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Author: AJ von Wielligh Pr Eng BSc Eng (Mechanical) NDL Burger Pr Eng M Eng (Mechanical) PL de Vaal Pr Eng PhD (Chemical) Staff members of the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering and Chemical Engineering, University of Pretoria. Paper delivered at the International Conference of the South African Institute of Tribology - 24 March 2004. Awarded the Engen prize as one of the two Best Local Papers


ABSTRACT The modern diesel engine has been developed from older generations to satisfy the requirements of modern day operation. These developments took place in the injection system, combustion, piston design, breathing, lubrication, etc. In order to achieve higher outputs, lower fuel consumptions as well lower air pollution, several changes had to made to the combustion and injection system of engines. The sulphur content of the fuel was lowered in order to improve air pollution properties, and the number of orifices in injector tips increased, while the injection pressures were stepped up. This was done in order to achieve more complete combustion at a faster rate and thereby decrease hydro-carbons in exhaust. The lower sulphur content of the fuel, in some cases necessitated the addition of additives to fuel, in order to improve the lubricity properties of the fuel. Due to the higher pressures required in the injection system, clearances between moving parts had to be reduced and this placed another demand on the fuel, namely that of cleanliness. A large number of engine failures have recently occurred on these modern diesel engines, which can be directly blamed on the quality of the fuel used. Because of poor lubricity of the fuel, as well as some particle contamination, injectors failed prematurely, leading to poor combustion and subsequent damage to the engine. Several failures were investigated and eventually tests were conducted on the lubricity and particle contamination of the fuels used in these engines. The tests proved that whenever the lubricity of the fuel is lower than an accepted norm, injector failures occur and engine failure follow. Several cases were also studied where particle contamination of the fuel occurred and this in turn led to injector failure and subsequent engine damage. The fuel supply situation in South Africa is such, that it is very often difficult to pinpoint the source of the poor quality of the fuel. It is accepted that fuel leave the refineries within acceptable quality specifications, but along the supply chain, dilution with other fuels occur and particle contamination is picked up. This paper deals with a comparison between the damage to the injectors caused by fuel with poor lubricity and fuel with good lubricity but contaminated by dust particles.


Introduction In order to meet the demands of industry, the manufacturers of diesel engines had to drastically redevelop the modern diesel engine. These demands cover a wide range of aspects. The most important of these are the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Higher output Smaller engine size Higher efficiency Lower air pollution Longer engine life Longer service intervals

To achieve these demands, the modern diesel engine had to be redeveloped in different areas. The main area of development was the injection and combustion system. The system is electronically controlled to ensure more exact control over the amount of fuel, the point of injection and the rate of injection. The injectors, although electronically controlled are nowadays operating at substantially higher pressures and with a bigger number of orifices. They are discharging the fuel into the combustion chamber at extremely high pressures, much higher than before and this is done in order to make the fuel droplets smaller, which result in more complete, faster and more efficient combustion. To achieve these higher pressures, the clearances and tolerances on injection components are much smaller than in the past and this places a demand on lubricating these components as well as keeping them clean. The modern diesel engine therefore places a much higher demand on the cleanliness and quality of the fuel that it uses, than its predecessors. If these demands are not met, the engine will not perform as designed and premature failure will result. During the regular investigation of engine failures, it was found that a large proportion of engines failed due to the seizing of the piston in the cylinder liner, or the failing of crankshaft bearings due to lubricating oil being diluted by fuel. Several cases were encountered where the piston crown started melting, or the sides of the piston skirt and the piston crown seized onto the cylinder liner. Several cases were also encountered where bearings failed on the crankshaft, usually big-end bearings. The root cause of these failures could be traced back to combustion related problems, which in turn was caused by injector failures. The injector failures in turn, were caused by poor quality fuel.


BACKGROUND OF COMBUSTION IN A DIESEL ENGINE In order to understand the problem around poor combustion it is necessary to understand the combustion process in the diesel engine. Diesel engine injection principles and operation The piston of a diesel engine, fits tightly in the cylinder to provide high compression, in order to cause ignition of the injector fuel. The fuel is delivered in an exactly metered quantity, which is metered by the injection system. This fuel is delivered to the cylinders at very high pressure and is broken up into a very fine spray with droplets diameters of a few microns. This is achieved by forcing the fuel through very small orifices at extremely high pressures. In the modern diesel engine, the tendency is to increase the numbers of these orifices and thereby making them smaller as well as increasing the pressure. In some of the modern diesel engines the injection pressure is in the range of as much as 200 MPa. This is typically 10 times higher than the older generation of engines. The result of the higher pressure and smaller orifice sizes is that the droplets are significantly smaller and the exposed area is therefore significantly bigger. This results in a smoother and faster and more complete combustion. The typical spray pattern is indicated in Fig 1 and Fig 2 below.

