Addressing noise problems in industries

It is well known that noise pollution is a serious and often underestimated problem, only second to air pollution. Speaking of noise, the first picture that comes to mind is buzzing traffic or that annoying neighbor playing loud music. However, the noise produced by industries and factories is probably as significant, if not less, especially for those who work around these places. So, let’s talk about why many industries have noisy environments, what are the measures currently in place, and some possible ways of improving this.

Why are most industries noisy and why is it a problem?

Before getting into the details of why most industries are noisy, it is probably worthwhile knowing when do sounds become noisy. The hum of a hummingbird and the pump rattle are both sounds, except that the former is sweeter to hear. So what differentiates these two sounds? Sound is generated when objects vibrate and this, in turn, creates a pressure wave that is ultimately perceived as sound in the ears. Whether the sound is perceived as noisy or soothing, simply put, depends on the characteristics of this pressure wave and how it is generated. A sound that is pleasant to the ears, more often than not, has specific patterns while noisy sounds are more random. Now that’s what exactly happens in industries. The sounds produced by complex machinery add up and ultimately produce random patterns, resulting in noise. In large-scale industries, the noise levels are also higher due to larger machines and more moving components. For people working at such places, continuous exposure to noise poses several short-term and long-term health risks.

What measures are currently in place?

Fortunately, noise exposure in industries is already recognized as an important issue and several industries have some kind of measures in place. The current measures in practice can be categorized into mainly two types: the first category deals with reducing the noise at the receiver end, for instance – mandatory use of earplugs in certain work areas. The second category deals with the suppression of noise at the source side and also the path between the source and receiver. An example of this would be the use of sound-absorbing materials around the machines. To locate the sound source(s), you can use an acoustic camera. This way, it is possible to get a good understanding of the actual sound source(s) and optimize the solution.

Are these measures sufficient, if not, can they be improved?

While taking some measures to address noise nuisance in industries is already a step in the right direction, the current measures also face some significant limitations. To give a medical analogy, the current measures only treat the symptoms but don’t address the root cause, which, is the source of the noise itself. Therefore, one smart way to solve this problem would be to better design the product by taking its acoustic behavior into account e.g. by using our Acoustic Design Cycle. Knowing how a machine sounds even before it is made is going to be immensely valuable in designing products that make less sound, or at least, less noise.

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