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Overheated Piston Failure, Detection & Correction
Written by: Ricky Edited by: Lamar Stonecypher Updated Jul 17, 2009 The piston performs its work silently within the cylinder liner invisible from outside, but there might be problems inside which could make it overheated causing a knocking sound. Learn how to detect piston failure and how to correct the situation

Despite the best of maintenance and care, faults and piston failure can occur in the engine room and in marine diesel engines. One of the main requirements of the job profile of a marine engineer at any rank is to act quickly and thoughtfully to handle any kind of situation. It is important for a marine engineer to know what to do when he hears diesel engine knocking. This diesel engine troubleshooting guide will show you what to do when a piston gets overheated.
Causes of Overheating

A piston is constantly in contact with the high temperature and high pressure region of the combustion chamber while it is performing its functions of pressure sealing and motion transmission to the crankshaft. It can get overheated due to any or several of the following reasons The obvious reason could be the failure of the piston cooling system to perform its function which leads to temperature rise

If the piston rings have insufficient clearance or are broken down and get seized, this also will lead to heating of the piston

If the cylinder jacket liner lubrication system fails, this would result in increase of heat due to friction

Leakage of combustion gases past the piston due to ring fault or failure Bad combustion which could be due to valve timing problems and so

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External Symptoms

Hence we see that there can be a number of reasons for piston overheating, but remember when this situation occurs you cannot peep inside to find out immediately. First you need to know the external indicators of an overheated piston and they are as follows.

Engine RPM falls without any reasonable cause Knocking is heard from the cylinders Abnormal rise in piston cooling temperature Abnormal rise in exhaust temperature Abnormal smoke in exhaust form the funnel

Handling the Situation

So what should be your first reaction if you see or sense an overheated piston? Well the first instinct would be to run and shut down the engine but just take care to avoid this reflex action and this could lead to other problems. Slow down the engine to a very low speed but NOT complete shutdown. This results in considerable reduction of heat in the relevant piston.

Since not all pistons would likely develop this fault simultaneously (unless you are totally out of luck that day) so first identify the particular cylinder in which the problem has occurred using parameters such as temperatures, sound etc.

The fuel supply to the affected cylinder should be cut-down from the fuel pump

Lubrication to that cylinder should be increased from the appropriate arrangement depending on the specific engine under consideration

Only stop the engine when it is sufficiently cooled to avoid any thermal stresses. Even after stopping the turning gear should be used to keep it moving for some time while cooling and lubrication is continued.

Finally the piston needs to be dismantled and checked and this is a detailed procedure which we might take up in future.

In the next article we will learn about replacing the piston in case such a need arises on board the ship.

Troubleshooting Marine Auxiliary Diesel Engines (Starting Problems)

Written by: Chief Engineer Mohit Sanguri Edited by: Lamar Stonecypher Updated May 19, 2011 Related Guides: Fuel This article discusses the different starting problems and troubleshooting of marine auxiliary diesel engines. The problems discussed are not turning on air, not starting on fuel, safety valve lifting during starting, and hunting of the engine after starting.
Marine Auxiliary Diesel Engines

You come on your watch and find that the Chief Engineer has written a note instructing you to change over the generators because the 250 hour routine of the running generator is due. You have a cup of coffee to start your day (or night as your watch timing may be). Still sleepy eyed, you take a round, check the various parameters of the running machineries and then go to the generator platform. After checking the level of the oil and opening all the valves you blow through the engine and then close the indicator cocks. Now you give it an air kick and open the fuel but the engine does not pick up and stops. You try again and the same result. Wide alert, with a thousand dreaded causes floating in your

subconscious, you are now awake. So you wear your thinking hat and start troubleshooting. Sounds familiar! I bet it does. Every marine engineer has faced such a day. In addition to having all tricks up his sleeve, the marine engineer must be good in troubleshooting. It is not worthwhile to open the pump just because there was air in the system and you could not diagnose it correctly.
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Marine auxiliary diesel engines are used for the production of electricity on board merchant ships. They are called auxiliary because the main diesel engines are used for the propulsion of the ship. The auxiliary engines are generally four stroke diesel engines. This article briefly tries to explain the various causes of engine problems. It is hoped it would prove beneficial for junior engineers as well as practicing marine engineers.
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The engine does not start

You have lined up the valves and opened the indicator cocks as you want to do an air blow through. It is to check if any incompressible fluid has leaked into the combustion spaces. You press the starting air button and hear the sound of air escaping but the tachometer does not move. Suspecting that the tachometer wire as broken, you check the flywheel only to find it is not rotating either. What could go wrong? The following are a list of suspected reasons for the fault:

1. The air receiver pressure is low. Please check the pressure of the air receiver and start the compressors. 2. In case the air receiver pressure is satisfactory, check the starting air valve on the air bottle and the valves in the line. 3. Check for any leakage in the starting air piping. 4. The individual air starting valves on the cylinder heads might be stuck or sticky. 5. The air distributor might be faulty and not allowing air into the cylinders. Try rotating the engine with the turning gear and restart.
The engine turns on air but does not run on fuel

In this case the engine is turning on air, but does not pick up on fuel. You try giving a longer kick and put the fuel lever at a higher notch, but still the generator stops. The starting air pressure is now low and the air low pressure alarm is sounding. All the compressors have started automatically and are running continuously. You are waiting for the pressure to build up and try yet again. Well if such is the case you need to stop and investigate the reasons for the failure to start. They could be one of the following: 1. Fuel does not reach the fuel injection pump because there is air in the system. 2. The fuel oil filters are choked. 3. The fuel line valve is not open. 4. The trips have been not reset after the last stopping. 5. Fuel oil service tank is at low level. Beware the other generator is also going to stop. 6. There is water in the line. 7. The fuel valves are faulty and not giving proper atomization or are choked.

8. The fuel pump timing is wrong. 9. Leaking fuel injection pipes. 10. Seized plungers of the fuel pumps. 11. Fuel rack linkage stuck in position. 12. Seized delivery valves or broken plunger springs in injection pump. 13. The engine is cold.
Choked Fuel Filters

During starting the safety valve blows

You are humming a song and go about the generator starting business. You have blown through the generator by air and when you start it again and give the fuel there is a loud sound TAT TAT TAT. You jump behind the water cooler, thinking it is a crankcase explosion and God have mercy on your soul. Suddenly realization dawns: the safety valve that has lifted. The safety valve lifted because there is an uncontrolled combustion inside the cylinder which can be due to the following: 1. Defective fuel oil valves. 2. Wrong fuel pumps timings. 3. The opening pressure of the safety valve is low caused by a broken spring or a loosened nut. 4. Engine is over cooled.

5. Fuel linkage problems or fuel rack stuck in maximum position. 6. Dripping fuel injectors.

Starting & Reversing Problems in Marine Engines

Adapted by: Willie Scott Edited by: KennethSleight Updated Nov 14, 2011 There are a number of reasons for starting and reversing problems in marine engines. This malfunction is one of the most frightening and dangerous situations to encounter when maneuvering a ships main diesel engine, but it can be avoided through regular maintenance of the air start components. A ships main marine diesel engine is started on compressed air that is controlled by various components of the air start system. It is a well-tried and tested reliable system, but it can go wrong if not properly maintained. The following sections examine a typical air start system, with the first section providing an overview of the system.
Overview of System

The air start system looks rather complicated, but it is quite simple when you examine it without the safeguards. These are put in place to prevent such occurrences as starting the engine without having a signal from the engine room telegraph, trying to start the engine with the turning gear engaged, or trying to start ahead when the telegraph asks for astern. There are also safety systems incorporated such as a bursting disk and numerous non-return valves in the event of a leaking air start valve. The next section lists some of the problems that can be encountered when maneuvering.

Problems in Air Start Systems

We shall look at two common problems encountered when maneuvering the main engine: not starting and starting in the wrong direction (reversing instead of starting ahead).
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Not Starting

As we have seen, there are various interlocks in place to prevent the engine being started until certain criteria are met. If the engine wont turn over on air, the bridge should be informed then the following checks should be carried out. 1. Check air start supply valves from air receivers are open and that the pressure is 30 bar. 2. Check that the turning gear is disengaged

3. Check that the turning gear and telegraph solenoid valves have actuated. This will supply air to the automatic valve, air distributer, the air manifold, and air start valve. These are the initial checks that can be quickly carried out. If these are all satisfactory, then the problem lies in the controls ahead/astern solenoids. The air distributer or the air start valve itself may be stuck in the closed position. The ship will need to anchor or be towed alongside for these checks to be carried out. Engine starts in wrong direction If the engine starts in the astern instead of ahead direction, the following checks should be carried out. 1. Ensure the air start control moves to reverse mode at the control station. This is a visual check and can be observed when the telegraph rings from ahead to stop then astern. If this does not happen, the solenoid valve may be stuck.

2. The oil and air supply to and from the reversing valve should be checked. A blockage of either will stop the reversing servo motor operating and allowing change over from the astern to ahead position. This again will take further investigation, so the ship should anchor or remain tied up to the quay. As this ahead/astern changeover is controlled by lube oil and compressed air and is interlocked with the fuel pumps. These are the usual culprits and the starting point of a thorough investigation. I have experienced this situation only once and fortunately we were leaving port and still tied to quay by stern spring. Once the bridge was informed, a rope from the focsle was thrown ashore and made fast. This gave us the chance to check for the fault, which turned out to be the oil supply from the crosshead oil supply pipe being blocked. As I have said before, the maintenance of the air start system components is paramount to the operation of the system.
Main Components of the System

Air supply system

Two air compressors Two air start vessels Numerous non-return valves Numerous drain valves

Control system

Turning gear out sol v/v Telegraph signal sol v/v Automatic valve Ahead and astern change-over Air distributer

Air start valve

Anti-explosion components Air supply to manifold from air vessels non-return valve- this prevents hot gasses from returning to air receivers.