Figure 1

Figure 2

In order to understand the mechanism and importance of the fine droplets, the mechanism of the injector must be briefly discussed. Figures 3, 4 and 4a show the typical layout of an injector, which is commonly used in diesel engines. Figure 3 shows the more conventional system, whereas figure 4 shows the electronically controlled type of injector. Fig 4a shows a Common Rail Injector.

Figure 3 Conventional

Fig 4 Electronic Unit

Fig 4 a Common Rail The injector consists in essence of a needle with a sharp point, which acts as a seal and securely seals off the orifices at the seat at the end of the needle tip. The needle has a thinner section, which ends up on the seat. At the back end, there is a larger barrel shaped section, which fits very tightly into a passage in the body of the tip. This needle is forced down onto the seat by means of a spring force, which is adjustable during setting up of the injector and thereafter stays unchanged. High pressure fuel is then delivered from the pump and the high pressure acts on the shoulder of the barrel, causing a force which apposes the spring force. When the hydraulic force is able to overcome the spring force, the needle is lifted and displaced and therefore the sharp end of the needle is pulled away from the seat. This enables the high pressure fuel to flow out through the holes of the needle tip and to be squirted into the combustion chamber. The flowing out of the fuel, causes the pressure to drop in this chamber and the spring force is then again stronger and able to quickly push the needle back and to close the orifices. It must be kept in mind, that the hydraulic force is provided by the engine power and can usually build up very high forces, due to the pressures involved. The spring force is however limited due to the inherent force, to which it is adjusted. This means that when the needle starts getting sticky, the hydraulic force will lift the needle, but the needle might be sluggish and slow in the return back to the seat. It could also mean that the pressure of the needle end onto the seat is not

enough to properly seal off the fuel. This causes the fuel to leak out. This is then referred to as dripping of the fuel from the nozzle. In the hot air caused by compression, the fuel starts burning and due to the heat release, the pressure rises. The piston is then forced down, to produce the power of the engine. It must be kept in mind that the injection is not an instantaneous happening. The injection process has a certain duration and the more fuel that has to be injected, the longer the process takes. Some injection processes consist of an initial pilot injection to start the flame burning, with a secondary higher volume injection where the majority of the fuel is delivered. The injection process starts when the needle lifts off the seat and opens the orifices for the fuel to be squirted out under very high pressure. Figure 5, indicates the cylinder pressure, the needle lift, as well as injector pressure. Figure 6, is a photograph indicating the combustion process from about 7 Before Top Dead Centre, (BTDC) to 30 After Top Dead Centre (ATDC). From these photographs, it can be seen that the biggest flame is present just after 13, which is typically the position namely between 15 and 20 (ATDC), when the biggest pressure is needed on the piston crown.

P = CylinderPressure L = Needle lift Pi = Injector Pressure Fig 5

Fig 6

From ( Internal Combustion Engines by JB Heywood)

SPRAY PATTERN REQUIREMENTS The injected fuel is broken up into a very fine spray consisting of micro fine droplets. The combustion process starts by the oxidising of the fuel droplets from the surface of these droplets. It must be kept in mind that the smaller the droplets the bigger the specific area. This means that the combustion takes place faster and more efficiently, with smaller size of droplets. There is therefore a tendency, to use smaller droplets and finer spray in the high injection pressure modern diesel engine. When combustion takes place efficiently and properly, the droplets burn out completely, before they reach the cylinder liner. The fuel is normally sprayed into the combustion chamber, which is housed inside the piston crown. As the piston moves downwards in its power stroke, the spray protrudes further into the volume of the combustion chamber, but it should be burnt out before any droplet reaches the cylinder walls. However, when the spray pattern generated by the injector, is not as described above, the droplets become bigger and therefore take longer to burn out, or a jet of fuel is emitted from the orifice, instead of the very fine spray. The following photographs, Fig 7 (good) and Fig 8, (poor), indicate good and poor spray patterns.

