Timing device makes engine valves perform better

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Will Tourdot

ME student Will tourdot shows details of the timing valve that he helped create. (large image)

Mechanical engineers who perform research on engines often focus on finding ways to make them run more efficiently, use less fuel, and discharge fewer pollutants. Much of that work focuses on the nitty-gritty mechanics of engines — the valves and camshafts that actually make them go. Valves are particularly important in this regard. They open and close thousands of times during your average trip to the grocery store, so anything that makes valves work better is likely to improve the performance of an engine.

Which is how Mechanical Engineering Professor Frank Fronczak and his graduate students hit upon the idea of a “variable valve timing actuator” — a device aimed at making engine valves work better.

The actuator allows engine valves to open and close independently of each other, and to open and close without the use of a camshaft. This independent valve movement makes an engine run more efficiently. In addition, the timing actuator uses stored-up energy — known as energy regeneration — to open and close the valves. Thus, engines can use less fuel to open and close the valves.

“It’s an area that’s long put limitations on how an engine performs,” Fronczak said of valve mechanics. “Ideally, the timing actuator would provide engine designers with a lot more flexibility in their design of engines. There are a variety of devices that have been developed over the course of the past 15 years, but they’re very limited.”

The timing actuator represents a key advance in valve technology, because it links the ability of the valves to open and close independently of each other with regeneration, Fronczak said. Previous devices aimed at independent movement of valves have consumed considerable amounts of energy. The engine runs better, but it uses lots of fuel to do so.

“It’s desirable to have as much of the energy as you put into opening and closing the valves be regenerative,” he said. “Some of the energy is recovered. You don’t want the device to be consuming a substantial amount of energy.

Fronczak has filed for a patent on the timing actuator with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, along with Mechanical Engineering Professor Emeritus Norman Beachley, Scott Adler, and Ahmad Sabri.

Contact: Frank J. Fronczak, fronczak@engr.wisc.edu.