Technicians Hope To Cut Shop Expenses With Reusable Oil Filters

Fleet technicians are testing filtration technology that seems to negate conventional wisdom. They are looking at cleanable, reusable filters, a concept that reportedly emerged in the mllltary during the flrst Gulf War and gained favor in the 1990s for use ln milling machines.

Roger Burdick, equipment manager at specialty contractor Southwest Concrete Purnplng, Englewood, CO., has extended oll changes from 400 hours to 1,500 hours on 45 concrete pumpers. He expects to push the Intervals to 2,500 hours, a move that he thinks can save the Company $750,000 on oil changes over the next 10 years.

A strong advocate of preventive maintenance, Blll Ruhr, director of the Minnesota Highway Safety and Research Center at St. Cloud State University, is testing the filters on two police cruisers used to train officers In evasive maneuvers. He says the filters allow hlm to change Oil at 50,000 miles rather than 3,000 to 5,000 mlles. “We beat the heIl" out of the cars, says Ruhr, noting that students wear out road tires rated at 60,000 miles in only 600 miles.filter

The filters can be used for a variety of machinery fluids and are made by Parker Hannifin Corp., Cleveland; System 1 Filtration Group, Tulare, Calif; and Vortex International LLC, Maple Plain, Minn. Designs vary, but the principle is the same: Fluid enters a spin-on canister, passes through a series of washable screens and flows back into the engine. Heavy-duty versions use an integral bypass element for particle filtration to 2 microns - 150 times smaller than the eye of a needle. Technicians wash reusable filter parts with an aqueous solution or shop solvent and replace fluid when analysls shows degradatlon.

Burdick says most oil filters only reach 50 microns and regular disposal is costly. “'We're not buying as much oil, the oil is cleaner than it used to be and everything is reusabIe," he says.

"The cleanable filter is a component whose time has come.” says Rlchard LeFrancois, a Littleton, CO. based maintenance consultant. He cites as a success story Brink’s Inc., Chicago, which has serviced 35 of its armored trucks with reusable filters since 1998.

Yet there is no shortage of skeptics. "Until I have solid proof that they are as good as people say they are. I’lI stay with traditional fiIters." says Guy Gordon, vlce president of equipment for construction and engineering firm Fru-Con. St. Louis. Likewise, BIII Wagy, equipment manager at Watsonville, Calif.-based Granite Construction, advises that doing what manufacturers ask is "cheap Insurance."

The initial price for the filters is considerable, too. They cost between $300 and $400. Bypass elements, which are not reusable, cost about $10.

Another concern is engine warranty. "We investigated the filters three years ago and elected not to use them because documentation from engine manufacturers was not there yet," says Ken Nelson, project manager for the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation’s Office of Maintenance Research in St. Paul. Minn. But he says that engine manufacturers now have approved the filters, and MNDOT is testing them on its diesel trucks. "We have between 800 and 850 plow trucks, wlth 13 to 30 quarts of oil per truck. We are changing oil at 10,000 miles and we are hoping to triple that," says Nelson, who also decided to road test a filter on his personal pickup truck.

The filters are not for everyone, says LeFrancois. However, Burdick says he is convinced. He plans to outfit all of his 85 concrete pumper trucks with the filters by the end of the year.


Reprint From ENR Magazine April 2003