It’s something we do every day, something that’s as second nature as brewing our morning coffee. We turn the key in our ignition and expect our cars to take us wherever we want to go. Sounds easy – and the reason it’s so easy is the astute technological expertise of the engineers at the Filtran Division of SPX Corporation, whose job it is to design fail-safe automotive transmission filters and components. The smallest amount of dirt can not only degrade the ability of the transmission to operate the car, but it could lead to the early failure of the complete transmission.”We are constantly developing a continual stream of new ideas and angles on what might seem like a mundane issue. But it’s one of those things you take for granted until it doesn’t work, and you can’t go anywhere in your car because your vehicle just won’t run anymore,” says John Eleftherakis, vice president and general manager of the Original Equipment business unit for Des Plaines, Ill.-based SPX Filtran.
SPX Filtran operates both an OE unit and an after-market unit. Employing about 300 people, the OE unit is primarily an original-equipment supplier of automatic transmission filtration systems, as well as a wide variety of transmission-associated components, to the automotive industry worldwide. The unit’s two manufacturing facilities are located in Des Plaines and Lugoff, Ga., and total about 200,000 square feet.
The company enjoys the lion’s share of the global market; it holds a 70 percent share of the North American market and 100 percent of the European market. Detroit’s Big Three are among its customers, and it is the only supplier in the United States of transmission filters to Toyota’s North American operations. How did the company rise to such Olympian heights in such a competitive market? “The two things that really established Filtran’s reputation are our continuous technical innovations and our high-quality products,” says Eleftherakis.
“The key to the high level of our technical innovation is that our engineers are filtration experts,” Eleftherakis adds. “We really understand how contaminants are generated and how they can affect the operation of an automatic transmission filtration system.” The company works in conjunction with transmission manufacturers to design into systems just the right combination of pressure and sump filters in order to achieve complete transmission contamination control. SPX Filtran uses only the newest materials available in its filters. This material is designed and manufactured to remove maximum dirt particles and to meet clean-fluid requirements. The company’s research department uses precision ISO 16889 multipass test standards, along with propriety transmission-filter test procedures, to measure the ability of a filter to remove contamination.
Underscoring its focus on technology and engineering prowess, SPX Filtran operates a dedicated technical center in Stillwater, Okla. The technical center and its engineering and design staff are devoted to the continual research and development of new filtration techniques for automotive transmissions. “SPX has been very aggressive in staying on top of the latest innovations through product development and company acquisitions that move us forward in the industry,” says Eleftherakis. “This continual development of new ideas has evolved into many patented products for us.”
A shining example of this is the technological advancements from its joint-venture partner in Germany, IBS Filtran. “They really excel in plastics technology in Germany, and with this company we developed a full plastic transmission pan with an integrated filtration system,” says Eleftherakis. This new transmission pan is currently installed on all BMW 2002 7-series automobiles. “It’s a lifetime-guaranteed integrated filter and transmission pan that never has to be changed,” Eleftherakis says. “Its lighter weight adds one more level of integration to the product in that we supply the whole filtration system built in to the transmission – not just the filter.” Essentially, IBS Filtran developed one complete and integrated component that used to require 12 different parts.
Quality by Design
Hand in hand with SPX Filtran’s technological expertise is its total commitment to manufacturing superior-quality components. “The quality we offer is a result of our production processes that, for so many years, have been the hallmark for the company,” says Eleftherakis.
“Not only were we the first on the market but we are the only one on the market with an OEM-quality composite filter design, which is comprised of a metal and a plastic component which serves as housing for the felt media. So we’ve offered the marketplace our standard composite design component, giving a lot of rigidity while being very cost-efficient,” says Eleftherakis. This technologically advanced component is engineered with a sealed-seam design to ensure that 100 percent of the transmission fluid is filtered. Eleftherakis says, “If you don’t have a sealed seam, you can intake fluid through the seam and it will bypass your filter media – and that can cause a lot of problems.”
It is no surprise that SPX Filtran has many of its key management spots filled with engineers. “Everything we do here has a heavy technical focus, and we strive to manage with technical leadership in mind,” says Eleftherakis. “We have great employees who are very skilled in what they do, and my style is to stay out of their way.” The working environment is one founded on employee trust and responsibility. The company thrives on this efficiently run operation because of the high level of trust and the effective decision making the environment engenders in every employee. “Our work force is very much in tune with the needs of the OEMs, and we delegate responsibility into their hands so they can successfully relate with our customers.”
Because of its vertically integrated infrastructure, SPX Filtran can respond quickly to the just-in-time delivery requirements of its original-equipment customers. “Our vertical integration allows us to vary production schedules to accommodate our customers,” says Eleftherakis.
Revved for the Future
The company recently applied for patents on its integrated filtration system, which is a combined pressure and suction filtration filter. “It is implemented as a typical suction filter,” says Eleftherakis.
With the goal to become a supplier of complete filtration systems, SPX Filtran will employ aggressive plans to expand into complementary filtration areas. “We plan to supply not only the sump filter, but pressure filters and other spot location filters throughout automotive transmissions. In other words, we want to supply the whole system,” says Eleftherakis. Although it’s almost there, Eleftherakis says that the plastic pan has not really taken off yet in the U.S. market as it has in Europe. “Using these new developments more throughout the industry offers a lot of potential growth,” he says.
SPX Filtran will also pursue future growth opportunities both organically – from new products and new technological developments – and through acquisitions that add to the strengths of the company. “We plan to continue to grow very aggressively,” Eleftherakis states.