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FRAM 'Proving Grounds' Visit

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Thanks to: FRAM, Honeywell, The Richards Group

June 8, 2011

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Recently I and a few other automotive journalists were invited to visit the FRAM filter ‘Proving Grounds’ to watch how they test their filters. First off I’d like to thank the people at FRAM, Honeywell, and the Richards Group (the PR company for FRAM) for the opportunity to make the visit. So, one may ask themselves why FRAM would go to the trouble to bring a group of people out to their facility just to see how they test products. Well, The folks at FRAM want to make it known that they are aware of the bad publicity that some of their products have received recently. They wanted to help dispel some of the myths and clarify some of the issues they have heard about, as well as educate the automotive public about their practices and procedures in product development and refinement. Before I go further I want to make it clear that my visit to the FRAM facility has in no way altered my results from the filter testing that I conducted. The information from my test is still freely available to anyone interested.

The facility we visited is located in Perrysburg Ohio. It is an engineering and testing lab to design, refine, and prototype products as well as test and investigate failure claims. It’s filled with equipment I’d love to have in my garage. We toured the lab and took a close look at much of the equipment they use to test their filtering products, I have pics of a few, but won’t go into extreme detail on most of them:

  • Oil Filter Burst Pressure – The equipment shown here is pretty simple, you screw the filter on to installation specs, then the machine will pump in oil and pressurize the can until failure, that failure pressure is recorded. The filters we saw being tested failed around 300psi, but things like can size will change that value.  

  • Anti-Drainback valve – this equipment tests the anti-drainback valve functionality. Jay Buckley is the fellow in this pic, some of you may know his name from forums or other places around the internet.

  • Bypass Valve Flow
  • Pressure Cycling (reliability) – The filters here are pressure cycled to test the component reliability under frequent stops/starts

  • Corrosion resistance
  • Heat Cycling – this heat cycles the filter, also for reliability

  • Bypass Valve Cycling
  • Vibration Resistance – This equipment vibrates the filters to test more reliability

  • Single Pass Filtration efficiency – I don’t have a picture of this equipment, but we made a special stop here because this equipment tests the filters in a very similar fashion to how the filter testing was performed in my personal test, the single pass test isn’t frequently used in the industry anymore since the multi-pass is the standard now, but they still keep it around and use it as needed.
  • Multi-pass Filtration efficiency – This is my favorite machine we took a look at. This machine cycles the oil through a filter while taking samples and using optical sensors it counts the contaminant levels and sizes, down to 4µm and reports how efficient the filters are at those levels. Remember that this is cycling the oil and contaminants through the filters multiple times and is a bit different than the testing I performed. The individual filter we watched the testing on was giving the following efficiency levels:
    • 4µm - ~50% efficiency, 8µm - ~78% efficiency, 13µm ~94% efficiency, 20µm+ ~100% efficiency.

  • Air Filter Filtration efficiency – this is done by measuring the mass of passed contaminants

While we were there we also reviewed the build of their filters as shown here:

This information is the same as I saw while disassembling and reviewing the filters for my testing which can be found here.

We also discussed some of the concerns that have been raised about the FRAM filters. The main issue we discussed was about build quality, mainly the use of fiberboard/cardboard/whatever you want to call it, endcaps. You’ve likely seen videos or pictures of them including in my own testing. The claim is obvious;’ metal endcaps are stronger and more reliable than the fiber ones, which means fiber caps are lower quality filters’. Well obviously the metal ones are a stronger material, however, does material strength of the endcap translate to a more reliable filter? Well, in my opinion, the answer is…it depends. First we should understand that the endcaps are only there to hold the structure of the media, as well as make a seal so the oil flows through the media. The endcaps have no load bearing value, therefore the physical strength of the metal endcaps don’t really give any benefit there. When oil is heated and circulated the metal endcaps however will withstand longer change intervals, as the fiberboard will eventually breakdown, this is why you don’t see any fiber endcaps on extended interval filters. However, does that mean that the fiber caps are poor quality? I’d say no, if you keep proper maintenance on your vehicle including proper filter replacement, you should have no problems with them, but if you plan on using extended drain interval oil, you’ll probably want to look for a filter with metal endcaps. Another issue that was briefly discussed what the glue that is used, The fact that the glue should adhere better to the fiber endcaps, due to their porosity. Now this fact is true, glue will adhere better to a fiber endcap than a metal one, however the glue used is not your standard paper glue, it is a vinyl based glue with a very thick consistency. So the glue does not soak into the material too much before drying, in fact during my inspection of most all the filters found the same type of glue regardless of manufacturer, with only a few exceptions, and on all the filters that I had to disassemble with this glue I found it to be VERY well adhered, infact on most of the filters with metal endcaps I had to saw off the endcaps, and the fiber ones I had to tear apart. Personally, I don’t feel that the glue strength is diminished on either endcap material. Now my personal opinion, I prefer the metal endcap filters, but that is just my preference.

Another issue we discussed was the filtration media flow rates. Obviously different media will produce different results in filtration efficiency but the flow rate itself isn’t effected much by the media itself. Rather the rate of oil flow through the whole filter is mostly determined by the pathway and directional changes the oil needs to make on its travel rather than the type of material it passes though. This is pretty much what I saw in my testing, I found every filter media had very good oil flow through it, regardless of material used, any differences were completely indistinguishable by the human eye.

So in summation of my visit to FRAM, it was a very interesting and an excellent follow up to my personal testing which reiterated the results that were gathered. So to everyone reading, I encourage you to test, investigate, and learn yourself. Test your theories because you can’t always believe what you read, and even if you don’t believe my results, I invite you to investigate things yourself.

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