When every dollar counts, every fraction matters. And right now, there is perhaps no industry where every dollar counts more than fleet management. Supply chain issues have forced more downtime, and fuel costs have also increased. Both eat into profits. Smart operators are looking for every possible way to increase efficiency. Even seemingly small incremental improvements can offset big operational costs elsewhere.
These efficiencies are often found in unexpected places. Let’s take air filtration, for example. Most fleet managers have a general understanding that airflow through an engine impacts fuel economy. But how much analysis is put into that idea? Is it noted and filed away, or is there an action item to be tackled? Here’s a better question that cuts right to the core of the issue: If we could improve air filtration efficiency by just a small fraction, how would that efficiency pay off?
Turns out, it’s quite a bit. A fleet with 600 or more trucks using Donaldson’s PowerCore air filtration technology can recover more than $100,000. This is due to the relationship between the air filter and engine. Air filters restrict air flow and negatively impact fuel efficiency. But your air filtration system collects harmful particulate that could significantly reduce engine performance, if not cause catastrophic damage. The pros of air filtration obviously outweigh the cons by a significant amount. Efficient, effective air filtration is a must, whether you’re managing an on-road or off-road fleet. No one would argue otherwise.
However, arguments have been made over how much to spend on air filters. Is there really a reason to buy a high-quality filter for an on-road fleet that might not ever see significantly dusty conditions? Yes, there is—and this is where our fractions come into play. For argument’s sake, let’s imagine a high-quality air filter does the same job as a low-quality filter in keeping dirt, dust, and other contaminant from entering the engine and causing downtime or hard costs. If that were true (it isn’t), why would you pay more money per unit? Maybe you wouldn’t. But let’s say the high-quality filter does that job, and also restricts air flow to the engine 25% to 50% less than the lower-quality filter. That means more clean air gets into your engine to work with your fuel, allowing the engine to work more efficiently and consume less fuel.
In addition, some higher-quality filters also offer higher dust-loading capacity than your bargain-basement filters and last longer before reaching “terminal restriction.” Donaldson research has shown that you could be sacrificing 13% to 35% of your dust-holding capacity with a cheaper air filter. In an on-road fleet that isn’t seeing a lot of dust and debris, those seem like small percentages. But they do add up. The quicker a filter becomes plugged, the more frequently it must be changed. If these changes aren’t scheduled maintenance, they can be logged as “unexpected downtime.” How much per hour is that sidelined vehicle costing you? Is it as much or more than the difference in filter cost?
This net benefit is a reason Donaldson offers high-quality filters. It makes good economic sense. And it should be common sense to fleet managers who can see the long game and understand a fraction in dollars or minutes adds up. Fractions quickly become whole numbers, and whole numbers add up.
Because they impact dust capacity and fuel economy, Donaldson found investing in top-of-the-line air filters returns $175 per year per truck. That might not seem like much, but let’s multiply that $175 by the number of trucks in your fleet. If you’re managing a fleet of 600, that adds up to $105,000. That’s a whole lot.
The other thing to consider is cost of downtime. The true cost is of course specific to your fleet and the jobs the vehicles do. But when considering things like your choice in filtration, whether it’s air, fuel, engine oil, or even hydraulic, ask yourself, “How much does it cost when my vehicles aren’t on the job?” In many cases, a single hour of unplanned downtime could trump a vehicle’s entire filtration budget for the year.
If you can start off with the right filtration options, proven to work reliably and efficiently, you now can stay on the road and save money doing it. And you can be assured that thinking about filters will only take up a fraction of your time.
Nate Neudecker is an engine air aftermarket product manager for Donaldson.