in Vol. 15 - May Issue - Year 2014
Successful Innovation Starts With Your Customers
Lee Morgan, the President of Camfil APC
Lee Morgan with a Farr Gold Series
Lee Morgan is President of Camfil Air Pollution Control (APC). He joined Camfil APC in 1997 and has over 20 years of experience in the dust collection industry encompassing virtually every aspect from applications, equipment design and development, to marketing, sales, and customer service. With a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from South Dakota State University in Brookings, Morgan is also the Research Subcommittee Chairman of ASHRAE TC 5.4, Industrial Process Air Cleaning. Camfil APC (www.camfilapc.com) is a global manufacturer of dust and fumes collection equipment and is part of Camfil, the largest air filter manufacturer in the world.
(?) MFN: What customer and industry issues were you addressing with the design and manufacture of Farr Gold Series® High Vacuum pneumatic receiver, and how have customers responded to it?
(!) L.M.: The thing I came to realize about our dust collection equipment is that on the face of it, it doesn't make any product or profit for our customers. When they buy a new item of manufacturing or processing plant, they get excited about it. When it comes to buying a dust collector, it's almost always driven by compliance with air quality legislation, so it becomes a "grudge purchase" and they want the cheapest they can buy. I well understand that, and it's our marketing challenge to get them to see otherwise!
When we reviewed Camfil APC a while back, I read an article saying that at least 90% of people who owned a dust collector hated it, so I asked myself why? I kept coming back to that drive to buy the cheapest, that customers just weren’t seeing the value in owning a dust collector, let alone a better one. So, when we decided to design a better dust collector, we set about getting as much customer feedback as we could.
The Farr Gold Series started out ambitiously as "the ultimate dust collector project" and when we interviewed people about it, they said things like: "I want the filters to be easier to change and they need to last longer. All my dust collectors are thin-gauge wimpy things where the sides move in and out when it pulses. Can you make me something heavier duty?"
All these things came together when we made a modular dust collector, one that was bolted together. We made it easier to change the filters. We made it all cam-lock action, no threads involved, so the doors are easier to open. There are cam-lock bars to change the filters, so we removed all the difficulties with changing them, and then we made it from a heavier steel, and powder-coated the whole thing.
So far, so good, but now of course it was more expensive, so we had to really go out to the market and tell them this was not only better, but why it was worth paying the extra from their perspective.
We felt customers should see it for themselves, so we put one of the Farr Gold Series units on a trailer and took it to our customers. At the time, we had some 50 GS4s (units using four cartridges) around the country. Once they could touch it and feel it, the customers' responses were typically, "OK, now I get it!"
Having been a $5 million dust collection company in 2000, today we're a $120 million dust collection company, and it's all down to two things: the Farr Gold Series and our finding ways not only to give our customers something better, but something they can see the intrinsic value of using in their plant.
The really interesting thing was that once they got one, they wanted another. We don't lose a customer once they get one Farr Gold Series. The maintenance people are our best ambassadors, saying things like "This one actually works and we really like it!"
So that's where we're at with the Farr Gold Series. It's a square dust collector that we've been marketing, selling and supporting for sixteen busy years.
In the meantime, the pneumatic feed and high vac customers asked if we could take the easy-to-change Farr Gold Series Gold Cone Filters and put them in a high vacuum product. So our engineers went to work, and voila: we had the Farr Gold Series high vacuum. It's got all the fundamentals of our long-life Gold Cone filter cartridge, but now it's combined with the cam-lock action that makes them easier to slide out, and that means you don't have to climb inside the dust collector and unbolt stuff. Customers really like that!
There are two markets the Farr Gold Series high vacuum is addressing. One is pneumatic conveying applications where they're conveying actual product (like out of a rail car, sucking out sugar or flour or fume silica) into a pneumatic receiver, and that means working with very high pressures.
The other is for a central vac application in a pharmaceutical facility, where they'll have both a Farr Gold Series low vacuum just for general dust collection, and then a high vac round unit connected to a bunch of ports where they can have a vacuum wand sucking up dust that's spilled on the floor.
(?) MFN: Is innovation a priority in the way Camfil APC operates, and how does R&D/product development factor into your overall business model?
(!) L.M.: Innovation's central to our strategy. Frankly, the dust collection industry has been pretty sluggish with very little innovation, due to this heritage of people buying the cheapest.