Fig 7 Good

Fig 8 Poor


CONSEQUENCES OF POOR SPRAY PATTERNS When a poor spray pattern exist, as described above, the following actions usually take place:

3.3.1. Washing away of the oil film on the cylinder wall Whenever a jet of diesel fuel is directed onto the cylinder wall, the thin film of lubricating oil is washed away. This leads to dry rubbing of the piston and piston ring on the cylinder wall. Due to the absence of the lubricating film, the friction

coefficient rises and excessive heat is developed. Damage to the surfaces, leading to eventual seizing of the piston usually results. In some cases accelerated wear can also take place. In the initial stages of piston failures, the position where the jet of fuel is directed onto the cylinder wall can clearly be seen on the piston crown and on the piston side where seizing starts. The damage usually starts above the top piston rings and then gradually works downwards, towards the skirt of the piston. The following photograph, Fig 9, shows such a piston, which is in the initial stages of seizing.


Fig 9 3.3.2 Dripping from nozzle Another possibility is that due to poor closure of the needle on the seat in the injector, fuel might drip from the injector tip and wet the surface of the piston crown. This then results in combustion taking place directly on the piston crown. The protecting stationary gas layer, which normally protects the piston material, is no longer present and this eventually results in melting of the piston crown, which is shown in photograph Fig 10 below. Melting

Fig 10

3.3.3 Fuel dilution of lubricant In cases where the spray pattern is such, that the droplets are bigger than they should be, the fuel does not burn out completely in time. The drops of fuel then reaches the cylinder wall and thins down the lubricating film. The fact that these droplets are spread over a wide area, means that the washing away is not localized. This usually results in dilution of the oil film and subsequent dilution of the lubricating oil in the crank case. In such cases the piston does not necessarily seize in the cylinder liner. Due to the fact that the lubricating oil dilutes in the crank case, the viscosity drops substantially and the oil looses it ability to carry the heavy loads of the engine. This results in bearing failure, usually the big-end bearings of the crankshaft. Rapid wear of the piston rings can also take place in such an instance. Several cases where investigated, where the wear pattern on the ring, almost resembled the same situation as where dust was inhaled by the engine. The ring corners are usually sharp and spectrographic oil analysis indicates high iron content in the lubricating oil. The Silicon content of the oil is however then usually normal, which indicates the absence of excessive dust. The rapid wear process, then leads to poor sealing of the piston ring. The blow-by of the combustion gasses past the piston ring increases. The following photographs, Fig 11 and Fig12, shows the main bearings of a Diesel engine which has rubbed and the block, which was damaged when a connecting rod was pushed through the side, due to a big end bearing failing.

Fig 11 Wiped Bearings

Fig 12 Block Damage


REQUIRED PROPERTIES OF FUEL As mentioned above, it is important to remember that the needle must move freely up and down the passage under the influence of either hydraulic or spring forces. It must furthermore be kept in mind, that no lubrication other than the fuel is available for the movement of the needle and for any part in the whole injection

system. There are therefore certain demands that are placed on the fuel to provide proper functioning of the injection equipment. Apart from the requirements for proper combustion, the most important physical requirements for good quality diesel fuel are the following: Good lubricity The fuel must have enough lubricity properties, in order to provide lubrication to all the moving parts in the whole injection system. The conditions in the injectors are however very severe and therefore special lubrication properties is required in this area. This is even more important in the modern diesel engine. In the past, fuel refined from petroleum contained approximately 0,5% Sulphur. The Sulphur and other compounds present in the fuel had lubrication properties. In the older generation engines, it was usually never necessary to provide additional lubricity additives to improve the fuel quality. However with the demand on a cleaner environment, Sulphur levels had to be brought down. Presently the South African limit for Sulphur is 0,3% and lately fuel with typically 0,05% Sulphur is also available. Experience has indicated that whenever Sulphur levels in the fuel drops below 0,3%, the inherent lubricity properties of the fuel is not sufficient to lubricate all the components, especially the injection equipment of Modern Engines. Problems in the needle area then start appearing. This is caused by a lack of lubrication, between the moving needle and the stationery passage of the injector tip. Water in the fuel also seriously affects the Lubricity. In the case of synthetically produced diesel and other fuels like kerosene, the Sulphur content is very low and these fuels do not have inherent lurbricity properties. It is therefore necessary to add additives to the fuel to render the fuel acceptable in a diesel engine. The purpose of these additives is to provide lubricity properties, as well as some cleaning and detergent properties to the fuel nozzle. Cleanliness of fuel Due to the extremely small clearances between the moving parts in the injection system and especially in the injectors, lately as little as about 1 micron, the fuel has to be cleaner than before. The small particles present in the fuel, can enter the small space between the needle and the barrel of the injector tip and this can cause jamming and damage to the needle. For this reason, very fine filtration of the fuel is lately being carried out on modern diesel engines. Several new engines are now equipped with fuel filters of 2 micron capability. In the light of recent injector failures, this may still be inadequate. 4.3 Tests on Diesel fuel In order to control the properties of lubricity and cleanliness, tests are done on fuel to determine the lubricity properties and the cleanliness levels. The following typical tests are done, in order to determine the lubricity and cleanliness of the fuel.

