Every year, a group of the most innovative and talented "engine guys" in the industry get together to share some of their new ideas and answer questions regarding these findings from fellow engine enthusiasts. They may be specialists in carburetion, fuel injection, cylinder heads, cams, or gaskets, but they are indeed specialists. This forum is unique, in that anyone can attend and everyone's opinions are weighed equally.
Presented by SuperFlow, makers of one of the industry's most popular flow benches and engine dynos, the Advanced Engine Technology Conference (AETC) is certainly a "must-do" for anyone serious about learning more. This year's AETC featured a wide range of technologies and speakers of different disciplines, but if performance powerplant engineering intrigues you, there was plenty to be learned from all the speakers in attendance.
Regular readers of PHR will recognize some of the names preaching from the podium, but many others may not be recognized by name alone. However, once we tell you where they work or what they've accomplished, we're sure you'll want to hear what they had to say.
We covered this same conference two years ago, and the response we got from readers made us promise to return. The combination of speakers sharing "secrets" on how to make more power or greatly increase durability should be enough to make you want to attend. If that's not enough, consider the combined wealth of knowledge present at this affair with the large number of professional engine designers and builders on hand, and the large percentage of past speakers who know better than to miss this event. These experts have plenty of time to talk to you one-on-one, and if you ever wanted to ask the really hard questions to a seasoned pro, this is the place to find answers. We'll give you a quick synopsis of what each speaker discussed, and although we simply cannot go into the detail we'd like to, we hope you get an idea of the points being made. Some of these speakers will go into much greater detail with us in the future, as we intend to investigate what we learned at the AETC much more. Until then, check out this little preview of things to come, and start planning to attend next years AETC. Space is limited at the conference, and it's best to get reservations early to make sure you get a seat at this incredible gathering of gearheads.
WADE CONGDON (Hi Technologies, Inc.)
Wade Congdon is a lifelong hot rodder who loves to push the cutting edge of technology in ways others have not completely explored. When it comes to engine technology, he loves to try and look into the combustion chamber to find more efficiency.
Since it's impossible to actually see into the combustion chamber, many of us rely on exhaust gas temperatures (EGTs) to surmise how effectively air and fuel are being burned. Wade has been developing the use of pressure sensors from many different manufacturers so actual pressures can be recorded from inside the chamber as the engine operates. Naturally, these sensors have to be durable and provide accurate, repeatable information to be worth anything to us, and Wade shared the results of his efforts with those present at the AETC.
Wade explained how one of the largest hurdles facing those trying to record pressures inside the chamber resulted from the placement of the pressure sensor itself. Some required drilling into the head or block to place the sensor, while others have incorporated a spark plug-related design. Some of these later plug-type sensors are dedicated, while others can be adapted to existing spark plugs. No single design has grown to become an industry standard, as the range of effectiveness, durability, and price have all played a role in the evolution of this science. Wade shares that this technology has come very far, very fast, and the next generation of combustion pressure measuring devices will be better and less expensive.
For now, the information gained by Wade can be mapped and charted accurately, and offer a look into the chamber unlike any we've had before. This information, combined with other sensors (like EGTs) can offer great insight into the effectiveness of various chamber designs in many different applications and rpm ranges. Eventually, Wade feels chamber pressure sensing like this will become another part of the OEM sensor array feeding input to the factory engine control unit (ECU), and the computer will be able to tweak and tune individual cylinders to provide a more balanced delivery of power.
"Your engine can only operate as effectively as the weakest cylinder, so identifying which cylinder produces the least pressure and finding out why is pretty important. We can also determine which cylinder is producing the most pressure (and therefore, power), and then investigate why that is true. Naturally, we're trying to make all the cylinders perform at the peak of their potential, and these tools help us see things we could not before."
HAROLD McCORMICK (C-K Engineering)
Engine-savvy readers will recognize C-K Engineering as one of the many fine machine tool companies responsible for producing the equipment that helps us rebuild engines. In doing research to make better tools, C-K is finding new ground that engine builders need to know.
