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Anatomy of an Engine: Heart Condition
The four-stroke engine was first patented nearly 150 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. We attempt to explain what happens to your fuel when modern engines get to work.
It’s all about control. The four-stroke cycle working the engine is basically the same as it’s been for the last 100 years. However, the detail is very different. Today it’s all about getting as much energy out of as little fuel as possible.
So what exactly are the innovations that make today’s four-stroke engine so advanced?
VARIABLE VALVE TIMING
'In the past the inlet and exhaust valves opened and closed at set times, dictating the engine’s characteristics and performance. But if you alter when the valves open and shut, you’ll get an engine capable of high speeds that doesn’t compromise on low-speed pulling ability.
Variable valve timing is achieved by altering the rotational position of the inlet camshaft relative to the exhaust camshaft.
VALVEMATIC, VALVETRONIC, MULTIAIR & MORE
Next, we change how much, and for how long, the valves stay open. The best way to alter the amount and duration of opening is to do it continuously over a wide range.
A throttle is unnecessary. Instead, if you use the inlet valves to control airflow, by altering how far they open, this removes a major obstruction to airflow.
Carmakers had spent years trying to design systems that can open the valve electronically or hydraulically, free from the camshaft’s limits. They eventually achieved this goal in 2009, creating the MultiAir engine that could pull energetically from low speeds and rev like a racing car without compromising on performance.
Now comes the clever part: an electric solenoid valve bleeds off part of the oil flow in the hydraulic pipe as required, up to 60 times a second, leaving the rest to open the inlet valve. It’s probably the most significant breakthrough in piston engine design in the last 100 years.
With direct injection, the fuel is squirted straight into the cylinder. Under light load, it can be squirted just before the spark occurs, near the top of the compression stroke. Essentially, you can inject less fuel than the total volume of air theoretically needs and still get a proper burn.
For high-power running, the fuel is injected on the induction stroke as with indirect injection. This gives time for more fuel to be injected, cooling the air as it enters the cylinder. This means the mixture can be compressed more without overheating.
A turbocharger has a turbine that uses waste energy from the flow of exhaust gases to drive an air compressor - it’s as close to a free power boost as you’ll get. The turbo compresses the air and forces it into the engine, so more can be squeezed into each cylinder for increased power.
THE STROKES IN FOUR SIMPLE STEPS
Let’s get to grips with how a conventional port fuel injection four-stroke petrol engine works.