In this interview with Robin Zoufalik, we offer a deep-dive into the CleanAlert's air filter monitoring technology.
Q: Tell us about FilterScan. What is that technology, how was it conceived of, and what was the essential premise of the Filter Scan technology?
A: Well the technology is a patent pending new way of measuring static pressure and it's a proven technology, it's been tested, and previously you either had the non-technology of visual inspection of filters for whether they were clogged or not. Most people determined whether filters were clogged or not by how dirty they were, which doesn't really tell you whether they're clogged or not. It also built on the premise that a magnehelic, which is an accepted technology that basically measures the pressure drop across the filter and tells you how the pressure drop goes up. The definition of a clogged filter is that whatever the static pressure drop is when you install a clean filter, when that filter static pressure across doubles then that indicates a clogged condition which is an industry standard. The Filter Scan technology allows you to do that either upstream or downstream of the filter and it allows you to do that with one single probe, basically. So, it's simplified, it's automatic, and it's well tested for the application.
Q: Okay, so now let's imagine dark days before Filter Scan was invented. What were the typical problems that managers of facilities faced when trying to understand the right times to change their air filters.
A: I wouldn't categorize it as a problem. I would categorize it as a nuisance, and so, there's really been three methods of how facility managers determine a clogged filter. Like I said, the visual, the magnehelic, or a calendar, and based on our experience and many of the clients and prospects that we've been talking to, the calendar method is the most prevalent. What that means is that a company changes the filters either on a quarterly basis, three times a year, two times a year, and there's no real scientific or technical data that tells you whether the filter is clogged or not.
So, what the problem is, is that you're wasting money if you change the filters out too frequently because you're basically spending more money on filters because the filters have a longer life and you're basically ignoring that they're still viable. If you don't change the filters out quickly enough, you have really negative consequences of running in air with a clogged filter. And a very simple thing, it's energy, which it costs more energy to run that air through the clogged filter, and a major issue is that at some point you are going to have failure in your air handling system. Which results in costly repairs and/or replacement of equipment. So, from a Filter Scan wifi thing is that we get rid of nuisance and we get you effective on cost and also freeing your people from reacting. They're more proactive by the information they get from the Filter Scan wifi.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the remote monitoring technology component works, and how people can access the data, to collect it through the software associated with the Filter Scan device.
A: Right, so you start with the monitor itself, and at $99 for each device, and you need one device per air handler. It's a very reasonable cost. Secondly, then you install it, and you can install it either on the upstream side or the downstream side, and/or if you'd like you can measure the differential pressure across the filter with an extra tubing kit. From there, you pair the device to your wifi within the building and most people ask us about the security of that, well, the device has a unique IP address. It doesn't have any information on the building that it's in, or who the owner is, or anything like that, that could be ... If someone hacks in and they see this device, all they're going to see a serious of numbers that mean nothing to them.
Once the device is paired, the data is transmitted to the Clean Alert server and that data then is available online on the Air Filter Sentry which identifies all the Filter Scans that you have in your facility. They are tagged with whatever you'd like to tag them; maybe building 1, air handler 1, or maybe air handler 1 on Logan Street, or whatever you want. That's very customizable. It will then show you when the last time the Filter Scan got the data and what percentage of clogging the filter is at, and as the filter rises in the percentage clog then you can proactively plan your activity.
One thing that I failed to mention earlier is once you install the Filter Scan wife, there is an indication that you can now put in a new filter. That's the basis of the initial measurement of static pressure, and when that static pressure doubles the wifi then sends a signal, either to a cell phone or your computer, to alert you that the filter is now clogged.
Q: So, we've now spoken about the software side of things. Let's just focus on the hardware for a second. Talk to me about the installation process of the unit. How straight forward is that? What does that look like? If I'm standing there, imagine I was standing here with a unit and I'm thinking how on earth do I go about installing this? Is it quite straight forward?
A: Yes. There are three models. One is battery operated, one is wired in which we call a conduit, and then there's also one with a conduit and a relay if you want to tie it in to your BAS system. So you start with a device. You can hold it in your hand. It's fairly small. You then need a drill and a screwdriver. We provide a template so that you put the template on, drill five holes, attach the Filter Scan wifi with four screws and then one hole is for the sensor. You then pair it up with your wifi network, and that's a fairly straight forward process and we have instructions on how to do that. Usually most people can get that whole thing done in about an hour, so it's pretty straight forward. Then, once the Filter Scan wifi is synced in and it's started transmitting data, that gets acknowledged by Clean Alert and off you go with operation.
Q: I think I'm right in saying that Clean Alert has won innovation of the year award previously. I just want to be clear with you. There's nothing quite like Filter Scan out there, is there? There are other technologies which will essentially tell you the timing of when you should be changing an air filter, but nothing that specifically monitors when an air filter is going to be getting clogged and gives you that notification. Is that correct?
A: The two things that are unique are number one, the sensor which you can either do it upstream or downstream. Secondarily, you can see the clogging from remotely, and the other technologies either use a timing device so that it monitors when the air handler unit is running and based on a run time it tells you to change the filter, but it doesn't tell you whether the filter is clogged or not. The other technology, or the other method is the magnehelic which actually requires you to be at the unit to calibrate it every time you change the filter and also monitor what the readings were. So this gives it to you in a very simple bar chart that goes from zero clog to 100% clogged, and tells you what percentage you have.
And also the uniqueness is that you can in one place have all the air handlers that have the FilterScan wifi on it be able to see it in one place, on your computer, and the alerts go out via text or e-mail, whichever you prefer. There's no other device that alerts you when the filter is clogged via a text message or e-mail.
Q: And the product is available in the U.S. Is it available elsewhere?
A: Yes. The Filter Scan wifi is available in different countries. If you are outside the United States we do need to talk to you because there are different governing bodies for the wifi, and also the testing and those things. Right now we have some units just this past year in Ecuador, Mexico, Canada. We're very open to shipping them around the world, but we have to meet the local standards.
Q: We're going to be wrapping up this particular interview in just a moment. Before we do, if we could just recap on some of the things you were been saying a moment ago, and if you could leave the listeners today with one final thought as to why managers of facilities should care about getting Filter Scan, what would you say to them?
A: I'd wrap it up this way: It's new technology that works. It's inexpensive, and it basically eliminates a nuisance that facility and property managers have to deal with today, and it automates that process. So it gives you ease of mind and eliminates the uncertainty of whether you're operating in the most efficient potential of your air handler based on clogging of the filter. And easy to install, and it works.
This interview is an edited transcription from one of the latest CleanAlert IoT podcast episodes. You can listen to the series here.