The Future of Filtration with Permatron

Have you ever wondered how much performance is actually reduced with dirty equipment? In this episode, Jim Moran of Permatron and Brian Gomski discuss HVAC equipment filtration and why it’s vital to peak performance.

Full show transcript:

Speaker 1:

Broadcasting around the world. Around the world. This is Engineering Tomorrow. The podcast committed to bringing you the best in commercial construction, design and engineering from the brightest minds in the industry. This is the stuff they don’t teach you in school. So sit back, relax and open your mind. You’re about to get the insider knowledge to improve your next construction project or advance your career. This is Engineering Tomorrow.

Brian:

Hey Engineering Tomorrow guests and loyal listeners. This is your host, Brian Gomski. And today we are with Jim Moran from Permatron. Jim is the data center and telecom account manager at Permatron. But you’re probably all wondering what the heck is Permatron? So I guess, Jim, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with Permatron and what exactly is Permatron?

Jim:

Yeah, absolutely. And thank you very much for having me on today, I appreciate it. So my background I’ve been in the industrial sales market for about 10 years now, and I did five of those years with Permatron. I got started with Permatron a relatively small filtration company that focused on air intake filtration, like I said, about five years ago. And it’s been the most exciting product I’ve ever sold. When I came into the company, I was seeing a lot … our biggest problem, I always told people was that not enough people know that our product exists. And as we’ve gotten it out in front of people, as we’ve contacted more and more people and saw that they are really running into a lot of challenges with their maintenance budgets and staying up on preventative maintenance, we’ve seen the products really explode over the last several years. So it’s been a really exciting ride and happy I got started in the filtration world about five years ago now.

Brian:

Okay. So when we talk about filtration, I guess what specifically? We’re talking about air filtration, right?

Jim:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Brian:

And so what [crosstalk 00:02:11] Go ahead

Jim:

Oh, I’m sorry.

Brian:

No, go for it.

Jim:

Yeah. So filtration in general it’s been great, especially during the pandemic, there’s been such a heavy focus on air filtration. And it’s been great seeing how many more people are paying attention to the air that they’re breathing and the contaminants that could be in that air. But with that said, historically, there’s just been such a lack of focus on pre-filtration and pre-filtration is really where we focus. So we don’t get into the high efficiency filters, the stuff that’s really downstream in an air system. Really what Permatron does is focuses on the pre-filtration and really paying attention to the fact that preventative maintenance takes up so much money of a company’s budget and we’re able to significantly lower the cost of that. So again, as people are really, really focused you on the HEPA filters and the [inaudible 00:03:03], I think kind of out of sight out of mind, as far as the rooftop equipment. But there is a real cost associated with that and we can really help them there.

Brian:

Okay. So your filters are going on your rooftop units, your outdoor tower cooling tower, air cold chillers, stuff like that?

Jim:

Exactly right. So you’ll see the vast majority, well over 90% of our filters are used outdoors. And the cool thing about our filter, whether it be a chiller, whether it be a makeup air unit, whether it be a cooling tower, our filter’s going to operate the same way on all of that equipment. So it’s going to be designed to be that first line of defense, and it’s going to stop that bigger debris from entering your system in the first place. So Cottonwood is really kind of our keyword. It’s the biggest offender we see, especially here in the Midwest and the other parts of the country as well. But really any kind of debris. There’s so much construction going on now and there’s just so much dust out there in the air.

Jim:

This year, we have the cicadas are coming. And I know that’s a big worry for people, especially with cooling towers, just getting their cooling towers full of cicadas. So again, it’s one of those things that over the years, kind of before our company really got going, nobody really thought about pre-filtration. If it maybe they’d roll some blue poly pads over the face of their unit and hope that that did a good enough job. Or we’d see people where they’d go to Home Depot and get window screening and two by fours and try to put something in front of their unit, hoping that it would stop some of this debris from getting into there in the first place. And when we came out with our product, I think about 15 years ago now, there was just an immediate need for it in the market and we’ve seen really impressive, quick growth.

Brian:

So aside from just the visual look of the equipment, what happens to this equipment when Cottonwood rains on it, when cicadas are getting into towers? What problem is Permatron solving inherently?

