Sy-Klone International’s Disruptive Technology Brings Industry Innovation
Sy-Klone International is a leading manufacturer of ejective air precleaning products with an unrivaled history of innovation in the field. The company holds more than 80 patents and is responsible for the invention and development of the world’s leading air precleaning technology.
“We provide clean air,” says Jeff Moredock, Executive Vice President of Sy-Klone International, “whether to the human lung, to an engine, to an electrical cabinet—any area that needs clean air. This is our mission.”
Since its inception, Sy-Klone has been focused on the development of a precleaning technology that will take particles out of the air before that air flows into an engine. At first, the team was working to improve existing technologies to connect to an engine’s intake system and use vacuum pressure to then drive a cyclonic separator that would pull dirt out of the air before it went into the filter housing. In 1996, the company developed the first polymer precleaner using this technology. This innovation was considered the first of Sy-Klone’s “disruptive technology”. It was adopted by Caterpillar, becoming a key product for the company during that time.
Using this technology, particles could be pulled out of the air at a level of efficiency proportional to the vacuum pressure created by the engine’s intake system. The problem was that as the engine changed speed, so did the pressure, which had a direct effect on the efficiency of the precleaning system. When the engine runs slowly, the precleaner runs slowly, and more particles find their way into the filter housing. Sy-Klone needed a way to keep the precleaning system running at a consistent speed, independent of the speed of the engine.
To meet this challenge, the company decided to incorporate an electric motor that would create a unique separation process, pulling out the particles with a consistent amount of energy. The result was a precleaner that could operate with a very high level of efficiency, the highest the team had ever achieved by a wide margin.
It was the year 2000 when Sy-Klone developed this new game-changing innovation, once again disrupting the technological thought process of the time. At first, the company didn’t quite realize what it had achieved. “We didn’t really understand what it was going to be used for at first,” says Moredock. “When you watched it work, it looked like magic. You threw dirt in one end, and it would all get ejected out, and the air going down into the filter was completely clean.” The team found out later that their “cyclonic” approach was removing particles down to 5 microns in size at better than 90 percent efficiency – an incredible achievement. Typically, these levels can only be achieved with an actual paper filter.
The purpose of a precleaning system is to pull as much particulate out of the air as possible before it gets to the filter that protects the engine. This helps to extend the filter’s lifetime and reduces the frequency with which it needs to be replaced. With the cyclonic system, Sy-Klone could see that almost no dirt made it to the filter, and the company realized that this could significantly increase the lifespan of these filters and substantially reduce cost in many applications. It seemed that this could be a very profitable invention for industrial applications, but it soon became apparent that the most important application for this product was the preservation of human life.
In June of 2003, the company met with a research scientist from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH is the workplace research arm for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that does research for the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) and the Mining Safety and Health Association (MSHA). NIOSH was researching for the CDC two workplace health concerns that were related to lung health. Elemental carbon (in the form of coal dust or unburned diesel exhaust) and silica dust were both recognized as class one carcinogens. Workers in various industries were breathing in these particles and getting sick. NIOSH was seeking an industry partner to help research the problem and if possible, develop a solution. They became interested in Sy-Klone’s precleaning technology, and the two organizations came together to push the innovation even further.
Traditionally, filters have always been used in the same way; there is a fan on one side which creates a vacuum on the filter, and particles are sucked into it from the opposite side. Whatever dirt is in the air gets pulled into the filter. The filtration efficiency is based on what percentage of that dirt the filter can capture; anything too small to be captured passes right through. Silica dust and elemental carbon in the 0.3 to 10-micron range are generally too small for these traditional filter systems to remove. Diesel engines aren’t perfectly efficient, which means that some unburned fuel makes it into the filter. That unburned fuel contains elemental carbon particles that pass right through the filter and into the enclosure, exposing the operator to carcinogens. Similarly, silica or quartzite dust is created when rocks that contain quartz are chipped or broken down. If it’s fragmented small enough, the dust can pass right through the filters, into the enclosure and find its way into lungs. You could increase the efficiency of the filter so that it could capture particles of that size, but the filter would severely restrict airflow. Sy-Klone’s system was the right fit.