Air manifold pressure relief valve this operates if pressure rises due to heat from gasses.

Air supply to air start valve bursting disk this disk ruptures under increased pressure caused an air start valve leaking back.

Mandatory Safety Precautions

Before we get into the operation of the system in the next section, this is an opportune moment to make a closer examination of the precaution against explosion, which is a very real threat even in todays modern engines that incorporate the latest in engine management systems.


The compressor air inlet filters should be positioned in an oil-free zone, i.e. no oil fumes should be present. The compressed air supply lines to the air receivers must be protected by nonreturn valves.

The air receivers

There are two air receivers, linked by a common discharge pipe to the system. The air from the compressors will contain oil and water (there is no way around this). This mixture ends up in the air vessels as a mist, eventually settling to the bottom of the vessel. It is imperative, and I cannot overstress this, that the mixture be drained from the vessels after every charge, and regularly when maneuvering. The oil also coats the internal of the supply pipes; this too can be reduced by draining the air vessels.

These actions, as well as checking by hand for heat in the air supply pipe between the air start valve and the air manifold, form part of the watch keepers duties. Any excess heat here, and the fuel and air to that particular cylinder should be isolated, and the bridge made aware of the situation. Before we leave the precautions there are many examples of air start system explosions. One of worst ones occurred on the MV Capetown Castle, killing seven engineers. Lloyds register recorded 11 such explosions between 1987 and 1998; all down to oil gathering in the receivers and piping and ignited by exhaust gasses. One a year speaks for itself: drain the air vessels regularily and maintain the system. A sketch showing an air start system where the air start valve is leaking is shown below. Note the pipe that should be checked by hand for overheating;

Air Start System Depicting a Leaking Air Start Valve

The Operating Principles of Marine Engine Air Start Systems

I have sailed on quite a few marine diesel engines, including B&W, Sulzer, and Stork/Werkspoor. All had variations of the system I am about to describe, but the principles are much the same.

I drew a sketch from memory (45 years ago) but updated it from a very good website referenced at the end of the section. The sketch also appears at the end of the section and can be referred to during the reading of the notes. We begin then with the bridge ringing down standby on the engine room telegraph. (We used to change over fuel from Heavy Fuel Oil to Modified Diesel Oil for maneuvering.) 1. If in port, ensure turning gear is not engaged. 2. Open both air receivers isolation valves and start up a compressor to fill receivers to maximum; drain oily water of reservoirs and also from dead leg on supply pipe work. 3. This allows the compressed air to flow as far as the turning gear solenoid valve. Provided the turning gear is disengaged, this will allow the supply of air at 30 bar to the automatic valve passing though the non-return valve and into the manifold. From here the air is piped to the air chamber in the air start valve. (This is the pipe that will get hot if you have a leaking air start valve.) The valve is held in the shut position by the spring tension. 4. When an ahead or astern movement is rung and answered on the engine room telegraph, the telegraph start signal sol v/v is activated allowing air to the ahead and astern solenoid valves mechanism. 5. The air is now directed to the starting air distributer that is fitted on the end of the camshaft. This enables it to select the appropriate cylinder(s) to supply air to. This will be the relevant cylinder that is just passed TDC and on the downward stroke. 6. The air from the starting air distributer is at 30 bar, and this is injected into the air start valve top piston. This overcomes the spring tension and forces the piston downwards thus opening the valve and introducing the air at 30 bar to the cylinder(s) having been supplied earlier to the air chamber.

7. Depending on the engine make and model, air can be supplied to several cylinders to assist starting. A "slow start" supply can be used if there has been a lapse of half an hour between movements when maneuvering.

Typical Air Start System for a Marine Engine Operating on Local Control

Maintenance of System Components


Regular inspection of filters, suction and discharge valves, as well as piston and ring checks should be performed at the manufacturers recommended periods. Intercooler tube nests should be cleaned ensuring optimum air flow.

Air supply Manifold Relief Valve

This should be regularly inspected to ensure that the spring is operating correctly, with the complete overhaul being to manufacturers instructions.

Air Start Valves

This is the most important component and if not maintained, will begin to stick due to a weak/badly adjusted spring or worn piston rings allowing hot combustion gasses into the compressed air piping. The valve should be replaced regularly with an overhauled and tested spare, the spare then being stripped and spring, pistons, and rings inspected. The valve is ground into the seat using fine lapping paste before rebuild and bench pressure testing.

Author's Experience All Drawings by Author marinediesels: Air Start System