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Motorcycles Before Computers

00:06  07 july  2020
00:06  07 july  2020 Source:   cycleworld.com

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I’m always pleased when readers propose stimulating questions. One giving the screen name “Doctocc” asks, “How did they figure out combustion chamber swirl, etc., before computers?”

a drawing of a person: Kevin Cameron © Provided by Cycle World Kevin Cameron

For a number of years I had a romance with large aircraft engines and my shop was plugged up with three of them, manufactured in about 1952. They were monsters with 28 cylinders, about 52 inches in diameter and close to 100 inches long. The common reaction of visitors upon seeing their complexity was, “Wow! How do you suppose they ever designed such things without computers?”

The answer is that then and now, engineers use their minds to understand what’s going on in engines, and then use whatever technologies are at hand to fill in the details. The human mind, having some of the answers but lacking others, constructs questions that can be answered by various kinds of sensors and ways of presenting data. Computers are not minds but rather rapid, high-volume filing systems and number crunchers. An experienced human has to conceive the right questions.

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When Harry Ricardo, working in the 1920s, saw that air swirl in engine cylinders could accelerate combustion and make it more complete and efficient, he wanted to know how much swirl was best. He therefore constructed a question out of one of his test engines, as follows:

“The intensity of induction swirl was controlled by hinged baffles placed just outside the air inlet ports and was recorded by means of an anemometer with a rotating vane placed inside, and closely conforming with the contour of the combustion chamber.” (4th Edition, The High-Speed Internal Combustion Engine, Page 94.)

An anemometer is just a fancy lab version of a child’s pinwheel. Ducati used just such means to measure swirl in their engines, using as major variables the intake velocity and intake port downdraft angle. At a time when Japanese motorcycle manufacturers were finding it difficult to make power by shortening strokes, increasing bores, and raising rpm (early through mid-1990s) Ducati was achieving consistent results in combustion optimization by using a pinwheel, whose rpm was reported by an attached tachometer.

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a close up of a clock: An anemometer was used by engineers in the time before computers to measure swirl in an engine. © Provided by Cycle World An anemometer was used by engineers in the time before computers to measure swirl in an engine.

Early steam power engineers wanted to know important facts like how much power was being lost to friction, how much to heat loss, and so on. They thought about the problem and decided, just before the year 1800, to construct a device that would record steam pressure acting in the engine cylinder as a function of stroke. A cylindrical drum was connected to piston motion by means of a wire cable, such that each angular position of the drum corresponded to a particular position of the piston. Cylinder pressure was tapped to a spring-backed measuring piston, driving a pen on the end of an arm bearing against the drum. As the steam piston moved back and forth, the drum rotated back and forth, while steam pressure was recorded by the pen on a graph sheet wrapped around the drum. This invention is variously attributed to James Watt or to an engineer in his employ, John Southern.

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a close up of a clock: An anemometer was used by engineers in the time before computers to measure swirl in an engine. © kampwit/123rf.com An anemometer was used by engineers in the time before computers to measure swirl in an engine.

Engineers knew that boiler pressure had to be different from cylinder pressure because there were losses involved in flow through plumbing and the cylinder’s steam valve. But they didn’t know by how much they were different.

The engine indicator told them what they wanted to know. It also told them how much power was being wasted in the friction of the steam piston in its cylinder, and in the rest of the engine’s mechanism.

Another device, the planimeter, invented independently by several people between 1825 and 1855, allowed the area of the irregular pressure-versus-volume trace from the indicator to be quickly measured and the so-called “indicated horsepower” determined from it. Knowing that, and knowing how much power arrived at the engine’s output shaft, engineers could measure their success in improving steam flow and in reducing friction from all sources.

To this day, engine researchers measure both indicated power (using fast-acting water-cooled microphones screwed into engine cylinder heads) and “brake” power—which is power measured on a brake, or dynamometer. The concepts remain as they were in 1799, but the means of measurement have advanced considerably.

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Crankshaft breakage and the rattling of camshaft drives in early six-cylinder engines of around 1903 told thoughtful engineers that combustion torques plus the torsional elasticity of steel crankshafts were setting the shafts into vigorous twisting oscillations that were quickly fatiguing and breaking them. Very quickly, several forms of torsional dampers were developed to enable motorists to enjoy the smoothness of sixes without a need to “feed them crankshafts.”

a drawing of a person: Kevin Cameron © Robert Martin Kevin Cameron

When Pratt & Whitney developed its two-row 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine R-2800 in the late 1930s, it too displayed torsional vibrations. Their symptoms were breakage of propeller shafts, accessory drive shafts, frettage between propeller hubs and their drive cones, and much else. This was serious business, as without an effective solution, this engine was limited to no more than 2,000 rpm. Without a solution, it could never have gone on to power the Grumman Hellcat, Republic Thunderbolt, Vought F4U, Douglas A-26, and Boeing DC-6 as it did.

R.E. Gorton was P&W’s first university-trained vibration specialist, and he directed a long program of research that did provide effective solutions. The major tool in this was the Sperry-MIT engine torsiograph. It consisted basically of a heavy flywheel driven by the engine through springs and damper, such that the difference in angular position between the engine crankshaft and the flywheel could be measured electrically. This device allowed rapid determination of what the crank was doing, and evaluated one possible solution after another in a long program.

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a close up of a motorcycle engine: Without a Sperry-MIT engine torsiograph, Pratt & Whitney’s 18-cylinder R-2800 engine vibration solution would not have been possible. © Provided by Cycle World Without a Sperry-MIT engine torsiograph, Pratt & Whitney’s 18-cylinder R-2800 engine vibration solution would not have been possible.

At the same time, propeller manufacturers had lately adopted metal blades in place of wood, and had run straight into the problem of prop blade excitation by engine firing impulses. The simple way to “measure” such excitation was to run engine/prop combinations to see which ones threw prop blades through the walls of the test house. Something better, more accurate, and quicker was required. The sensor adopted was the strain gage, which makes use of the change in electrical resistance of certain materials as they are stressed. Such gages were bonded to metal prop blades and their electrical circuits were completed through rotating slip rings to chart recorders.

a close up of a motorcycle engine: Without a Sperry-MIT engine torsiograph, Pratt & Whitney’s 18-cylinder R-2800 engine vibration solution would not have been possible. © Pratt & Whitney Without a Sperry-MIT engine torsiograph, Pratt & Whitney’s 18-cylinder R-2800 engine vibration solution would not have been possible.

The combination of the torsiograph and strain gage, plus thoughtful analysis by talented engineers over an intense period of many months enabled the problems of torsional vibration and prop blade excitation to be brought under sufficient control such that 125,000 R-2800 engines were produced. The 2800′s torsional vibration control system evolved steadily as engine power was increased over the years of its service.

All without computers.

There is almost always a way. In the early days of the engine indicator, the area under its curve was measured by laboriously counting graph squares. Twenty-five years later came the planimeter, enabling the area to be measured in one minute. Today, computers do this very nearly in real time.

The key to problem-solving is experienced human minds, devising questions that can be asked and answered using the technical means at hand. Computers are just another tool at the disposal of those minds.

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