Jim:

Yeah. So there’s going to be, in my opinion, there’s three different types of equipment to look at. You look at your cooling towers and you look at cooling towers, we’re able to who significantly improve the water quality in cooling towers. When you look at chillers or really anything with a coil, we’re able to significantly reduce or even eliminate traditional coil cleaning. And then if you look at fresh air intakes, we’re able to extend the life of those pleated filters by two to three times. But really all of them, chillers, anything with the coil has kind of been our biggest focus over the years. As you’re starting to see that debris get in there, restricted airflow, higher temperatures, longer cycle times at reduced capacity, you’re going to see a lot of costly repairs.

Jim:

You’re going to see higher energy consumption. And then it’s also going to shorten the equipment life. The harder that equipment has to work, the shortest life is going to be, and that equipment is incredibly expensive. And then in the cooling tower world where I know you guys operate a lot, those strainers just get so clogged up. We’re working with the customer right now that told us they were seeing nearly immediate 75% reduction in strainer cleanings inside their cooling tower system, just because the Cottonwood was just getting into the water, making its way to the strainer, clogging up the strainer. They were saying, three times a week, they were having to go clean out the strainer. And we were able to capture all of that on the outside of the tower. And now something where they might have to shut down their equipment and get in there and clean out a strainer. And now they’re able to go right out to the outside of the unit and able to clean our filter in five to 10 minutes.

Brian:

Yeah. So that’s my next question. So stuff’s not getting on the coils or it’s not getting into the equipment, but it’s getting on your screens. So how do you clean the screens themselves?

Jim:

Yeah. Yeah. Great question. So I’m always very careful not to sell our product as a miracle solution. It’s not something that you’re able to throw on your equipment and say, I’m never going to have to clean anything again. You’re always going to have to clean something. The real benefit of our product is that when you’re looking at coil cleaning or strainer cleaning, something that historically could take an hour or more, with our filter, you’re looking about five to 10 minutes. With our filter it’s really easy to clean. There’s a lot of great options out there on how to clean it, I’ve seen people use all of them with a lot of success. The three I really recommend is a hard bristled broom, a regular ShopVac, or even a low pressure water source. And by low pressure water source, literally mean a garden hose.

Jim:

So nothing where you’re going to need a pressure washer. You just kind of run it down and you let it sheet it down. And then we’ve also gotten a lot of really good feedback from some really large customers of ours that rainwater does a very good job of passively cleaning the filter. And kind of bring into the next thing. The way our filter’s designed, it’s not going to operate like a filter in the traditional sense where debris meant to be caught inside the fibers of the filter. It’s really meant to be caught on the face. So our filter’s designed to face load and keep everything on the outside. One thing I tell people a lot is it’s designed to operate and clean a lot like the lint trap in your home dryer. You can go out there and you can kind of just pull it off. So because it is designed to operate that way, when you get rainwater coming down on a vertical surface, it does a really good job of just rinsing it off and it’ll just wash the debris right onto the rooftop.

Brian:

Okay. Yeah. Some people might be in picturing a HEPA filter or a filter in your furnace, but just describe kind of, I guess, what is it made out of? And, to me it’s like a larger version of a window screen or screen door material. Maybe give a little bit detail about that.

Jim:

Yeah, exactly right. So when you’re talking to somebody and you’re trying to get them the picture of the product that is a very good visual. It is a lot of people refer to our filters as screens because that’s what they look like, quite frankly. So the filter itself is going to be a 3D polypropylene media. And then that’s going to be surrounded by a vinyl border and then we’re going to have stainless steel grommets placed every 10 to 12 inches. So it’s going to look, using the screen example, it’s going to look like a screen that has a nice heavy duty, thick vinyl border around the outside. That’s going to be an inch and a quarter, and then we’re going to have the grommets that make it really easy to mount to your equipment. And we’re able to make these really large.

Jim:

So, again, to your point where people picture your filters and they picture a 20 by 20 or 24 by 24, we’re able to make these for some 400 ton chillers where we might be making them 500 inches by 90 inches tall. And because custom design, custom manufactured, everything’s done at our facility in house, we’re really able to work with customs. And I always tell people, if you can draw it, we can make it. Really any type of air intake. Anywhere you’re bringing air into your building, or you’re bringing air into your equipment, we do have a solution for that.

Brian:

So, okay. That’s a great point. So there are multiple manufacturers of in different sizes and shapes of everything. What’s the process … I guess, what do you need in order to build a custom screen for any rooftop or chiller?