Harold went into great detail describing C-K's efforts to research the effect of thermal dynamics (heat) on different kinds of metals, particularly those used on engine bores. The warping effect of heat proved to be more of a substantial issue than C-K had first thought, and they began developing tools to try to bring the parts being machined (in this case, engine blocks) to operating temperatures during the machining process.
We've all seen torque plates that bolt in place on the block prior to machining to accurately mimic the torque a cylinder head produces. The latest innovation from C-K involves a false cylinder head that is constantly circulated with 200-degree fluid while the machining is taking place. This false head not only duplicates the torque pattern, but adds the correct heat to the mix, making for a more accurate and round overbore and more cylinder-to-cylinder consistency.
Harold also shared how C-K's research into piston ring seals has shown dramatic gaps between the roundness of the rings and the roundness of the bore. These inconsistencies are only fueling the fire toward more reliable and effective machining practices and tools, and it was great to see where this research was headed.
KENNY DUTTWEILER (Duttweiler Performance, Inc.)
Longtime "Turbo God" Kenny Duttweiler has a well-established reputation as the finest turbo tuner in all of drag racing. When it comes to wild single- and twin-turbo high-pressure applications making obscene power, odds are Kenny had something to do with it.
When he came to the AETC, Kenny shared plenty of facts regarding turbocharger design and engineering with participants. He related the latest developments in turbocharger housings and materials, and shared real horsepower figures with the group (the twin-turbo small-block in Bob Rieger's Pro Street Championship-winning '57 Chevy carried a 2,000hp Duttweiler setup).
Kenny also discussed pipe sizing, choosing the proper turbo, turbo placement ("short headers are much better; keep things as tight as possible"), and the role of backpressure in a turbo engine.
"You're going to have plenty of backpressure in a turbo setup, but having the right amount is what's important. If the turbo is too big, it'll take forever to spool up and you'll have too much lag. If the housing is too small, you won't get enough boost out of it before it can't spin any faster. It's critical to have a turbo in place that will respond quickly to sudden increases in throttle, but have enough boost potential to provide adequate boost to the engine. The latest turbochargers have great impellers, both in design and material. They are lighter and more efficient than anything we had to work with in the past, and they spool up very fast for their size. The new stuff is great."
We asked Kenny if he'd worked with any staged (or stacked) turbo designs (where a turbo feeds directly into another turbo), and he said that using independent, isolated turbos, he'd never had any need to make more power. In fact, he'd yet to find a limit to the power he could produce that any modern race suspension could handle.
"When a guy calls up and asks for more power, we give it to him. Then, he calls back later and tells us his suspension, or driveshaft, or something else keeps breaking from too much power. If we ever find a need for more power beyond what we're capable of now, we might investigate staged setups, but we haven't had a need to yet."
MIKE LeFEVERS (Carroll Shelby, Inc.)
Regular readers should recognize the names of both Mike LeFevers and Carroll Shelby. Certainly, Shelby's work with Mustangs and Cobras is legendary, and Mike has shown up on our pages as the engine builder for the 342ci Ford in our Small-Block Shootout. Mike was also the engine builder for the Kugel and LeFevers twin-turbo, small-block, Chevy-powered Bonneville World Record-holding Firebird we've previously featured. Suffice to say he's a gearhead of the highest order.
Interestingly, Mike was invited to speak about the latest Shelby foray into the unknown, the OX-2 engine. The OX-2 is a completely new engine design, unlike anything we've ever seen running before. It consists of a ring of pistons that turn in conjunction with spinning port plates, allowing air and fuel to enter and exit without resorting to a complex valvetrain. It actually breathes more like a two-stroke design, but is indeed a four-cycle engine.
It's still early in the research life of the OX-2, as the preliminary design was originally drafted in Australia before Shelby got involved. Now, with Shelby's backing and Mike's extensive tuning experience, the true potential of the design is beginning to show.
