Thesis-2011-Howell-Smith.pdf (8.51 MB)

Tribological optimisation of the internal combustion engine piston to bore conjunction through surface modification

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posted on 08.06.2011 by S.J. Howell-Smith
Internal combustion (IC) engines used in road transport applications employ pistons to convert gas pressure into mechanical work. Frictional losses abound within IC engines, where only 38- 51% of available fuel energy results in useful mechanical work. Piston-bore and ring-bore conjunctions are fairly equally responsible for circa 30% of all engine friction - equivalent to 1.6% of the input fuel each. Therefore, reduction in piston assembly friction would have a direct impact on specific performance and / or fuel consumption. In motorsport, power outputs and duty cycles greatly exceed road applications. Consequently, these engines have a shorter useful life and a high premium is placed on measures which would increase the output power without further reducing engine life. Reduction of friction offers such an opportunity, which may be achieved by improved tribological design in terms of reduced contact area or enhanced lubrication or both. However, the developments in the motorsport sector are typically reactive due to a lack of relative performance or an ad-hoc reliance, based upon a limited number of actual engine tests in order to determine if any improvement can be achieved as the result of some predetermined action. A representative scientific model generally does not exist and as such, investigated parameters are often driven by the supply chain with the promise of improvement. In cylinder investigations are usually limited to bore surface finish, bore and piston geometrical form, piston skirt coatings and the lubricant employed. Of these investigated areas newly emerging surface coatings are arguably seen as predominate. This thesis highlights a scientific approach which has been developed to optimise piston-bore performance. Pre-existing methods of screening and benchmarking alterations have been retained such as engine testing. However, this has been placed in the context of validation of scientifically driven development. A multi-physics numerical model is developed, which combines piston inertial dynamics, as well as thermo-structural strains within a thermoelastohydrodynamic tribological framework. Experimental tests were performed to validate the findings of numerical models. These tests include film thickness measurement and incylinder friction measurement, as well as the numerically-indicated beneficial surface modifications. Experimental testing was performed on an in-house motored engine at Capricorn Automotive, a dynamometer mounted single-cylinder ‘fired’ engine at Loughborough University, as well as on other engines belonging to third party clients of Capricorn. The diversity of tests was to ascertain the generic nature of any findings. The multi-physics multi-scale combined numerical-experimental investigation is the main contribution of this thesis to knowledge. One major finding of the thesis is the significant role that bulk thermo-structural deformation makes on the contact conformity of piston skirt to cylinder liner contact, thus advising piston skirt design. Another key finding is the beneficial role of textured surfaces in the retention of reservoirs of lubricant, thus reducing friction.



  • Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering


© S.J. Howell-Smith

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A Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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