4.3.1 Lubricity a) The Optimol SRV machine. The layout of the Optimol SRV machine is shown in Fig 13:

Fig 13 The SRV machine consists of a steel disc, which is mounted on a load cell, which can measure forces reacting on the disc. A loaded steel ball, is rubbed on the top of the disc, in an off set manner. Due to the loading of the steel ball on the disc, friction forces are created between the two bodies. The ball is clamped in a holder, which can be oscillated and a load is applied to the ball. The frequency of movement, the load, and the amplitude of movement can be adjusted and controlled by a computer. The temperature can also be maintained at virtually any required level. Typical test values are: Frequency: 50 Hz Amplitude: 1 mm Temp.: 110 C Load step duration 1 minute The operation of the machine is such that the set-up is done and the temperature is raised to the required level, typically 110C. The machine is then started, while the ball and the disc is covered with a film of the fluid that has to be tested, for instance diesel fuel. The fuel then provides a lubricating film between the sliding ball and the stationary disc. Due to the fact that all the forces are known, the computer calculates the friction coefficient, which at any point in time exist between the ball the disc. After a 1 minute period, the load is increased by 50 N and the process carried on. Whenever the friction coefficient reaches a value of 0,3, it is considered that the film between the ball and the disc is penetrated and that solid to solid contact takes place. The loading force acting on the ball is constantly measured and at the point of failure, it is recorded. It has been found by a large number of practical tests, that a good quality diesel fuel, should be able to withstand a load of 700 N, before the high friction value appears. When levels lower than 700 N is obtained, the fuel usually causes injector failures.


The High Frequency Reciprocating Rig (HFRR) (as per SANS 342 (2006) Although the SRV machine described above is strictly speaking also an HFRR, the term HFRR is normally reserved for a machine consisting of a circular disc which is kept stationary and a small ball which is rubbed across the disc. The difference is that in this case the load is kept constant at typically 20 N. The frequency is the same as that of the SRV namely 50Hz and the stroke length is 1mm, which is also a typical stroke of the SRV machine. In the case of the normal HFRR machine, the temperature is kept at 60C and the test is typically run for 75 min. After the period of 75 min, the ball is removed and the flat area, which is worn onto the rounded ball is measured under a microscope. The diameter of the flat face of the ball is normally the indication of the lubricity quality of the fuel. A good quality fuel must provide a flat area smaller than 400 or 460 microns, depending on the specification. Fig 14 shows such a wear scar on a test ball.

Fig 14 Wear Scar Results of Lubricity Tests The following graphs in Fig 15 and Fig 16, obtained from the SRV machine, indicates a fuel with good lubricity properties, as well as a fuel with poor lubricity properties.

Fig 15 Good

Fig 16 Poor

4.3.2 Cleanliness The cleanliness level of the fuel can only be determined by filtration or by particle counting of the contaminants of the fuel. It is customary to filter the fuel samples before lubricity tests are carried out. In the case of the Tribology Laboratory at the University of Pretoria, the fuel is typically filtered through a 0,4 micron filter before the test is done. The residue on the filter paper can be analysed. A particle counter can also be used to determine the cleanliness levels. The graphs in Fig17 and Fig18, show fuel where the fuel was deliberately contaminated with very fine dust and then put through a 2 micron filter. The samples of fuel were taken before the filter and after the filter. It can clearly be seen on the graphs, that the contamination caused a very spiky line of friction coefficient, but that there is a significant improvement after filtration. It is however necessary, to note that even after the 2 micron filtration, the spikes are still present, although to a lesser degree. The particles passing this filter can still do damage to the most modern injector. The fuel must therefore be kept clean all the way along the supply chain.

Fig 17

Fig 18


DAMAGE TO INJECTORS DUE TO POOR LUBRICITY AND DUE TO CONTAMINATED FUEL Lubricity Two recent case studies provided excellent examples of injectors that failed. In one case the injector failed due to poor lubricity and in the other case due to contaminated fuel. In case study one, the engine was completely overhauled and new cylinder liners, pistons, bearings, injector tips, etc. fitted. The engine was then tested on a dynamometer and within 1 hour the engine seized, on the number 2 cylinder.


