Highlights from the 2021 NAFA Annual Convention, November 2 – 4, 2021
By Kevin Delahunt
It has been some time since the National Air Filtration Association (NAFA) last met in person (26 months to be exact; September of 2019 in Montreal). A lot has changed in our world and the filtration industry since then so the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas was welcoming. Although not as big as past events, the turn-out, presentations, and level of discussion remained excellent.
The keynote speaker was Dr. William Bahnfleth of Penn State College of Engineering. If the name sounds familiar, he is a past president of ASHRAE and presided over ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force (ETF). The ETF produced a document, not only in record time, but whose guidance is followed by virtually every health agency in the world. The ETF was the first to suggest that the virus was “sufficiently likely” to be transmitted via the airborne route, that MERV 13 filters were now the filter of choice, and if the appropriate ventilation could not be met then supplemental technologies such as Room Air Purifiers and UVC needed to be deployed. The increase in filter efficiency might not seem to be such a big deal to us but in the U.S. MERV 8 was, and still is, the most widely used filter category. (ASHRAE Std 62.1 still references MERV 8 as the minimum standard of acceptance two years into the pandemic). Dr. Bahnfleth walked us through the process of assembling ~150 experts on all facets of HVAC and viral transmission, as well as the difficulties in getting agencies such as the CDC, EPA, and yes Health Canada, to confirm that the virus was indeed airborne. One comment that resonated with me was that Sars CoV-2 infections were mostly space related and not necessarily an issue with central air systems, hence the need to identify and remediate high risk areas in every building.
Another enjoyable presentation was Brad Kalil from INDA, the association of the nonwoven fabrics industry. For descriptive purposes “A nonwoven is an engineered fibrous assembly, primarily planar, which has been given a designed level of structural integrity by physical and/or chemical means, excluding weaving, knitting or paper making.” A bit of a mouthful, but it encompasses many of the industry fabric names that I have heard for years: airlaid, wetlaid, spunlaid, drylaid, spunbond, spunmelt, meltblown, among others. These are all nonwoven products. It is an 18-billion-dollar industry with filtration being about 13%. It helps to be a filter nerd, but he did a great job explaining the vast world of nonwovens, the current supply issues, and the future for the filter industry. As he said, it is a great time to be in the nonwoven industry, and to extend that it is a great time to be in the filtration industry.
The panel discussion on Market Trends that I sat on with another distributor from Texas and two manufacturers (AAF-Flanders and Columbus Industries) was by all accounts successful by the positive comments received and insightful questions asked. The scope of the panel was to discuss the effect Covid-19 had on the filtration industry in our areas of expertise, mine being the commercial and educational markets. Common themes around North America are supply chain issues, lead times, labour shortages/disruptions, inflation, and perhaps most important, the increased awareness of filtration and IAQ by the HVAC industry and the public in general. (Did I mention what a great time it is to be in the filtration industry?!?)
One of my favourite aspects of a NAFA meeting is the opportunity to mingle with manufacturers and distributors and get a feel for what is happening in the filtration industry in other parts of the world. There is always a new technology or two being promoted and this year was no exception. One company, Filti, was promoting a MERV 13 washable filter. I am curious but will need to wait for samples! Another company, Atmofizer, is using sound waves to agglomerate small particles into larger particles for ease of capture. This is a technology that is used in water purification, but the jury is still out as to whether it will be effective for particulate removal in air. One might question the efficacy of these technologies, but I love to see the enthusiasm and thought process involved when introducing new concepts.
Thursday evening was the awards banquet and the introduction of NAFA’s new President, Roberta MacGillivray.
Roberta gave an insightful and poised address to the membership with the feeling we are in capable hands. It is a great day for BGE and I could not be more proud of her.
~ Kevin Delahunt