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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Variable Valve Timing Systems [Comparison]

Well, VTEC, MIVEC, VVTi, etc. Many people already know about these technologies applying on nowadays cars. I was searching for some information on MIVEC, but came across this piece of writings. It's quoted in a Honda Fit Web Forum. Quite an informative piece of information, though a bit outdated. In case someone looking for a brief overview if these technologies, then I guess below is enough to educate one. Hopefully you don't mind that I quoted the whole thing from somewhere. Of course you can find for more information from many other sources through Google search or other search engines. 
There are a couple of ways by which car manufacturer's vary the valve timing. The most well known system is the VTEC which is used on some of the Honda engines. Other systems which some of you might not have heard of are:
* VarioCam/VarioCam Plus which is used on some of the Porsche engines,
* MIVEC(Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and lift Electronic Control) which is used on the Mitsubishi engines,
* VVT-i(Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence) and now VVTL-i (Variable Valve Timing and Lift with Intelligence) which is being used on the current Toyota and some Lexus engines,
* VVL(Variable Valve Lift) which is used on the Nissan engines and also featured in the 350Z is the CVTCS (Continuously Variable Valve Timing System)
* VANOS(Variable Onckenwellen Steuerung) which is used in the BMW engines and also the Double VANOS system on the new 3 Series and they are many more similar systems used by manufacturers such as Ford, Lamborghini and even Ferrari.

What do all these Vs have in common? Well, in case you don't already know (or haven't yet guessed despite the monster hint in the article's title), the V stands for valves or, more specifically, variable valve timing.

Before you can appreciate how important valve timing is, you have to understand how it relates to engine operation. Remember that an engine is basically a glorified air pump and, as such, the most effective way to increase horsepower and/or efficiency is to increase an engine's ability to process air. There are a number of ways to do this that range from altering the exhaust system to upgrading the fuel system to installing a less-restrictive air filter. Since an engine's valves play a major role in how air gets in and out of the combustion chamber, it makes sense to focus on them when looking to increase horsepower and efficiency.

This is exactly what Honda, Toyota and BMW and quite a number of other manufacturer's have done in recent years. By using advanced systems to alter the opening and closing of engine valves, they have created more powerful and clean burning engines that require less fuel and are relatively small in displacement.

Before we take a look at each of these variable valve-timing systems, let's rehash how valve timing normally works. Until recently, a manufacturer used one or more camshafts (plus some pushrods, lifters and rocker arms) to open and close an engine's valves. The camshaft/camshafts was turned by a timing chain that connected to the crankshaft. As engine rpm's rose and fell, the crankshaft and camshaft would turn faster or slower to keep valve timing relatively close to what was needed for engine operation.

Unfortunately, the dynamics of airflow through a combustion chamber change radically between 2,000 rpm and 6,000 rpm. Despite the manufacturer's best efforts, there was just no way to maximize valve timing for high and low rpm with a simple crankshaft-driven valve train. Instead, engineers had to develop a "compromise" system that would allow an engine to start and run when pulling out of the driveway but also allow for strong acceleration and highway cruising at 70+ mph. Obviously, they were successful. However, because of the "compromise" nature of standard valve train systems, few engines were ever in their "sweet zone," which resulted in wasted fuel and reduced performance.

Variable valve timing has changed all that. By coming up with a way to alter valve timing between high and low rpm's, Honda, Toyota and BMW and many more manufacturer's can now tune valve operation for optimum performance and efficiency throughout the entire rev range.

Honda was the first to offer what it called VTEC in its Acura-badged performance models like the Integra GS-R and NSX (it has since worked its way into the Prelude and even the lowly Civic). VTEC stands for Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control. It basically uses two sets of camshaft profiles-one for low and mid-range rpm and one for high rpm operation. An electronic switch shifts between the two profiles at a specific rpm to increase peak horsepower and improve torque. As a VTEC driver, you can both hear and feel the change when the VTEC "kicks in" at higher rpm levels to improve performance. While this system does not offer continuously variable valve timing, it can make the most of high rpm operation while still providing solid drivability at lower rpm levels. Honda is already working on a three-step VTEC system that will further improve performance and efficiency across the engine rpm range.

The camshaft in a pushrod engine is often driven by gears or a short chain. Gear-drives are generally less prone to breakage than belt drives, which are often found in overhead cam engines.

Toyota saw the success Honda was having with VTEC (from both a functional and marketing standpoint) but decided to go a different route. Instead of the on/off system that VTEC employs, Toyota decided it wanted a continuously variable system that would maximize valve timing throughout the rpm range. Dubbed VVTi for Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (Is this a dig at Honda, suggesting their system isn't intelligent?), Toyota uses a hydraulic rather than mechanical system to alter the intake cam's phasing. The main difference from VTEC is that VVTi maintains the same cam profile and alters only when the valves open and close in relation to engine speed. Also, this system works only on the intake valve while VTEC has two settings for the intake and the exhaust valves, which makes for a more dramatic gain in peak power than VVTi can claim.

Ferrari has a really neat way of doing this. The camshafts on some Ferrari engines are cut with a three-dimensional profile that varies along the length of the cam lobe. At one end of the cam lobe is the least aggressive cam profile, and at the other end is the most aggressive. The shape of the cam smoothly blends these two profiles together. A mechanism can slide the whole camshaft laterally so that the valve engages different parts of the cam. The shaft still spins just like a regular camshaft, but by gradually sliding the camshaft laterally as the engine speed and load increase, the valve timing can be optimized.

Several other manufacturers, including Ford, Lamborghini and Porsche have jumped on the cam phasing bandwagon because it is a relatively cheap method of increasing horsepower, torque and efficiency. BMW has also used a cam phasing system, called VANOS (Variable Onckenwellen Steuerung) for several years. Like the other manufacturers, this system only affected the intake cams. But, as of 1999, BMW is offering its Double VANOS system on the new 3 Series. As you might have guessed, Double VANOS manipulates both the intake and exhaust camshafts to provide efficient operation at all rpm's. This helps the new 328i, equipped with a 2.8-liter inline six, develop 193 peak horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque. More impressive than the peak numbers, however, is the broad range of useable power that goes along with this system.

Several engine manufacturers are experimenting with systems that would allow infinite variability in valve timing. For example, imagine that each valve had a solenoid on it that could open and close the valve using computer control rather than relying on a camshaft. With this type of system, you would get maximum engine performance at every RPM. Something to look forward to in the future!

To close these series of articles on camshafts, you can see that as the benefits of variable valve timing used on cams become more apparent to both consumers and manufacturers, you can expect to see it on just about every vehicle sold in the world. I suspect that in five years, variable valve timing will be like ABS or side-impact beams: only really cheap cars won't have it. 


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