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1/7/2011 Camshafts Explained

H o me Ma g az ine Ga lle ry Vi d e o s G a me s

Camshafts and Valve Train Basics


July 25, 2004 | By: A bdul Rehman (U K)

If cylinder heads are the heart of an engine, then


the camshaft and valve train have to be the brains
of the operation. Timing the opening, closing, lift,
and duration of each valve event is central to
increasing pow er and torque.

A valve train consists of valves and a


mechanism w hich opens and closes them. The
opening and closing system is called a camshaft.
The camshaft uses lobes (cams) that push against
the valves to open them as the camshaft rotates;
springs on the valves return them to their closed
position. This is a critical job, and can have a great
impact on an engine's performance at different
speeds.

The key parts of any camshaft are the lobes. As


the camshaft spins, the lobes open and close the
intake and exhaust valves in time w ith the motion of
the piston. It turns out that there is a direct
relationship betw een the shape of the cam lobes
and the w ay the engine performs in different speed
ranges.

To understand w hy this is the case, imagine


running an engine extremely slow ly at just 10 or 20
revolutions per minute (RPM) so that it takes the
piston a couple of seconds to complete a cycle. To
actually run an engine this slow w ould be impossible, but let's imagine that w e could. At this slow speed, w e w ould w ant cam lobes shaped so that just as
the piston starts moving dow nw ard in the intake stroke, the intake valve w ould open. The intake valve w ould then close right as the piston reaches the
bottom and the exhaust valve w ould then open right at the end of the combustion stroke and w ould close as the piston completes the exhaust stroke.

This kind of setup w ould w ork really w ell for the engine as long as it ran at this very slow speed. Now w hat happens if you increase the RPM?

When you increase the RPM, the 10 to 20 RPM configuration for the camshaft w ill not w ork very w ell. Just say if the engine is running at 4,000 RPM, the
valves are opening and closing 2,000 times every minute, or 33 times every second. At these speeds, the piston is moving very quickly, so the air and fuel
mixture rushing into the cylinder w ill also be moving at a very quick rate.

When the piston starts its intake stroke and the intake valve opens, the air/fuel mixture in the intake runner starts to accelerate into the cylinder. By the time
the piston reaches the bottom of its intake stroke, the air/fuel mixture is moving at a pretty high speed. If you w ere to slam the intake valve shut, all of that
air/fuel mixture w ould come to a halt and w ill not enter the cylinder. By leaving the intake valve open a little longer, the momentum of the fast-moving air/fuel
mixture continues to force air and fuel into the cylinder as the compression stroke is started by the piston. In theory the faster the engine goes, the faster the
air/fuel mixture flow s and the longer w e w ould w ant the intake valve to stay open. We w ould also w ant the valve to open w ider at higher speeds. Also
affecting the cams performance is lift, the duration, overlap and timing.

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1/7/2011 Camshafts Explained
Lift
Lift refers to maximum valve lift. This is how much the valve is
"lifted" off its seat at the cam lobe's highest point. The intake and
exhaust valves need to be open to let air/fuel in and exhaust out of
the cylinders. Generally, opening the valves quicker and further w ill
increase engine output. Increasing valve lift, w ithout increasing
duration, can yield more pow er w ithout much change to the nature of
the pow er curve. How ever, an increase in valve lift almost alw ays is
accompanied by an increase in duration. This is because ramps are
limited in their shape w hich is directly related to the type of lifters
being used, such as flat or roller.

Duration
Duration is the angle in crankshaft degrees that the valve stays off
its seat during the lifting cycle of the cam lobe. Increasing duration
keeps the valve open longer, and can increase high-rpm pow er.
Doing so increases the RPM range that the engine produces pow er.
By increasing duration w ithout a change in lobe separation angle w ill result in increased valve overlap.

Overlap
Overlap is the angle in crankshaft degrees that both the intake and exhaust valves are open. This occurs at the end of the exhaust stroke and the
beginning of the intake stroke. Increasing lift duration and/or decreasing lobe separation increases overlap. At high engine speeds, overlap allow s the rush
of exhaust gasses out the exhaust valve to help pull the fresh air/fuel mixture into the cylinder through the intake valve. Increased engine speed enhances
the effect. Therefore increasing overlap, increases top-end pow er and reduces low -speed pow er and idle quality.

Timing
For timing take this as an example 22-62, 62-22.

The first 22 shows how many degrees the inlet valve opens before top dead center,
The first 62 shows how many degrees the inlet valve closes after bottom dead center,
The second 62 shows how many degrees the exhaust valve opens before bottom dead center,
The second 22 shows how many degrees the exhaust valve closes after top dead center.

The duration and overlap is calculated by using these values.

To conclude, any given camshaft w ill be perfect only at one engine speed. At every other engine speed, the engine w on't perform to its full potential. A
fixed camshaft is, therefore, alw ays a compromise. In the next article w e w ill look at the different camshaft arrangements and how these help the cams
perform better.

Further readings on this topic: E- mail this artic le


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