Jim:

Yeah. So the way we do it, and maybe working through the sales process here a little bit too much, but what I always tell people if they’re curious on price and of course everybody’s curious on price, if they send us the make and model of the equipment, we’ll be able to tell them exactly what it would cost to get air intake filters put on that unit. Now, with that said, if they decide, hey, price looks good, we want to move ahead with this product. We do highly recommend that you get some field measurements and we have a really easy to follow how to measure guide. It’s one of the more straightforward things that you’ll do. And yeah, you just get the measurements for that, any type of cutouts where maybe you have piping running into the unit or conduit, we’re able to work around that piping.

Jim:

And it just gives it a really clean look. So I like to use the word custom assembled versus a custom made product. And that’s really assembled to order maybe is a better way to say that. I think a lot of times people hear custom and they think expensive. And the reason that our filters are custom is because most units are not the same. Units have unique hookups and they have unique looks. I’ve been on site before where there were two identical units right next to each other and they were a little bit different on where you put the cutouts for the piping. So that’s the reason that we make everything to order, but we’re still able to stay at, we typically never get over a two to three week lead time on our product.

Brian:

Okay. I’m looking on your website, tell me how you’re coming up with your kind of the energy and cleaning cost calculations of putting those screens on.

Jim:

Yeah. So for those, we obviously had to use really general numbers and we really use that with customers as really just kind of a starting point. And the biggest thing with that is really just to see, hey, there is a real cost associated with your air intakes getting clogged. There’s something there. And I think a lot of people overlook it. They know that their coils are clogged, they know they have to send somebody up to the roof to clean them off.

Jim:

But I think a lot of people overlook how much money that really costs. So for that calculator, and I tell customers I work with every day, that calculator is a really good starting point. I don’t want anybody to use that and take that as, this is exactly what it costs my facility. Use that as a starting point, see if the ROI of the product will make sense, and then let’s sit down and let’s go over all the numbers, get your exact cost of energy, your exact cost for any kind of emergency service calls. And then we can really put it together, a good ROI from there.

Brian:

How do these filters attach to the equipment?

Jim:

Yeah. So if you look at, or I know we’re doing a podcast here, but so as I said a little bit earlier, we’re going to have grommets spaced every 10 to 12 inches. And then with that, so we have two different mounting options. And then the mount’s going to attach to the unit, if you’re able to visualize this at all. The mount will attach to the unit. And then you’re simply going to take that grommet, you’re going to slide it over the post that’s on the mount, and then you’re going to flip a tab down.

Jim:

So you get a really quick install. And then with those mounts, we have two different options. You can either choose to screw the amount to the unit, or we have a magnetic version as well. And you’re able to stick the magnetic version to the unit. Typically, what we’ll see with the screwing version, you’re looking at 45 minutes to an hour per install with our magnetic version. You’re looking at about five to 10 minutes. And a lot of people like the magnetic version too, because you don’t have to screw into the unit. I know when people take a drill bit to a unit putting screw into it, they get a little bit nervous. I hear it’s quite expensive if you nick a coil while you’re trying to put a filter up. So understandably people get a little bit nervous about that.

Brian:

Are there any downsides using the magnets?

Jim:

Yeah, so obviously you get better holding power with our screw in mounts and they are a little bit less expensive as well. So what I really recommend for people, and I found this over the years to be the best way to mount our filter, is to use the screwing mounts in the corners. And you’re usually pretty safe in the corners. You can get away from the coils, so you’re not worried about hitting them. And then you use magnets everywhere else. So if you mount our filter that way, we’ve been wind tested by UL up to a hundred mile per hour winds that filters still going to stay onto the unit. And then you’re still looking at maybe you’re at about a 15 to 20 minute install time per filter.

Brian:

Gotcha. Okay. Are there any new innovations or products that you wanted to talk about? Any stuff coming out from Permatron?

Jim:

Yeah, so we’re always working on new stuff and we always, if the customer has any air intake challenges that they’re dealing with, we always encourage to reach out to us. Some of our products have come from people reaching out and saying, hey are you guys able to make this? And we looked into it and it worked really well and then we were able to make it for other customers as well. So that’s one big thing I like to tell people, we’re willing to try to make anything for your air intake challenges. Two of the things we’ve really been working on lately that I’m really excited about. We have a cooling tower filter system, and that’s just a way to, we ran into some instances with cooling tower owners where maybe they were up on a roof and they were up real high and people weren’t able to get on ladders to get up there to clean them or they’re right on the edge of a building.