The engine was stripped and the piston and liner was removed and replaced. The injectors were not removed from the two cylinder heads and remained in their exact positions. When the engine was re-assembled for the second time, the cylinder heads were interchanged and the front cylinder head was placed at the back, while the back cylinder head was placed at the front position. The engine was again started up and tested on the dynamometer and within 1 hour the engine seized again, now on the number 5 piston. The two pistons that were involved is shown in photographs Fig 19 and Fig 20.

Fig 19

Fig 20

It can be seen that the failure pattern of these two pistons are exactly the same. It was then realized that the number 2 injector was the cause. The same injector was initially in position 2 and later in position 5. This injector was then opened and inspected. It was found that the needle had score marks on the shank of the needle. The needle next to a 2 cent coin is shown in photograph Fig 21 and the damage to the needle is shown under the microscope in photograph Fig 22.

Fig 21

Fig 22

The fuel was tested on the SRV machine at the Tribology Laboratory at University of Pretoria, and the results are shown in figure 23.

Fig 23 It can be seen that the fuel sample did not meet the required 700N on the SRV machine but only a load of 350 N was sustained. 5.2 Contamination During the investigation of two six cylinder engine failures in the same area, it was found that both engines started to run unevenly. White smoke was emitted from the exhausts when the engines failed. The injectors of both engines were removed. The 12 injector tips were then inspected to determine the cause of the failure. It was found, that both sets of injectors suffered from exactly the same damage. Some of the needles of these injectors are shown in photograph Fig 24.


Fig 24

The wear pattern was very peculiar, in that a narrow band of wear was visible at the front end of the shank of the injector needle. The damage can be seen with the normal eye and this damage is shown in photograph Fig 25.

Wear Scar

Fig 25 Under the microscope the damage can more clearly be seen and some of the damage is shown in photographs Fig 26 and Fig 27

Fig 26 (50X)

Fig 27 (60X)

The farms on which the engine problems occurred were then visited. Fuel samples were taken from the Bulk Tank , the Tractor tank as well as the return line from the Common Rail system. The samples were filtered through a 3 micron Micropore filter, then through a 1.2 micron filter paper and finally through a 0.22 filter paper. The filter patches after the filtering are shown in Fig 28 . It can be seen that the fuel was received in a slightly contaminated state, but that most of

the contamination took place between the Bulk tank and the Tractor tank. The effect of the 2 micron onboard filter can also be seen.

Fig 28 5.3 Comparison When the appearance of the injector needles that failed due to lubricity and the ones that failed due to contamination are compared, it is quite clear that there is a distinct difference in the characteristic damage to the injector needles. This can clearly be seen in photographs Fig 29 (Lubricity) and Fig 30 (Contamination).

Fig 29 ( Lubricity )

Fig 30 ( Contamination )

The effect of both these types of failure, is that the needle becomes sticky in his movement and that bigger droplets are emitted and in some cases jets of fuel are emitted from the injector tip. This would then result in piston failure and/or bigend bearing failure. The effect of the stickiness of the needle is that the seat of the needle gets damaged and Fig 31 shows such a needle under the microscope, indicating the rough sealing surface which is no more in a position to seal properly.

Fig 31

From the above, the importance of good quality clean fuel can clearly be seen.


CONCLUSION Several engine failures occurred in the recent past due to combustion disturbances. The engines failed either due to the fact that the piston was damaged and then finally seized, or the piston melted away. In the third case, the lubricating oil was diluted and the bearings on the crankshaft were damaged. The result of these combustion disturbances can be traced back to injector failure. The injector failed due to the fact that the needle became sticky in its movement and did not close properly. The result of this stickiness of the needle is that the droplets sizes increased dramatically. In some cases the fuel was emitted in a jet of fuel, emitted from the injector tip orifices. The cause of the injector needle deterioration is either fuel with poor lubricity properties, or fuel that is contaminated by hard dust particles. Both these situations lead to damage of the needle, which then results in the stickiness of the needle. It has been proven that the fuel can be analysed by means of testing systems such as the SRV and HFRR machines.

It is therefore now possible to determine the quality of fuel in the laboratory by means of the SRV Machine and by means of filtration and thereby ensuring that engine failures do not occur as regularly. It can therefore be said that: The Modern Diesel engine is an Efficient and Dependable Work Horse, BUT that it demands a Clean, Good Quality Fuel to survive.