walls of the curtains and then to the ground, which helps keep the work area clearer of dust than would be the case with plastic tenting, according to Winslow.

“A key concept behind the system is that it’s modular, meaning you can easily build an enclosure to fit any size boat, spar or other object by zipping on more panels,” Winslow says. “The versatility and the fact that the curtains or bags are reusable is a major selling point.”

Bad Dust systems have been around for about a decade, Winslow says. She got involved with the products in January 2010 when she established Bad Dust Containment Systems LLC. “Due to changes in management and a reorganization we’re now doing business as Positive Containment Systems,” she says. “We’re still producing Bad Dust products, and we’re looking forward to a robust sales trajectory for 2011.”

Winslow, 57, says the company has moved its manufacturing facilities to a 4,000-square-foot shop in the Noank section of Groton, Conn., and she is ramping up marketing efforts. Attending boat shows and doing on-site demonstrations at boatyards is an integral part of the company’s marketing program, she says. Soda-blasting and sandblasting contractors serving boatyards, and boatyards that perform these services for customers represent the core marine market.

“The systems are designed primarily for soda-blasting applications, but some other uses include maintaining a very clean area to paint or varnish without dust coming from other locations of the work area,” WinsIow says. “I see a number of uses for the systems, such as enclosing spar-restoration projects,” she adds, noting that she also sells to the automotive market, which accounts for 50 percent of the company’s gross annual sales.

When Stacey Stone, 56, heard about Bad Dust systems in the summer of 2010, he says he was skeptical because there was nothing like it on the market. He owns Chesapeake Soda Clean Inc. in Millersville, Md., a soda-blasting equipment dealer and distributor.

“I didn’t see a need for a fabric-based system,” Stone says. “Most everyone uses plastic to create an enclosure under the boat, and that’s successful, to a point.”

42_curtains_04Winslow says she is aware that the concept of Bad Dust products can be hard to describe, and she understands why it can take some convincing for contractors and boatyards to see the merits of the products and understand how they work.

“It’s a touchy-feely kind of thing,” she says. “When you walk into our shop or see one of these things in use at a boatyard, the concept of how it works really hits you. As with any innovative concept for a product, it has taken some time to get the word out.”

Despite his initial skepticism, Stone agreed to an on-site demonstration. In less than an hour, he and a company rep had enclosed a 32-foot sportfishing boat and Stone says he became more interested because he saw the product as innovative, green and a good investment for soda-blasting contractors that do a lot of bottom jobs every year. His company is now a distributor for Bad Dust products.

“A busy contractor could use about $5,000 of plastic per year, so the cost savings over the long run for a guy who’s busy is well worth it, but for a very small operator it isn’t,” he says.

A curtain set for a 50-foot boat is priced at $3,800, Winslow says.

“While the cost of a Bad Dust system is definitely a lot more than building a frame and covering it with shrink wrap, the system will more than pay for itself over time in savings on material and labor because it can be reused,” she says. “More and more boatyards are adopting green practices, so I see an increase in demand for a product like this. You’re not loading up dumpsters with tons and tons of plastic, which is good for the environment. I think people recognize that and want an alternative.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.

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