"We've been able to run the engine at 600 rpm, which isn't much. We know this. At that rpm, it produced about 23 hp. We understand this isn't much, either. But, at only 600 rpm, it also produced 200 lb-ft of torque, so we know there's some very interesting potential here. Plus, the entire engine is only displacing 69 ci (with a 2.5-inch bore and 1.75-inch stroke) and weighs only 125 pounds. We don't know where this will lead, but it's pretty promising considering the simplicity of the design, it's compact size, and the amount of torque we've been able to measure so far."
We know Mike, and we know his aggressive engineering style will have this new engine operating at the peak of its potential before long. Until then, we'll just wait for his call. We can hear it now: "Dude- you've got to come down here and see the numbers this thing is putting out..." We can't wait.
DAVE BURT (Sturman Industries)
You may never heard of Sturman Industries before, but we can guarantee you will. Sturman is at the forefront of camless engine research. Sturman's hydro-electric valve control mechanisms developed from their work on diesel trucks, and actually began with the invention of a better fuel injector.
The injector was based on the electric solenoid not controlling the fuel directly, but instead the solenoid allows pressurized oil flow into a syringe-like housing that both pressurizes and sprays the fuel into the intake port. Using this same theory, Sturman has adapted the hydraulically-controlled, electronically-activated valve system to control both intake and exhaust valve actions. Their prototypical diesel setup racked up 10,000 road miles to prove its durability. A similar setup on a gasoline-fueled four-banger showed functional reliability to 10,000 rpm.
Where can you buy it for your small-block Chevy? You can't yet, but we'll be doing a much more in-depth look at the Sturman Industries camless valve control system in the near future, and we're sure it'll have you as excited as we are. A time when we'll be able to program our valve lift and duration at different rpm on a laptop like we currently do with our electronic fuel injection and ignition systems is getting closer all the time, and we'll keep you abreast of the latest developments here in PHR. No, you can't buy stock in this company. We already asked.
LANCE WARD (Fuel, Air, Spark Technologies -- FAST)
Lance began his presentation at the AETC by stating "Electronic fuel injection is in your future." Plain and simple, straight to the point, Lance didn't mince any words. The benefits of EFI far outweigh the downsides, and the one primary reason more of us sticking to our carbs (cost), is becoming less of a factor, too. Certainly, there will be carbureted vehicles in this hobby for a long time to come, especially with many sanctioning bodies (like NASCAR and NHRA Pro Stock) still requiring carbs and outlawing EFI. Regardless, bringing aftermarket EFI to the street is becoming more and more common, and less and less expensive.
What Lance shared with us was some really good basics about what EFI can do for us, and how. He reviewed the various sensors and some programming basics, and for those attendees who weren't familiar with what EFI systems consist of, Lance's talk would certainly familiarize you with the basics.
The FAST EFI system began life as the Fel-Pro/Speed-Pro system, and though the name has been changed, the system retains the top-notch quality established when it was first introduced a few years ago.
Time has only served to refine the setup and make it better, and the FAST style of offering a basic system that can be upgraded to sequential delivery and offer cylinder-to-cylinder tuning helps make it more affordable. By purchasing the basic system and upgrading down the road, enthusiasts can get on board now and step up later as budget allows. Good stuff!
BILL HANCOCK (Arrow Racing Engines)
Bill Hancock's Arrow Racing Engines is a full-service facility in the Detroit area, and since many of the participants were owners of dynamometers, he chose to share many of the tips and tricks he's learned from running a multicell shop for many years. The safety and efficiency suggestions shared by Bill were great, but we liked his series of thought-provoking comments best of all.
Bill worked with the Chrysler Corporation during the glory years in the late '60s and early '70s, and he grabbed our attention with some interesting quips from that time.
