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Filter Manufacturer Senses an Opportunity

Donaldson is offering its customers a solution that uses pressure sensors to track the lifespan of filters used in diesel fuel dispensers, with the goal of keeping their operations flowing smoothly.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 01, 2016

Donaldson manufactures filtration systems used for a range of applications, including for filtering diesel as it is pumped into heavy-duty vehicles at remote job sites. In such use cases, ensuring that the filters are replaced in a timely manner is key, says Scott Grossbauer, the global director of Donaldson's Clean Fuel Solutions division.

"Mining is a huge market for us," he says, noting that a single haul truck can burn 1,000 gallons of diesel during a single (24-hour) shift. Because the operation never ceases, neither does fuel delivery. However, the quality of the fuel that is delivered to the sites and stored in large tanks (from which it is pumped into vehicles) varies, which means that there is no predictable pattern, such as the number of gallons pumped before a filter needs to be replaced, since a shipment of relatively dirty fuel will fill the filters sooner than a cleaner one. That makes it difficult for mining personnel to know when to change each filter, or to predict how many replacement filters will be required at any given time.

Fuel is delivered to worksites and stored in large tanks, from which it is then pumped into vehicles. (Photo courtesy ATEK Access Technologies)
Last year, a colleague of Grossbauer's suggested they set up a meeting with an acquaintance, Sherri McDaniel, the president of ATEK Access Technologies, a developer of machine-to-machine communication networks. Donaldson and ATEK are headquartered in adjacent suburbs of Minneapolis. The Donaldson employee knew that one of the solutions McDaniel's team sells is TankScan, a cloud-based monitoring system that fuel-delivery services use to schedule refills to their customers. Could ATEK develop a similar system to track the condition of Donaldson fuel filters?

"It was interesting to see what they were doing with connected products," Grossbauer says of the meeting, "and it became apparent to us that we could piggybank on that to monitor the pressure drop of the filter system."

As soon as a new filter is put in place, it begins to fill with dirt or other impurities as the fuel passes through it. Over time, this debris slows the rate at which fuel moves through the filter, and changes the pressure of the fuel exiting that filter. "When it gets to a certain level," Grossbauer explains, "customers can't fuel [a vehicle] within the same amount of time [as when the filter is new]. And eventually, it gets down to a trickle." That slow flow also slows down the operations of Donaldson's customer.

"You might be doing fine and suddenly your filter is plugged," Grossbauer says. "So the value proposition is to track [the pressure inside the filter] and to also look for trends" in the lifespan of filters over time, because the customer can then correlate filters with a short lifespan to a shipment of dirty fuel.

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