Jim:

And it’s a little scary getting up on the edge on the ladder trying to clean a filter. So what we came out with was just a much easier way to raise and lower the filter. So it’d be attached to, without getting too much into, it’d be attached to a rope with kind of a ratchet strap on there, and you’re able to raise and lower the filter. We’ve had a lot of success with that already. That’s only been out, about the six months ago is when we really started selling it to people. And then in addition to that, we’ve been working a lot with what we call our IM filter and what our IM filter is, it’s going to be a panel filter. So we talk about the HEPA and everything it’s 20 by 20 size and we can make those in any size as well, but what it is with the panel filter, but it the same easy to clean polypropylene media in it that our prevent filter has.

Jim:

And we’re using that as a direct replacement, drop in replacement for metal mesh filters. And one thing I’ve seen over the years is … most people are using metal mesh filters at their facility and they don’t really know why. They come with the equipment and they’re in there and they think that that’s all they can use for their fresh air intakes. And a lot of people don’t like, they’re really difficult to clean when you try to get all the fibers, kind of get wound up inside of that, you try to clean them, they destroy them half the time. So we came out with our IM filter, which has been around for a while, but we started using it as a drop in replacement and it does everything a metal mesh filter could do and it does it better. So it offers better filtration, it’s a heck of a lot easier to clean, it’s available in any size. And we can make it in a variety of materials as far as the frame goes as well.

Brian:

Cool. What is the most debris you’ve ever seen on a coil?

Jim:

Yeah, so we’ve had a couple. We used to do a contest where people would send in pictures kind of the worst is the worst. I was actually on site in a facility in Michigan, late last year. And they had a unit that was kind of tucked into the corner. So you could see about 75% of the coil and that was getting a lot of attention. But then on the backside of it was by a fence and you could tell nobody had just gotten back there to clean it. I went back there, the Cottonwood on that coil was over four inches thick [crosstalk 00:18:50]. Yeah. It was a joke when we were saying the guy pulled it off, he’s like, I’m going to go home and make a sweater odd because I definitely have enough to do it.

Jim:

So it’s one of those things, if you don’t look at, that Cottonwood here in the Midwest, if you try to ignore it for even a couple weeks and then God forbid it goes a couple months, this stuff really starts to pile on pretty quick. But that was probably the worst I’ve seen. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve seen a lot where it’s over an inch thick and heavy cottonwood on coils, but yeah. To kind of see it there where it really hits some depth to it. That was a pretty unique one there.

Brian:

Yeah. At least right now in Missouri, it’s raining Cottonwood most of the time, it’s pretty intense.

Jim:

Looks like it snowing in May, right?

Brian:

Yeah. Really. And then we talk about the bigger stuff like the Cottonwood that we can see, but I would imagine even just larger dust particles and dirt would affect your performance that you might have to get a little bit closer to see on the coil. But yeah, I can imagine that could affect performance as well. Speaking of that, I guess, so what is the smallest particle size that the filters are able to capture?

Jim:

Yeah. So, again, the focus really is on it being a pre-filter. I try to make that as clear as possible when I’m talking to people that are just finding out about the product. But with that said, our product can catch down to 10 micron. Now, when we say that, we’re not saying we’re going to catch 90% at 10 micron. I want to make that really clear with people. But it is able to catch a lot of that finer debris. And we’re able to double layer our media as well. We’ve been using that for some customers in Arizona where they’re seeing big sand storms roll through or the dust storms.

Jim:

And at that point you can really get our filter to act more as a shield in front of your unit. When you’re getting that blowing sand, blowing dust or construction debris, at least something there. And it might not capture all of that really small debris, but it does a really good job of at least knocking it down as it’s kind of coming through and act as a barrier in front of that coil and at least try to eliminate some of it as it’s blowing through.

Brian:

Sure. The other thing we see in the Midwest in the north is hail. Even around here, a lot of the coils and stuff that we see on rooftops look like someone took golf balls to them. So do Permatron have a solution for hail prevention?