"How many of you remember the Daytonas and Superbirds? Do you know why those cars worked so well? Sure, it was the wing on the back, but it wasn't downforce we were after there. See, the sides of that wing, those two big tails that were high enough to clear the trunk when it was opened? They were like tails on a 747. It was really hard to spin those cars out coming off a corner. Those two tails really stabilized the rear end of the car, and we could come through a corner a lot faster than anyone who didn't have one. The bar between them, that little angled wing on top, was more to hold the two sides up than anything else. Everyone was so concerned about what angle the little top wing was at, they looked right past the two big vertical wings that were really doing the work!"
We know it's not engine stuff, but we liked it anyway. Bill also piqued our curiosity about more engine-related subjects. He's a big fan of the Spintron--a machine that turns an engine's crankshaft at any rpm desired. The engine doesn't actually run, but if you're researching the effects of rpm on the engine, it's often a better research tool than when the engine is running. Bill uses his Spintron to test the effects of various belt-driven components on engines running in the dyno cell next door.
"We use belt-driven dry sump multi-stage oil pumps on many of the engines we build, and it was really interesting to hook up the oil pump on the Spintron, then run the lines to a running engine next door. This way, we could hold the engine rpm steady, measure the power it was making, and change the rpm (and the oil pressure) on the Spintron and see the effect oil pressure had on horsepower. We did a similar experiment with a vacuum pump. I'd suggest you all do something like this if you haven't before. Run a vacuum pump on a separate electric belt-driven motor like the Spintron, then hold the engine steady and see what happens to the power as you change the speed on the vacuum pump. I think you'll be surprised."
Bill didn't share his results from these interesting experiments, but we'll be looking into the possibility of duplicating his ideas to see what he was talking about. If it's any clue, he's not a big fan of vacuum pumps. We're curious to find out why.
Dr. Rick Roberts
DR. RICK ROBERTS (Edelbrock Corporation)
The amount of research, development, planning, and effort that goes into every Edelbrock product is much more extensive than many of us realize. Rick walked us through the extensive development procedure, but this isn't really why he came to Colorado Springs.
What really revved him up was a question from an employee. The employee had been working over the port on a little Briggs & Stratton OHV one-lunger, and wanted to know how effective he'd been. Normally, a simple before-and-after comparison would have been sufficient, but he wanted to know how it compared to automotive ports of greater size. What they were looking for was a way to level the playing field of flowbench data, so the quality of the port could be determined in addition to the quantity of air passing through it.
What Rick came up with was the engineering formula that determined flow data in the first place. This formula has plenty of variables, but since all flowbench tests are normally run at 28 inches of water, some standard had already been determined. After much math, the result was a general chart where head flow is compared based on lift versus valve diameter, and the quality of the flow is rated based on this scale. In this way, the small valve on the Briggs could be compared to any other head that had been flowed, and the quality of that flow could be compared, even on engines and ports of greatly varying sizes.
We feel a scale of this type may become more popular with cylinder head experts, especially with the large influx of import heads coming through performance shops nowadays. By being able to compare the quality of a port in addition to the amount of air it flows, we feel more theoretical gains will be made by all. What works in a small port should work in a large one (and vice versa), so we may reap the benefits of worldwide engineering now where we really couldn't before, simply because someone finally took the time to create a flow quality scale.
We'll share more about this in the future, as it's not been completely standardized yet (there's still some question whether the valve diameter is the end-all-be-all, or if valve curtain area should be the standard. It seems that an average of both would make the most sense to us). We'll keep you informed of further developments.
The 12th Annual AETC served to inform, entertain, and inspire. This is certainly not unusual, as SuperFlow has delivered a top-notch presentation like this every year for over a decade. The questions answered at such a gathering are many, but the questions prompted only inspire us to look further into each subject, and determine how we can apply some of these principles and ideas to our own projects.
If you've never attended a SuperFlow AETC, we'd highly recommend it. We announce the dates and location for the next AETC as soon as the information become available, so keep an eye out for conference info here in PHR or at www.superflow.com.