We believed that by adding innovation, along with long life, high efficiency, and easy-to-change filters, it would make dust collectors something people wanted to buy. So that's what we've gone and done: we're constantly trying to innovate, update and upgrade around our customers' needs.
We've got a full R&D lab here with guys constantly playing with new media, and what we call "pleat spacing." One of the biggest innovations we've come out with in the last few years is a thing called "HemiPleat", a bead separator that means the pleats don't touch.
Efficiencies have gone up in our whole industry and that's been a good thing to see. Better filtration media have come out, to the point where we can get virtually zero emissions out of dust collectors these days.
(?) MFN: How do you encourage potential customers to see this as an investment rather than an expenditure?
(!) L.M.: Fire and forget! Basically, if they do dust collection right, they won't know it's even happening. When management hears about the dust collector after it's installed, it's always because there is a problem.
When a dust collector is doing its job, it'll tend to be in the back corner or in a maintenance room, and everybody forgets about it. In a way, that's a good thing. If it does its job, if the air is clean, then it's sucking away the dust, and it's pulsing the dust off the filters and down into a collection system. No hassle.
The only time anyone is talking about the dust collector is when it's not sucking, and that dust is getting in the air because it's blowing away the dust - something is going wrong. That's why we like it when everything is working right - nobody is complaining. That's our goal.
Then, when it's time to change the filters, it should be a nice easy process where the maintenance people aren't complaining about how awful it is. The goal should be "no confined space entry" where no one should ever have to enter the dust collector to change the filters. While we and some of our competitors have that feature, the big old bag houses that are still being sold mean someone still has to go in with those confined space entry permits, and gas monitoring equipment. Yet the fact is with our systems you simply don't have to do that anymore, and that's where we'd like to see the whole industry.
(?) MFN: So how do you get at those customers who are still using those old school bag house operations?
(!) L.M.: Good question. There's no escaping the fact that some of it is still price-driven. There are still markets that are still going to buy the cheapest thing; a small grain elevator doesn't have a lot of money.
But despite that kind of budget issue, we see many customers choosing to do it right. They think more in terms of maintaining the plant, and not exposing their employees to risk, or having them do something they shouldn't be. They'll spend the money on high efficiency, proper dust collection.
A lot of it has to do with the size of the dust. The more it's a smoke or a difficult particle, the more you're going to have to buy high efficiency filtration. There again, some things like wood and agricultural dust don't need high end filters to stop it and meet the compliancy codes.
Some are switching to high efficiency filtration just to save energy by re-circulating the air back in the building, so they buy something nicer because they perceive a tangible payback, real added value.
It can be ROI on energy savings, or it can be that cost of maintenance is getting too expensive. Or it can be the cost of downtime: some bigger factories can't afford a minute of downtime. We do a lot of work in mining, and shutting a mine can cost a million bucks a day or more, so whatever you install has to work and keep on working.
25 years ago the cartridge filter and pleated high efficiency filtration was just coming out and everywhere they had bag houses and shakers. Now 70% of the market is high efficiency filtration, with 30 percent of the market being what I'd call low efficiency filtration.
I think it's going to keep growing in the high efficiency direction, especially as regulations tighten on emissions and more people want to re-circulate the air to save energy. Another big driver for a heavier duty dust collector box is concern with explosive dust risks. The box has to have the structural integrity to either suppress or force the explosion out through the explosion vent. The whole point is to save lives at work.
(?) MFN: What do you think Camfil APC does better than anybody else?
(!) L.M.: One thing where nobody can touch us is order to delivery: we will ship dust collectors in about a week, while giving the customer what they want. Nobody else can do that.
We can custom design a dust collector the way you want it, and still ship it to you very fast. And because that's another thing that makes Camfil APC the most maintenance-friendly dust collector company in the business, the users actually like owning it. That's the complete reverse of where we started, in an industry where 90% of owners hated their dust collection equipment.
The fact we have the ability to ship in about a week also gets a lot of customers out of a jam. It's amazing how often people get a piece of process machinery - a grinder, a laser table or something - turn it on, and smoke starts coming out of it. Then they remember, "OMG, we never bought the dust collector that goes with this thing!" And you know what? We can take care of them right away, and we never charge a premium for it.
That's why I think we do the best job for the customer. We're in a business where this sort of thing is pretty much under the radar. People don't wake up in the morning thinking "I need to buy a dust collector today." But we try to make sure that when they do, they're going to be really happy they came to Camfil APC.
MFN would like to thank Lee Morgan for the interview!