Ultrasound can now monitor the health of your car engine

Dec 10, 2012

A system that uses ultrasound technology to look inside car engines could lead to more efficient engines – and huge fuel savings for motorists.

have long been a fundamental tool in healthcare for looking inside the human body, but they have never before been put to use in testing the health of a modern .

In the University of Sheffield's Department of Mechanical Engineering, Rob Dwyer-Joyce, Professor of Lubrication Engineering, has devised a method of using ultrasound to measure how efficiently an engine's pistons are moving up and down inside their cylinders.

"There is a real urgency, now, to improve in cars," says Professor Dwyer-Joyce. "Our method will allow engine manufacturers to adjust lubrication levels with confidence and ensure they are using the optimum level for any particular engine, rather than over-lubricating to ensure engine safety. The energy used by the piston rings alone amounts to around 4p in every litre of fuel – there is a lot at stake in getting the lubrication right."

The seal between piston rings and cylinder is the most important seal in the entire engine and understanding how the lubricant works inside this sealed chamber is crucial for improving the of the engine.

The movement of the pistons is what drives the car forward. have to calculate how much oil will allow the piston to move efficiently. Too much oil is wasteful and ends up getting burnt in the engine – increasing emissions, while too little will result in wear from the two moving parts rubbing against each other.

Because cylinders are enclosed spaces, it is not easy to test what is going on inside. Computer models don't effectively allow for changes as an engine speeds up and gets hotter, and more – cutting open the cylinder – interfere too much with the mechanism to get an accurate test result.

The Sheffield team are measuring the lubricant film by transmitting ultrasonic pulses through the cylinder wall from sensors attached to the outside. The reflections from these pulses can then be recorded and measured.

The research is part of a project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It has included collaboration with Loughborough, which is overall leader on the project, and Cranfield Universities, and a host of automotive industry manufacturers and suppliers. The research team at Loughborough is investigating the piston-cylinder dynamics and tribological modelling, the development of predictive tools, advanced cylinder liners and surface laser texturing, and the direct measurement of friction, whilst the team at Cranfield have been studying the micro-scale interaction between the piston rings and the cylinder.

The team is ready to commercialise this technology and is looking for industrial partners who might be interested in pursuing the approach.

"Our system could provide major efficiency savings in car engines, but it could also be used on the larger diesel engines in deep water marine vessels, some of which use up to 1 tonne of oil each day," adds Professor Dwyer Joyce.

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More information: Piezo-electric sensors to monitor lubricant film thickness at piston-cylinder contacts in a fired engine, by R. S. Mills, E. Y. Avan and R. S. Dwyer-Joyce, is currently published Online First in the Journal of Engineering Tribology, published by SAGE on behalf of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. It will appear in a special edition of the Journal in February 2013.

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jscroft
1 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2012
If you listen closely you can hear the sound of mechanical engineers worldwide collectively slapping their foreheads and asking why THEY didn't think of this first.
packrat
1 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2012
And then realizing that this is just one more added complication to an engine that it really doesn't need and will only add more expense to the operating costs. Any engine and that includes the huge two cycle ones used in ships that uses a ton of oil a day needs to be repaired to begin with as it's going to be seriously blowing black smoke right out the exhaust stack! It wouldn't even be allowed to enter many of the world's ports.
jscroft
1 / 5 (2) Dec 11, 2012
Funny that you mention that. I spent years at sea on ships powered by gas turbines, steam plants, and diesel engines. Those big engines have lots of room for instrumentation, so engineers have the luxury of adjusting things like lubricant flow based on operating data. Seems to me this invention just brings the same level of awareness into the close-tolerance regime under the hood of my car.

If the benefits outweigh the cost, what's not to love?
packrat
1 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2012
Funny that you mention that. I spent years at sea on ships powered by gas turbines, steam plants, and diesel engines. Those big engines have lots of room for instrumentation, so engineers have the luxury of adjusting things like lubricant flow based on operating data. Seems to me this invention just brings the same level of awareness into the close-tolerance regime under the hood of my car.

If the benefits outweigh the cost, what's not to love?


Nothing if it works OK but keep it on the big engines as vehicle size versions have already got so complicated with electronics as to be almost non-repairable unless you work at a dealership and have all the computer equipment needed. That's my complaint with all the extra electrical bits. It's kind of like getting a cold and taking over the counter medicine for it. It doesn't cure the cold but relieves symptoms. IMO in this setup they are trading good design to begin with for relieving symptoms. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
packrat
1 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2012
Continued..... As much money as is spent designing and testing those huge diesels and it is a lot of money! that it just makes more sense to me to get the oil rings correct for the engine the first time around and not try to fix it afterward. What I can see happening down the road is cost conscious Captains or ship owners telling the engineers to use less oil and the engines getting excess wear that they don't need or trying to fake out inspectors in places like Cal. where ships with smoke blowing stacks are not allowed to come into port at all. Manufacturers have done some amazing things with those engines in the last 20 years or so but this is just asking for trouble down the line.
jscroft
1 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2012
How about this: get the bureaucrats out of the picture and let consumers decide which enhancements they are willing to pay for. That's how you get what you want, cheap.