Cummins and Fleetguard partnered with Catalyst to bring new life to an old product line. Steel canisters have been used to filter fuel and oil in engines for more than 80 years. Prior to this project, very few enhancements had been achieved in the design or performance of industrial fuel filters. Steel canisters have proven to be expensive, heavy and damage prone. They operate in a harsh environment of drastic temperature changes, harsh chemicals and vibration. Traditional filters were designed for a single use with a single application for every SKU. These limits diminish the benefits of contemporary “just–in-time” manufacturing. There were serious challenges to developing a cost-effective, modular filter that could be manufactured and marketed anywhere in the world. Instituting an industry-wide paradigm shift would require unique innovation.
Catalyst created a modular, all-resin filter for the Fleetguard User Friendly brand. The design incorporates unique features never imagined before on legacy metal casing diesel fuel filters.
The Catalyst design team started by using immersive research to understand the widely accepted design of the conventional filter. Opportunities for improving the current design emerged during “Voice of Customer” interviews with end users and service center technicians. After defining the limitations of metal canisters, Catalyst designers explored completely new methods and developed unique features.
Traditional steel filters are normally filled with fuel or oil prior to installation. Our research revealed that the dome shaped filters routinely fell over prior to installation, creating a mess and requiring refilling. A unique solution to eliminate spillage was developed by molding ribs in the edge of the domed resin canister allowing the filter to stand on end. This feature was never an option in legacy metal filters.
Another key insight was discovered during immersive customer research. Removal of the old filter was a notorious issue. Most mechanics were not hand-tightening as recommended during installation, instead they were overtightening filters by using wrenches. Part of the problem was the smooth, painted canisters would not allow a very tight grip during installation. Once service life was exhausted, the filter would be nearly impossible to remove without destroying the case, causing a leak or damage to other components. The solution was to extend the standing ribs and texture to assist in firm installation without tools. Catalyst also designed a one-way square fitting into the end of the canister allowing mechanics to insert a common ¾” ratchet wrench for easy removal. The patented design solution does not allow the feature to be used for tightening during install. Catalyst resolved an industry-wide issue with one cost-neutral feature.
Fleetguard manufacturing plants and suppliers each had techniques that were not necessarily shared throughout the corporate umbrella of products. Suppliers and partners were required to develop proprietary processes and materials to exploit these new found features. Breaking the challenges down to four key areas made this complex project achievable:
- Media (Filter)
After identifying the four key challenges, cross-functional teams from Cummins/Fleetguard and Catalyst designers applied Design Thinking to each category individually.
Materials: Any proposed materials had to withstand the extreme external environments while also being resilient to internal fuel and oil temperatures. In order to solve the manufacturability and assembly problems, the same material had to be capable of melting for the spin-welding and flame-embedding process.
Media: Fleetguard’s new synthetic” NanoNet™ Media” features a unique consistent pore size to retain captured particles better than any competitive product. The new media improves engine protection, provides longer filter life without glass fiber and is generally impervious to water saturation. In order to seal the pleat endcaps, the new Nano Net Media required a unique approach to replace traditional “potted” filter media seams. Catalyst worked within the specific capabilities of the Cummins manufacturing facilities while crafting the production process. A collaborative method of “flame-embedding” the plastic endcaps onto the filter media was used to assemble the inner filter. This method permanently sealed the filter media, while eliminating the need for adhesives or potting.
Modularity: Another major problem with manufacturing filters for a vast number of applications is the large number of unique components and SKUs of finished products required. Using a modular approach to the filter design allowed for fewer components to build a larger variety of filter sizes.
Manufacturability: The nutplate and canister from metal filters were converted to resin components with a unique sealing method. After loading the internal components, the canister is then “spin-welded” to the nut plate flange. The friction between the canister ridge and nutplate groove allows the two resin components to weld together permanently and effectively. The final result is a cost effective, modular design that provides expanded combinations of technical specs while requiring fewer overall components. The ultimate success is breaking an industry-wide paradigm of what a filter could be.