Impressed by Sy-Klone’s contributions to the industry, NIOSH decided to work with Sy-Klone towards a filtration solution. Unburned diesel particulate matter (DPM) and respirable crystalline silica were finding their way into the operator cabins of mining and construction machinery. NIOSH and Sy-Klone needed first to find out how it was getting in, and second, to develop a technology that could keep the air inside the cabin clean so that the operator exposure would be below the regulatory limits. For thirteen years, these two organizations worked on this problem and developed an enormous body of research, discovering the root cause, and finally incorporating Sy-Klone’s technology into real machinery to protect the lung health of human operators.
Through this endeavor, Sy-Klone developed additional technologies to improve the system beyond the precleaning system. It developed an entirely new filter media that can stop particles at 0.3 microns with 95 percent efficiency, once again disrupting the industry with its innovation. In an environment where a conventional filter would last 24 to 72 hours, these new RadialSHIELD® filters combined with the RESPA® technology can last 1000 hours. The company has developed a system that can pull particles down to 5 microns out of the air before they get to the filter, while the filter itself can stop particles down to 0.3 microns. Finally, the air that’s left over gets sent into the operator cabin where it can be safely breathed – and here, another key innovation is at play. The system pushes the air into the cabin at a rate that keeps the pressure inside higher than the pressure outside. This creates a positive pressure inside the cabin so that air can only leak outward. This means that if there is dust outside, it can’t get into the cabin because any small openings that might exist have air coming out of them, preventing air from infiltrating.
Adding to this cab filtration technology, the company recently developed its latest line of powered precleaners for use on engines. According to Moredock, “This system, known as the XLR (Extra Low Restriction) Powered Precleaner®, provides both a high-efficiency powered precleaner and high-efficiency 0.3-micron filter for engine applications. This revolutionary system protects all engines and specifically Tier 4 engines from the harmful effects of microscopic particles which can clog the re-gen system. It works exceptionally well in extreme environments.” Sy-Klone continues to produce innovation based upon its patented RESPA Powered Precleaning technology.
Sy-Klone began patent work in 2000, and today the company has more than 80 patents worldwide. All of its competitors are still doing things the old way, with a filter and a fan. They suffer from the same problems that have always been suffered in this area: the filters get dirty very quickly and the system fails. Sy-Klone is well ahead of the pack.
Sy-Klone’s contribution to research in filtration was part of the volumes of knowledge provided to OSHA which resulted in the release of a new OSHA regulatory code related to silica dust in October of 2017. The new regulatory code is designed to limit the levels of exposure to silica dust on worksites, and the recommendations are listed in part 12 of the code document. This is a very exciting development for the company, as it enables Sy-Klone to not only have an aftermarket presence in retrofitting existing machines for immediate protection, but OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are also coming on board, creating a longer-term solution for protecting workers.
“What Sy-Klone wants to see,” says Moredock, “is that every worker in the world who has to work inside an operator enclosure is protected so that they can go to work eight hours and not suffer lung disease as a result. OEMs build hundreds of thousands of machines every year worldwide. The greatest benefit to machine operators will come as more machines come factory-equipped with RESPA technologies.”
More recently, the company has expanded into providing filtration systems for human occupied buildings. It has also expanded beyond particle filtration into molecular (gas) filtration for environments that contain toxic gases such as the ammonia or sulfur dioxide that are commonly used in agricultural and metallurgical processes. These are a few among many developments that represent the primary mission of Sy-Klone: preserving the lung health of people. “If you can picture a glass,” says Moredock, “you start with a glass that’s empty. That’s your lung. It has more than enough capacity to get you through your life. As you live your life, you start filling up your glass. Every time you breathe in non- soluble respirable dust you do something bad to your lungs – woodworking in your garage, or pulling concrete out of a bag in your backyard to put in a post – you’re breathing in respirable particulate and it never leaves. If you go to work every day and you fill your lungs with dust, you’re filling your glass, and reducing your lung capacity. Knowing the power of the RESPA Technology to preserve lung heath, we felt morally compelled to do something with it.”
Sy-Klone has built a very successful business on clean air and the prospect of saving lives and reducing the cost of maintaining a machine. It has developed innovative technologies that protect workers from respiratory disorders, and over the course of its 30-year history, it has helped to change the direction of the industry, by disrupting existing technologies for the greater good.