The High Cost of Dirty Air Infiltrating the Engine

Published On:

April 17, 2024

3 Invisible Killers of Heavy Mobile Equipment and Fixed Plant Engines

Mines, quarries and waste handling sites are complex operations, and keeping heavy equipment at peak performance is essential for efficiency and profitability. Engines are the heartbeat of the operation and are vulnerable to premature failure from three sources: dust; dirty fuel; and dirty oil.


Dust entering the engine starts with poor filter seals, allowing bypass, and overly coarse filter media that allows the finest dust to pass through. It only takes 1 teaspoon of fine dust to destroy an engine.

Dirty Fuel

Once the dust has entered via the air intake, it is injected into the fuel chamber. Dirty air mixed with the fuel can lower BTU, can affect air-to-fuel ratio, cause afterburning in the exhaust system, and ultimately damage fuel pumps, fuel injectors, fuel regulators and other components in the fuel system that will significantly reduce the performance of the engine.

Dirty Engine Oil

Worst of all, the dust from the intake, now in the cylinder, is wearing down the liner and piston, pushing down past the rings and into the engine oil. Your engine lubricant, instead of allowing parts to glide smoothly, is now acting as an abrasive, altering the viscosity and lowering the film strength of the oil. All the moving parts of the engine are being worn down from the inside. Routine oil samples, the health check of an engine, show this progression from dirt in the oil to metal particles as engine parts are worn down. The ultimate result is premature death of the engine.

High Cost of Dust Infiltration

The cost to rebuild or replace an engine in heavy equipment is astronomical, and unplanned downtime of key equipment disrupts operations, increasing the negative impact to the bottom line.

Air Intake Precleaners

Fortunately, by implementing the right controls at the very beginning of the process, the air intake, you can prevent the main cause of dust, dirty fuel, and dirty engine oil.

Air precleaners have used since the 1950’s to remove dirt from the airflow prior to the engine filter, but traditional precleaning methods pose their own problems. Dust bowls require frequent emptying which is often forgotten. Ejective precleaners are somewhat effective when the engine is working but inefficient at idle speeds, allowing dust into the engine. Tube body precleaners are prone to clogging and are difficult to service. Oil baths are heavy and cumbersome to service.

All add significant restriction to the air intake, and the higher the restriction, the more likely it is that fuel and dust will contaminate the oil.

The Solution: Powered Precleaning

Sy-Klone International, technology leaders in powered precleaning, have incorporated a motor and fan into the precleaner to shield a machine from the harmful and damaging effects of down-stream dust, by providing machine owners sustained, clean air flow regardless of the machines operating state.  Additionally, because the powered precleaner is pushing air to the engine, restriction is extremely low, despite the incorporation of a super high-efficiency filter.

The Sy-Klone Effect

“The patented Sy-Klone separation effect actively manages air, creating a rotating column of dirty air, ejecting the heaviest dirt and debris from the filter housing before ever reaching the integrated filter. What is left in the calmer, eye-of-the-debris-storm is the finest dust, which is gently landed on the filter,” explained James Moredock, founder. He went on to comment “In the eye of the Sy-Klone, debris does not collide or damage the filter media, preserving filter media integrity. Controlling the speed at which dust is landed on the filter also allows Sy-Klone products to build a fine layer dust across the filter face, which easily falls off and is ejected from the filter housing during the normal course of operating the machine, giving the filter self-cleaning properties which extend filter life and improve performance.”

Picture of XLR and VortexMAX

Vortex Max & XLR Powered Precleaner

Building on the proven performance of the XLR Powered Precleaner which can preclean and filter up to 350 CFM (9.91 m3/min), Sy-Klone has introduced a more powerful product, the Vortex MAX, which has an optimal range of 300-600 CFM (8.5-17 m3/min) of airflow. Most engine filters are tested on coarse test dust and can allow the finer, damaging dust to pass through. Sy-Klone’s proprietary process allows use of high-efficiency filtration, achieving 99.95% efficiency on ISO fine test dust, so only clean air reaches the engine filter.

The Vortex Max can move a large amount of air while occupying a surprisingly small footprint. On most machines, a single unit will suffice, eliminating the need for multiple units connecting to an air mixing plenum or elaborate plumbing. This simplifies installation, and allowing for both above the hood and below the deck installations. The power draw is also low, and both 12-volt and 24-volt systems are available.

Sy-Klone’s powered precleaners for engines have been proven in some of the most extreme mining environments in the world, providing clean air to engines in a variety of climate conditions from high altitudes with cold and snow, to blazing Australian Outback dust and heat. Vortex Max will be a game changer in mitigating the threats dust, dirty fuel, and dirty oil pose to engines worldwide.

How XLR Powered Precleaner and Vortex MAX Work

  • Clean air enters the housing where it is whipped into a high-speed vortex
  • Heavier than air debris is flung to the outside walls where it spirals to the ejection port and exits the housing
  • Fine particles that remain suspended in the calm center are gently pushed through the high-efficiency filter media
  • Precleaned and filtered air is pushed to the outlet, providing a low restriction clean airflow to the engine air intake

Vibration events, such as slamming door on cab or going over rough tracks cause the fine dirt to fall from the filter and be ejected with other debris.


Installing the right engine powered precleaner can improve uptime, lengthen engine life, and provide protection even when machines are sitting at idle on the job site. Contact Desert Engineering for more information.