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Automotive Transmissions Efficiently Transferring Power From Engine to Wheels

Automotive Transmissions Efficiently Transferring Power From Engine to Wheels

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Published by: Venkatesh Vakucherla on Jun 15, 2012
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 Discovery Guides 
2008 ProQuest Released January 2008
Automotive Transmissions: Efficiently TransferringPower from Engine to Wheels
By Chao-Hsu Yao
Before the steam engine was invented, all of thephysically demanding jobs like construction, agri-culture, shipping, and even traveling, were done bystrong animals or human beings themselves. Theinvention of the steam engine prompted the Indus-trial Revolution, at which time human beingsstarted using automated machines to reduce humanwork load and increase job efficiency. In 1705Thomas Newcomen invented the first version of thesteam engine, which is also called atmospheric en-gine [2].
Figure 1
shows the animation of how theNewcomen steam engine works. From this design,water (blue) is boiled and vaporized into steam(pink), which pushes the closed right valve (red)open (green). The steam pushes the piston to moveup, which causes the pressure inside the cylinder todecrease. Gravity will push the water from theupper tank to open the left valve, and splash thewater into the cylinder to cool steam. The steaminside the cylinder therefore is condensed, whichturns the cylinder vacuum and sucks back the pis-ton. The descending piston shuts two valves andfinishes one cycle.The Newcomen Steam Engine was only used to pump water out of mines at that time. In 1769,James Watt improved the function of the steam engine and made it practical in the real world [1],which is why most people still think Watt invented the steam engine.
James Watt‟s steam engine is
designed so that water goes into a high temperature boiler, isboiled and vaporized, and turns into high pressure steam. This steam pushes the piston, generat-ing a forward and backward motion (see http://static.howstuffworks.com/flash/steam-engine.swf for an animated picture) [3]. Because the combustion room is located outside the engine, thesteam engine is also called the external combustion engine.
Figure 1
Newcomen Steam Engine. Image is from
“Newcomen Steam Engine,” Answers Corporation.
Automotive Transmissions
ProQuest Discovery Guides
Released January 2008
According to the physics rule of motion, when an object is in static status it needs a larger forceto overcome friction. When the object starts moving, the needed driving force becomes smallerand smaller, and the speed becomes faster and faster. Therefore, to move the piston in a steamengine from static position, very high pressure must be generated to push the piston. When thepiston starts moving, the pressure decreases, because it is released from the exhaust by themovement of the piston, before it can be compressed into high pressure air. At low speed, theengine creates high pressure steam to push the piston, while at high speed, the steam pressure
 becomes low. That‟s why the old steam powered locomotives start very slowly, but still can
reach a very high speed.The steam engine is very efficient at generating power based on the physics rule of motion; how-ever, it takes awhile before the machine can reach its highest efficiency. Another drawback isthat the steam engine occupies too much space. Therefore, scientists tried to develop an enginewith smaller size, but that can instantly generate the power needed. The internal combustion en-gine, which has been used for most machinery including vehicles, was invented. Several kinds of internal combustion engines have been widely used for vehicles, for example, in the two-strokecombustion cycle, four-stroke combustion cycle, and rotary engines. The first engine to use afour-stroke combustion cycle successfully was built in 1867 by N. A. Otto [9]. The design of theinternal combustion engine is much more complicated than the steam engine, however. All inter-nal combustion engines need to go through the following procedures to finish the combustioncycle: intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust. The shock wave filehttp://static.howstuffworks.com/flash/engine.swf [11] shows how the four-stroke internal com-
 bustion engine works. First, gasoline comes from „C‟ and moves the piston downward. Second,
the piston moves upward and compresses the air. Third, the compressed air is fired and movesthe piston downward again. Finally, the fired air is exhausted through
„L‟ and moves the piston
upward again. While fired once every two cycles for a four-stroke cycle internal combustion en-gine, a two-stroke combustion cycle internal engine is fired once per cycle, which can be seen onthe shock wave file http://static.howstuffworks.com/flash/two-stroke.swf [10]. The internal com-bustion design can instantly convert the power generated by the explosion of burning fuel intohigh pressure air to push the piston. Unlike the steam engine, for an internal combustion engineto move the piston faster and faster, more and more fuel is needed to generate higher pressure. Inother words, for an internal combustion engine, high pressure is needed to keep the piston run-ning at a high speed, while at low speed, only low pressure is necessary. This is just opposite tothe function of the steam engine.Even though it solves the dimension and slow start issues of the steam engine, the internal com-bustion engine generates another serious problem. When the piston is running at high speed, thepressure needed is also high, which violates the physics rule of motion. Running an engine at
Automotive Transmissions
ProQuest Discovery Guides
Released January 2008
high speed with high pressure is not efficient, and also decreases the engine life. To solve thisproblem, the transmission system was invented.To transfer engine power efficiently, the gear ratio between the engine and wheels plays a veryimportant role. When we use a screwdriver, the portion we hold has a larger diameter, while theportion contacting with the screw has smaller diameter. This design makes users use less force tounscrew a screw while applying force on a larger diameter portion of the screw driver. There-fore, attaching a smaller gear to the engine side and connecting it to a larger gear to deliverpower to wheels helps overcome friction when moving a static vehicle.
Figure 2
shows that thelarge gear of the wheels needs less force to drive it. However, it also shows that when the engine
gear turns one circle, the wheel gear only turns about one half. The car won‟t run as fast as pos
-sible.Consider the following situation from
Figure 3
: the wheel gear has a smaller size, which needs
more force to move it while the car is static. It won‟t even be possible to move the car if the en
-gine power is not large enough. However, when the engine gear turns 1 cycle, the wheel gearmay turn 2, which makes the car run faster.Based on the physics rule of motion, after the object starts moving, the driving force needed be-comes smaller. Therefore, if the car can run on the large gear condition (Figure 2) when starting,but change to a small gear (Figure 3) when moving, that is, applying a large force when starting,but a small force when moving, this will makes the power transmission much more efficient.
Figure 2Figure 3

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