Putting the S&B New Particle Separator to the Desert Test

    Real-World Testing Of S&B Filters New Particle Separator

    Matt EmeryPhotographer, Writer

    Dust happens, and when you ride or race in the desert, it happens often. It also happens to be bad for your engine. Engines are basically pumps that draw in air, add fuel and then light it off, but they don't take kindly to even miniscule rocks getting between the pistons and cylinders.

    Companies have been trying since the invention of the internal combustion engine to get enough clean air into the engine for it to run while still producing power and longevity. This is normally done via a filter. Sure, you can produce a filter that no dirt will pass through, but that'll probably mean no air gets through either—at least not enough for the engine to produce any power with.

    But S&B Filters has another idea and it's one that has been used on military helicopters for years (yes, your tax dollars in action). That idea is the Particle Separator.

    In this case, the particles separated are dirt and dust (or water or snow). The idea is to remove debris from the intake airflow before it even gets to the filter. Yes, the new S&B system uses the RZR's stock air filter (though they are working on an S&B unit), but claims that their Particle Separator removes over 94 percent of the airborne particles before it ever hits the filter. The result, claims S&B, is that your filter will last 15 times longer before it needs to be replaced (or cleaned).

    The S&B Particle Separator works on the principle of a vortex generator that flings the debris to the outside of the chamber, using both airflow characteristics and physically channeling the debris to do it. An inlet tube that extends into the chamber to close behind the generator allows the cleaner air to be ingested while the debris is channeled out and away from the unit. Helicopters use exhaust flow to scavenge away debris, while the S&B unit uses an electric fan, but the result is the same in that it's this airflow that removes the debris from the system. It is also this scavenge effect what creates the vacuum that causes the vortex generators to spin in the first place.

    S&B places 19 vortex generators, each about the size of a quarter, into their unit. The unit itself is 18 inches long, 10 inches tall, and 9.25 inches deep, and features billet aluminum clamps to mount the unit to the rollcage.

    It's an intriguing concept, and one that could be put to the test easily enough; it just required someone to eat some dust. We wanted to do a real-world test out in the desert and not just accept the results of one conducted in a lab, so S&B guys Cayman and Berry Carter volunteered to drive their S&B Particle Separator–equipped Polaris RZR around the desert close behind one of our feature vehicles, all while Bronco owner Randy Ludwig and us sat in relatively clean air and giggled about the fate of the guys behind us. It was so dusty that we could barely even see them, even though they weren't more than 30 feet behind us—just like it is during a race.

    We had inspected the system before the test to ensure that it was clean. We pulled the inlet tube that runs from the unit to the air cleaner to make sure that it and the inside of the unit was clean. They were. A new air filter had been installed, and everything was good to go so we hit the dusty trail. And with the recent drought in California, desert conditions are spectacularly dry and dusty. After 20 miles or so (with Ludwig sliding around and spinning the tires to create as much dust as possible), the Carter boys looked like they'd just finished the Mint 400. They'd kept very close behind the Bronco and it showed; they and the RZR were covered in dust. So was the Particle Separator.

    We pulled the inlet pipe off again and inspected it and inside the S&B unit for debris. We wiped the inside of the unit and hose with our fingers, but couldn't see any dust and our fingers didn't leave trails. Then, we gave the hose a good shake to see if any dust puffed out. None did. When we inspected the air cleaner element, it looked much like it had before we began. While there was a light dusting of well, dust, where the airbox lid mated to the box, it was hard to tell if it came from the inlet pipe or just seeped in through the cracks where the lid and box mated up. After all, the airbox is not "sealed" per se, as with the design it doesn't need to be.

    We admit, we were skeptical about the S&B Particle Separator's ability to do what was claimed, and while we only went about 20 miles or so, it was a dusty 20 miles. We made sure of that. The result is that while we'd like to test the Particle Separator during an actual desert race, for our test it really seemed to do what it was supposed to do, and that is to treat the incoming airflow (de-debris?) before it reaches the air filter.

    As with every new idea, there will be doubters. But from what we could ascertain from our test, it looks like S&B Filters has come up with an idea that while not completely removing the need for an air filter, does appear to do what it is touted to do, and that's remove the majority of the dirt lone before it ever gets to the filter. That means less maintenance and less cost, and we're all good with those two things.

    The S&B Particle Separator was mounted up high to get it out of the majority of the dust, but can be mounted anywhere on the cage.

    An up close shot of the entrance of the vortex generators shows that they will also have a Venturi effect as the air enters the chambers.

    This exploded view of the vortex generators shows how the units work to expel the incoming dirt.

    The exhaust port of the unit flows the dirt down and out the exhaust port.

    The relay for the exhaust fan was mounted and the power lead sent to the Key-On and the ground lead to the frame.

    S&B makes the billet aluminum mounts in-house. They are designed to fit virtually any sized bars or even a flat surface.

    The S&B unit connects to the stock air intake system with no modification necessary.

    A new stock Polaris air filter was installed for the test.

    The S&B guys brought some of the media that they use to test with in their lab. When thrown into the front of the Particle Separator, the media did indeed blow out of the bottom of the unit. The question was is how much is getting through to the filter?

    Yep, back there in that cloud is the S&B RZR. This went on for about 20 miles. Looking behind us at the S&B guys in their RZR, Ludwig and we could barely see them even, though they weren't more than 30 feet behind us.

    The Real World: Barstow! MTV's got nothing on us. However, we wouldn't mind seeing Snookie and J-Wow covered in dust with a bad case of helmet hair …

    A good coating of dust covered the outside of the S&B Particle Separator. So far, so good on our test.

    With the inlet pipe removed, a visual and digit inspection revealed little to no dust in the S&B unit.

    A close visual inspection of the inlet pipe showed tiny amounts of dust, but when given a vigorous shaking, no dust plumes billowed forth.

    Inspecting the airbox showed very little dust in the box and very little on the filter. In fact, the filter still looked new and what was in the box may have come in through the seal of the lid as most of it was around the area where the lid connected to the box.

    S&B Filters is working on a replacement air box for the RXR too and should be out soon.