Jim:

Yeah, so we do. So we have a hail guard product. It’s at standalone product. It’s really good for units where maybe the retrofitting with the factory hail guard is really expensive. Our hail stop product is really inexpensive. It’s kind of a real inexpensive, easy way to get some protection on there. My real preferred method, if people are seeing hail damage, or they’re worried about seeing hail, if we’re able to take our prevent filter and build it off with the coil a little bit, a lot of times the unit will do that for you naturally, the coil will be set back a little bit. But if it’s not, if you’re able to build it out, maybe just use some channel around the outside and get it one and a half to two inches off the coil, what we see is you’re still going to get that protection from the general debris, the Cottonwood, the dust, the dirt that’s going through the air.

Jim:

And then it’s also going to be a really good protector against hail as well. Because if you build it off the coil and you get it nice and tight, we’re able to create somewhat of a trampoline effect where when the hails coming down, the hails very rarely is that hail going to be coming completely sideways, where you hit the coils. Typically it’s going to hit the roof and then it’s going to bounce off and then it’s going to nick your coil. So if we’ll just get something on there that’s built off of the coil, just have it bounce down, have it hit the roof and then have it bounce right off of our filter. So then you’re getting the hail protection and you’re getting the protection against Cottonwood and other debris as well.

Brian:

Cool. The other question I have, is there any, let’s assume that the unit is completely clean and you have the Permatron on pre-filters around the equipment. Is there any performance loss by having your filters on that equipment?

Jim:

Yeah, so not really. So we did get that independently tested as well, and I had that test data sheet and that’s after I do a webinar or I have an initial conversation with the customer, that’s always one of the first things I send them, just so they can kind of look at the curve based on CFM, what your pressure drops going to be, but it is extremely low and it’s significantly lower than what you would see kind of the minute you turn that unit on and Cottonwood or any kind of debris started getting on those coils. So and I get asked that in every presentation, I do what’s the pressure drop and our goal of the product is to make it so easy to clean and give you such great visibility of what’s getting captured on our filter, that you’re able to go out there, you’re able to clean it off and you’ll be seeing less, if you’re able to do that, you’ll see less pressure drop than you would ever see, not having our filters on there.

Brian:

Gotcha. Jim, I’m a huge fan of the product. I love to see it on every piece of equipment. Is there anything else you wanted to add or follow up with on about the Permatron on products?

Jim:

Yeah. I really appreciate you having me on, and the questions that you had asked kind of keeping that going, let me hit on all the points that I was hoping to hit on. So I totally agree with you. I’d like to see it on every piece of equipment out there as well. So I hope we keep seeing the uptake in interest that we’ve seen. It’s been incredible just from all over the country, well starting to get inquiries overseas as well, a lot of stuff in Hawaii. I haven’t been able to work out a trip for myself to Hawaii yet, but I’m hoping I have to do some kind of onsite visit there sooner than later.

Brian:

I’m sure. Yeah. You’ll you’ll need to go out there for sure.

Jim:

Yeah, exactly. I spend most of my time driving around the Midwest, so I think it would be a nice change of pace to have out to Hawaii. But it’s just interesting around the country, you see and it might not be Cottonwood and Cottonwood is really our keyword and here in the Midwest, but it’s all kinds of debris. The stuff I hear from people on the east coast, people were telling me about love bugs that they get in the summer and they get so many of these bugs that come, that the bugs are clogging up the intakes. I’ve talked to people down in Houston where they said the same thing about mosquitoes. They said the mosquitoes are so thick they get into the coils and they’re cutting off air to our units.

Jim:

So pine leaves. Leaves, debris, is something as goofy as a lot of hospitals we do where people are littering in the parking lot. They’re getting potato chip bags stuck to their coils because people are throwing garbage everywhere. So it’s been really a fun ride, seeing all the different challenges people are dealing with. And in the fact that we have an all in one solution that no matter what kind of debris you’re getting into your system, and no matter what kind of equipment you’re running, it’s going to be the same solution for us. And it makes it a really simple, easy to use and easy to understand product.

Brian:

Cool. So I would encourage all of the listeners today to go to Permatron.com and look at the products. And then of course our wonderful sponsor Midwest Machinery is a reseller of Permatron and visit MidwestMachinery.net. You can reach out to us on online chat or email or phone, and we can also help you out with those screens. So, Jim, thanks again. I really appreciate it. And hope plea we’ll have you on again sometime.

Jim:

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks again for having me. I really appreciate it.

Speaker 1:

Thanks for joining us on Engineering Tomorrow. If you liked the show, please take a moment to subscribe on iTunes or Spotify for even more great engineering or construction knowledge, visit EngineeringTomorrow.block.