TECHNOLOGY: Top-quality machines demand top-quality parts
by Jim Gibbons
To keep the human body working as well as possible, it is important to keep fit, breathe clean air and eat healthy, contaminant-free food. The same is true of construction machines. They often have to work in dirty or dusty environments, in the hot sun or the chill of sub-zero night-time temperatures, performing difficult tasks that require huge physical strength.
That is why Volvo engineers devote untold time, ingenuity and energy to designing and manufacturing filters to ensure that the air, fuel, lubricants and hydraulic fluid used are in perfect order to keep engines working at absolute peak performance.
And that applies to the operator environment, too: another filter ensures that the air circulating in the cab is also perfectly pure, providing a healthy working atmosphere. According to Saeid Hatefipour, Senior Climate System Engineer at Volvo Construction Equipment, a lot of effort goes into ensuring clean air in the cabin.
“The four key design specifications for cabin air filtration are the occupational exposure limit, the required air flow rate, the dust concentration and type, and the service interval and knowing them helps find the three main filter requirements – the amount of dust transferred, the pressure drop by filtration and the dust-holding capacity,” Hatefipour explains. But it would be ineffective to favor one of those conditions at the expense of another. “The important thing is the intersection of these three – the filtration efficiency class.” In other words, the point at which these attributes intersect is the perfect balance for maximum air-quality protection.
A large construction vehicle needs several filters apart from the one keeping the cabin atmosphere safe and healthy: one to clean the engine oil, one to separate out water from the fuel system, one to remove other impurities from the fuel, and another to keep the hydraulic fluid clean. All of them must work perfectly if the machine owner is to avoid costly repairs and lost working time.
“It’s important because the filters have three different tasks,” explains Mats Fredsson, Volvo CE’s Global Product Manager for Genuine Volvo Filters. “They have to filter out dust, and retain the dirt so that it can’t go around the system. It’s also important that they do this without any loss of flow, which could damage the engine or transmission, the hydraulic system or fuel system.”
Fredsson makes his point with the aid of an L150H wheel loader, its range of vital filters gathered conveniently side-by-side under a hinged cover. All the filters are important on a machine designed to work in all climates. “It is always a risk in tropical climates where fuel cannot be stored in the best way,” says Fredsson, referring to the perennial tropical issue of high condensation in fuel tanks and elsewhere. “That’s why it is extra important to have a good water separator.”
Fredsson displays two products, seemingly identical, both bearing the Volvo brand. However, only one is genuine. The one that was suspiciously cheap on an Internet site is a counterfeit and certainly not up to the task it must perform – using it could cause massive damage to the engine.
A persistent problem is the ready availability of counterfeits or low-quality, non-Volvo alternatives openly on sale on the web or from back-street traders. They are a little cheaper, of course, but generally poorly made and unable to offer the protection required by a complex piece of earth-moving machinery.
“Anyone who buys a cheap filter on the Internet doesn’t know the source or the quality,” warns Fredsson. “They’re playing a lethal game of chance with their machine.” Operators, too, risk contracting serious diseases if the air in their cab is not adequately filtered.
Volvo devotes infinite research time and resources ensuring its filters are up to the difficult job they have to do and that they last between service intervals when clogged filters should be changed. A few years ago, investigation of a malfunctioning air-conditioning system and failed compressor on a Volvo machine revealed that the cab filters had been replaced with cheaper non-Volvo alternatives.
“Both the pre-filter and the main filter were completely clogged,” Hatefipour explains. “With a clogged air filter there is no air through the heat exchanger and evaporator which in turn affects the compressor cycle, so the oil inside the system becomes trapped.” The incident led to a major repair job and the conclusion that using anything other than a genuine Volvo filter is a false economy, leading to downtime and extensive repair costs.
Patrick Larsson, a design engineer at Volvo’s Engine Auxiliary Systems division, demonstrates the double security method used for the engine air-intake system: two large cylindrical filters, one inside the other. “All the air going through the engine air intakes goes through this paper media,” he says, holding the larger outer air filter, “and all
the particles and pollution get stuck in the media. But when the machine is serviced, or if this big one breaks, there is a safety element inside.” He puts the large cylinder beside the slimmer one, which fits inside it. “This big filter removes all the pollution and all the particles, but if it breaks – or when it is serviced – there is still a safety filter inside.”
If all this sounds somewhat obsessional, it is: members of Volvo CE’s technical team are utterly convinced that only the real deal will keep the company’s machines in the peak of health.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE
Take the fuel filters, for instance. Fredsson demonstrates two, one a genuine Volvo product, the other an inferior, low-quality filter. Pointing to the real one, he explains: “This is the one that will work until the next service interval.” He turns to the fake in his other hand: “This one probably won’t. It may cause the engine to stop, leading to down time.”
The two filters look disconcertingly alike at first glance: yellow on one side and white on the other. In the genuine Volvo filter, the two coloured layers have a function. “The white surface takes care of the bigger particles and the yellow surface takes care of the smaller particles, which increases the dirt-holding capacity,” Fredsson explains.
In the low-quality version, there is only one layer: the white side is just a color wash over a yellow filter of indeterminate quality – but the customer cannot tell from the outside and would have to cut the filter can open to see the difference. “I don’t know the price difference but I guess it’s a couple of dollars or so – I can’t understand why anyone would jeopardise their machine to save a couple of dollars.”
The Volvo team stress that genuine Volvo filters are the result of years of research to produce filters that perfectly protect the Volvo engine, the hydraulic system and the operator. To go for cheaper alternatives puts both machine and operator at risk.
Quite apart from operator health, contractors could end up facing massive repair bills. And a broken-down machine is one that is not working and paying for its keep, which causes delays and could damage a contractor’s reputation. And that is something that is notoriously hard to repair.