For over 80 years, steel canisters have been used to clean and filter fuel and oil in engines. Very few enhancements had been achieved in the design or performance of Steel canisters has proven to be expensive, heavy and easily damaged. They operate in a harsh environment of drastic temperature changes, exposure to harsh chemicals and fluids, and vibration. Filters were designed for single use, single application for every SKU, diminishing the benefits of contemporary “just –in-time” manufacturing. Creating a cost-effective, modular, and incinterable filter that could be manufactured and marketed anywhere in the world, had serious challenges. Instituting an industry wide paradigm shift would require unique innovation.
The Fleetguard User-Friendly brand was created as a modular, all-resin filter, incorporating unique features never imaged before on legacy metal casing diesel filters.
Designers started by using immersive research to understand the widely accepted design of the conventional filter. Using “Voice of the Customer” interviews with end users and service centers, opportunities for improving the current filter emerged. By discovering the limitations of metal canisters, allowed designers to look at alternative methods and unique features, never available before.
VOC (voice of the customer) research revealed that traditional steel filters are normally filled with fuel or oil prior to installation. Being a domed pressure vessel, they filters routinely fell over prior to installation, creating a mess and requiring refilling. A unique solution was developed by molding ribs in the end of the domed resin canister allowing the filter to stand on end, eliminating spillage. This feature was never an option in legacy metal filters.
Another key insight, discovered during immersive customer research, was the removal of the old filter. Most mechanics overtighten filters, during installation, by using wrenches and not hand-tightening as recommended. Part of the problem was the smooth painted canisters would not allow a very strong grip during installation. Once the filters service life was exhausted, the filter would be nearly impossible to remove without destroying the filter, causing a leak or damage to other components. The solution was again to take advantage of the molded resin canister, and extending the standing ribs and texture to assist in a firm installation. A patented one-way square fitting was designed into the end of the canister to insert a common ¾” ratchet wrench for easy removal, while at the same time, not allowing the feature to be used for tightening. An industry wide issue was resolved with one, cost-neutral feature.
Furthermore, researching Fleetguard manufacturing plants that were directly, or indirectly, involved with the current production of filters also exposed new insights. These plants each had techniques that were not necessarily shared throughout the corporate umbrella of products. Finally, new suppliers and partners were required to develop proprietary processes and materials, to exploit these new found features. Breaking the key challenges down to the following (4) key area made this complex project surmountable:
1. Material 2. Media (Filter) 3. Modularity 4. Manufacturability
After identifying the (4) key challenges, cross-functional teams from various Cummins/Fleetguard divisions and Catalyst designer 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. The same material, however, had to capable of melting for the spin-welding and flame-embedding process, in order to solve the manufacturability /assembly problems.
Media: Fleetguard’s new synthetic” NanoNet™ Media” features a unique consistent pore size to retain captured particles better than any competitive product. With no glass fiber, and generally impervious to water saturation, the new media improves engine protection, and longer filter life. In order to seal the pleat endcaps, the new Nano Net Media required a unique approach to replace traditional “potted” filter media seams. By working within the Cummins umbrella of manufacturing facilities, 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 allowed fewer components required to stock and build, a large variety of filter sizes.
Manufacturability: The nutplate and canister from metal filters were converted to resin components with a unique sealing component. 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 an exponential combination of modular designs allowing for varying thread patterns, nut plates, canister lengths and widths-allwith fewer overall components than before.