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What is silica and how does it harm diesel engines in heavy duty equipment?

What is silica and how does it harm diesel engines in heavy duty equipment?

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It doesn’t take a lot of dust or dirt to bring the diesel engines that power today’s heavy equipment coming to a halt. Even these large, hulking pieces of modern machinery, which at times may seem nearly indestructible are only as strong and reliable as many of the parts that are crucial to protecting them and keeping them operating.

That includes air filters. Without a clean air filter, the heavy equipment that are so often relied upon on construction sites and farms will not run as efficiently. The engines will have to work even harder to get the job done, which means more money spent on fuel and, possibly, more repair and maintenance bills.

But what, exactly, is it about dust that poses such a significant problem for the air filters that protect these engines from performance hiccups and failures? Well, if your air filter is clean, then not a whole lot. If you have been skipping cleaning heavy equipment air filters, though, then that’s another story.

You see, there’s this material found in dust called silica that gets worked up by construction tasks, such as demolishing buildings, breaking up concrete or brick, etc. Once silica gets past an engine air filter is the moment when the problems begin to occur.

What is silica?

Silica found in dust goes by several names. It’s a problem that’s well-known in several different industries, including construction, mining, manufacturing as well as others, because it’s not just a problem for equipment engines.

Silica comes in two different forms: crystalline silica and amorphous. Crystalline silica, unlike amorphous, is hazardous to worker health.

Workers in these industries can be exposed to crystalline silica when they cut, grind or break down the same materials that the heavy equipment works around, such as concrete, sand, brick, stone and others. Overexposure to and inhaling this silica, which once it is airborne is called respirable silica, can cause silicosis (a type of lung disease) and even lung cancer. This is why personal protective equipment is important in these industries.

But for this blog, we are going to focus on the problems that silica, no matter the form, and other dust and dirt particles can cause for heavy equipment and their diesel engines.

What does silica do to heavy equipment engines?

Summer is known as construction season in many parts of the country. While construction work occurs throughout the year, it’s this season when there is the most work to be done and activity really picks up.

However, all that construction activity in the summer can cause incredibly dusty conditions that are ripe for silica issues with your equipment and machinery.

How does silica get past air filters in the first place?

Silica can get through dirty or damaged air filters that are not performing at optimal efficiency levels just like anything else in the air. A dirty or damaged air filter – or one that is simply beyond its shelf life – won’t do much at all to keep silica away from your engine

Once it’s airborne, the silica can proceed into the intake air that your engine needs. With a clean air filter that’s working properly, the silca won’t get through. However, silica that does bypass the filter becomes a lapping compound. At that point, all those critical moving parts found in the engine – piston rings, valves, cams, etc. – are in trouble.

What are the problems associated with dirty air filters?

Performance issues are likely the most common when it comes to dirty air filters. Air filters that have not been cleaned result in more fuel needing to be consumed to keep the engine running effectively, which can force operators to spend more money on fuel than what is normal.

Also, when a filter begins to deteriorate, operators may at first realize that the engine is derating to avoid even more damage being done. At this point, the engine simply won’t get the same output as it is not working as effectively as it should. If the engine has to keep operating beyond this point, then the machinery may require you to limp it back before it completely fails.

How can I keep my fleet’s air filters clean?

There are several ways to know when too much silica or other dirt and grime have leaked through a dirty air filter.

You may be able to check for silica during oil sampling. According to Equipment World, even a small pinhole in the filter media element likely will result in silica showing up in oil samples at some point.

A more reliable method for checking how well air filters are functioning is to have a restriction gauge installed that can indicate to equipment operators that an air filter has become dirtier than what is ideal. Some more modern equipment models come with these gauges, while others are able to have the extra piece installed.

Finally, operators can visually inspect the air filter. However, great care should be taken when checking air filters as opening up the element could expose it to even more dust and dirt.

No matter how you determine how well your equipment’s air filters are performing, it is best to make sure you understand how to clean heavy equipment air filters – and have the tools on hand to do the job right without damaging the filter element.

Try our Filter Blaster products

That’s where our Filter Blaster products can help. With Filter Blaster, you can safely and easily clean heavy equipment diesel engine air filters without having to fear you might damage the filter itself during the process. Some manufacturers may warn against cleaning air filters, but we have designed our products to prevent damage and to thoroughly clean air filters.

We have also tested our products in many different pieces of equipment in different settings. The test results show that cleaning air filters is a great way to keep engines running more efficiently, resulting in money saved on fuel costs and fewer engine problems, leading to better engine performance and longer engine life.

Shop our Filter Blaster products today.