Clean Air Solution

August 23, 2013 10:52 PM

Pre-cleaners protect engine by clearing dust

Just as farmers and the livestock they care for rely on clean air to survive, so does ag equipment. That’s why component manufacturers say farmers should consider the benefits of an air pre-cleaner, which can remove 75% or more of incoming dust and debris, depending on the size and design.


Stainless steel components and an aluminum hood underpin the eight sizes of Centri pre-cleaners.

"You don’t have the cost or downtime for changing the filters as often," says Ted Crary, division manager for Diversafab, which manufactures the Centri Air Pre-Cleaner. "When you have cleaner air going to the engine, it also gives you better fuel efficiency."

Air pre-cleaners can extend filter life by five to 20 times, says John Fitzgerald, strategic product manager for Donaldson Company Inc., whose air pre-cleaner product line includes the new TopSpin HD.

A farmer who might normally spend $50 per week to replace a filter might instead replace it once a month with a pre-cleaner, saving $2,000 each year, Crary says. Factor in more fuel efficiency, maintenance costs and other expenses, and the benefits quickly add up.

Frank Donaldson Sr., a former tractor salesman, started Donaldson Company Inc. in 1915 after observing the amount of dust that machines ingest. What began as a simple air filter composed of a cage and Spanish moss has grown to $2.5 billion in annual sales and a full line of air cleaners, pre-cleaners and various components.

DRM Diversafab Corp. began in 1983, and the Centri brand began when the manufacturer’s owners redesigned a competitive pre-cleaner for improved performance, Crary says. The company expanded in 1994.

Wide application. Pre-cleaners can be used on just about any agricultural equipment with an engine, Crary says, from tractors to utility loaders to off-road trucks.

Pre-cleaners such as Donaldson’s TopSpin HD for plowing and tillage applications work well in severe duty applications, Fitzgerald says. Many pre-cleaners have smaller tubes to handle fine debris, while those for harvesting applications generally feature larger tubes.


As air spins inside this Donaldson pre-cleaner, debris moves to the outside of the flow and is ejected.

Aftermarket pre-cleaners can range from $100 to near $450. Farmers can add a pre-cleaner to the hood of an existing tractor or other machine, depending on available space and layout, says Mike Anderson, director of Donaldson’s product management group. Companies such as Donaldson also routinely work with OEMs whose machines generally come with pre-cleaners integrated into the engine’s air-induction system.

Filter out dirt. Air pre-cleaners function by spinning air through a tube or baffle system, pushing larger particles of debris toward the outside of the flow, Fitzgerald says. Depending on the pre-cleaner type, debris is then sucked out or ejected into the environment through an opening. The remaining air travels through the air cleaner and then on to the engine as clean air.

Centri pre-cleaners, composed of stainless steel components and an aluminum hood, are offered in eight sizes ranging from 50 cu. ft. per minute (cfm) up to 1,600 cfm, Crary says. Two air pre-cleaners can work in tandem for additional airflow.

Airflow and not intake should be the determining factor when sizing a pre-cleaner, he says. Farmers can get that airflow information from the equipment manufacturer or by performing a simple calculation factoring in the cubic inch displacement of the engine, operating revolutions per minute and aspiration.

In the future, manufacturers will be challenged to build higher-performing, smaller air-cleaning systems as engine cooling and emissions packages grow, reducing available space under the hood. For example, Power Core G2 cleaning technology from Donaldson enables installation of an air cleaner that is 60% smaller than traditional cleaners.

Manufacturers need to continue to work at placing pre-cleaners out of the operators’ line of sight, Fitzgerald adds.

Air pre-cleaner demand will remain as manufacturers improve effi­cien­cies, Crary says. "Pre-cleaners work well, and they save customers money." 

You can e-mail Nate Birt at

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